Despite enormous pressure, yesterday the House of Lords defied the Government on one last amendment to the housing proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill – on the ‘bedroom tax’ for underoccupying social tenants. It was an amended and watered down version of the amendment that the Lords has supported a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately the Government immediately signaled that it would again reverse the Lords’ decision when the issue returns to the House of Commons.
The Lords decision was achieved due to a handful of LIb Dem peers voting against the Government. Of course, a similar stand by Lib Dem MPs would make it impossible for the Government to get its way in the Commons. But if form is anything to go by, Lib Dem MPs seem capable of failing to support even their most cherished long term policies.
The ‘bedroom tax’ proposal was hardly noticed when the Welfare Reform Bill was first introduced – although Red Brick covered it here and here and here – but has become an iconic symbol of the meanness of the Bill and the Government’s desire to inflict punishment on social tenants for existing. It will inflict benefit cuts of £14/week on tenants deemed to be ‘underoccupying’ their homes by a single bedroom. Even the Government admits that the vast majority, indeed nearly all, of the tenants affected will not be able to move home because smaller units are not available for them to move to.
Lord Richard Best moved a new amendment to the proposal which would ameliorate the impact on vulnerable groups, including disabled people, those not required to work, war widows and foster carers.
Richard argued: ‘Even though this amended, amended amendment is now providing much less relief than I feel the situation requires, it nevertheless draws a line by mitigating at least some of the hardship for at least some of those on the lowest incomes, and now exclusively for those who are not in a position to go out to work because they act as carers or are disabled themselves.’
Minister Lord Freud accepted that most of the 670,000 affected people would not be able to move, but said they had options available to ‘make up the shortfall’ and stay in their home. Presumably he had in mind freezing or starving among his options.
Over 70 housing and disability organisations wrote to MPs calling on them to support the previous, more wide-ranging amendment, citing examples of families that would be affected, including Grandparents who share the care of their grandchildren; families in which two same-sex teenage children have their own bedroom for privacy and study; disabled tenants who need an adapted room to live a dignified, independent life. Additional bedrooms in such circumstances would be taken for granted and regarded as entirely reasonable by the vast majority of people.
Following yesterday’s vote, David Orr of the National Housing Federation, which has campaigned tirelessly on this issue, said this result ‘is a victory for common sense and fairness. We are delighted that peers have stood firm and yet again voted to lessen the impact of the bedroom tax. ‘Peers and MPs of all parties have voted to amend these proposals. They have been supported by tenants, social landlords and nearly 80 organisations concerned with housing, family issues and disability. ‘Together, we have shown that it is simply unfair to penalise some of the most vulnerable families for under-occupying their homes when they have nowhere else to move. For disabled people, war widows and foster carers, with nowhere else to go to, this could mean the difference between making ends meet and living in poverty.’
The campaign can be followed on the NHF website at http://www.housing.org.uk/