Bedroom Tax Forces 76% To Sacrifice Food

17:50Ciaran McCormick

A report has been released by the Department for Work and Pensions showing the shocking results of the ‘bedroom tax’, officially known as the removal of the spare room subsidy. It looked at the first 20 months of the policy from autumn 2013 to summer 2014 and found that it has trapped people even further into a cycle of dependency, poverty and despair.


The big thing that jumped out of the pages of the report to me was the sacrifices of both essential and non-essential things that people have had to make. 76% of people making cutbacks on their budgets have had to cut back on food, 75% on clothing and 46% on energy. These essential resources are meant to be guaranteed by a compassionate welfare state, but instead have been stripped from the most vulnerable people in society.

The bedroom tax targets the Tory axe of cuts at the poorest people in society, the people who have to use the safety net of housing benefit to ensure they have somewhere for them and their families to live safely. With little regard for individual circumstances, it cuts the percentage of their rent eligible for support by 14% for one bedroom and 25% for more.

This report, buried at the end of the parliamentary calendar when most MPs have left Westminster for the Christmas recess, highlights the grave consequences of the policy. It surveyed both landlords and tenants to find out exactly how it affected them and their concerns for the future.

The policy has not been successful in encouraging people to downsize their homes for a number of reasons. Indeed, the study found that the vast majority of people that were affected by the bedroom tax were still affected nine months later. The strategies that people had to use include spending their savings on the shortfall, borrowing money from family and friends and accruing debt. These are not sustainable, long-term strategies and undermine their ability to cope with the brutal rental sector in the future. These are dark days for the poorest people of generation rent.

People have faced considerable problems because of the way the policy does not reflect their unique difficulties. For example, there has been a lot of publicity about the impact on disabled people. Cases have even been taken to the supreme court arguing that it is unfair to force disabled people to downsize to properties that are often completely unsuitable for their needs. In July 2013, the courts argued that the policy did discriminate against disabled people but ruled this completely lawful, which speaks volumes about the justifiability of these laws.


Regional discrimination is also a significant problem because the absurd variation in the property market in the UK affects people disproportionately. This means that people in the South and South East have been hit particularly hard because their rents are much higher. Ironically, in London, the trend has not been as severe because the report found that adults prized family homes in the city that they went to extreme lengths to hold onto it rather than lose it to the system.

The bedroom tax has actually not been very effective. Very few of the tenants surveyed saw moving as a viable option. Even landords were trying to evade the policy through ridiculous lengths. Some were knocking down walls and others were reclassifying the number of bedrooms in their properties. It has been a small but newsworthy percentage of landords trying to game the system in this way, but the average costs of their alterations is £3,800. This shows that they are going to extreme lengths. Many are unable to find tenants for their category of socially rented homes.

When we read statistics about such a large percentage of people having to forsake food to pay the shortfalls on their rent, it is important to appreciate that the most vulnerable people are the worst hit. This means that the children of these families have to suffer. In the same month as this evaluation of the bedroom tax, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission also published their State of the Nation report. They found that ‘a one-nation country would be one where work offered a guaranteed path out of poverty.

But today 1.5 million children are in poverty because their working parents do not earn enough to secure a basic standard of living’. One in six children are from families that are persistently poor, the exact people affected by the bedroom tax. They face ill health and low skills across the generations. People assume they are in this situation because of parental addiction, broken relationships or a lack of work ethic, but instead they caught in the poverty trap.


Even the language of the report reflects the brutal attitude towards vulnerable people. They quote David Cameron’s promise to offer a Britain which is “a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing”. The ‘right thing’ is a very sinister and controlling phrase with which to arm the state.

Overall, the bedroom tax and the welfare system has forgotten its driving ambition to unite us in one compassionate society that cares. Any of us could need it at any time, but the poorest people lack the safety nets others enjoy. They are the people punished by our government’s policies. I am sick of sitting through privileged people ranting about benefits claimants ‘on the dole’ or being paid by the ‘taxpayer’ enjoying TVs or cigarettes. It is sad that punishing the poor is such a popular policy.

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