Swindon Tenants Campaign Group: Media Release March 30th 2014

The ‘bedroom tax’ (or ‘under-occupation’ regulations) is one year old. The government has allowed those responsible for the financial crisis to get away scot free. Instead they have made the poor suffer the consequences of a crisis not of their making. It is the poor who have been hit hardest by their ‘austerity’ measures, one of which was the ‘bedroom tax’. Its purpose was supposed to be to save money (by cutting spending on housing benefit) and to free up so-called ‘spare’ rooms. Yet if people ‘downsize’ then no money is saved. It’s only if tenants remain in their current homes that their housing benefit is cut. This is the contradiction at the heart of the policy.

In some areas of the country there are very few smaller homes so there is no possibility of tenants being able to move, even if they want to. In Swindon there are more smaller homes than many other towns, but nowhere near enough for all the people affected to ‘downsize’ even if they want to. The latest figures show 140 households having moved, but still there are over 800 tenant households having to find extra money from their meagre income to pay 14% or 25% of their rent. Those on Job Seekers Allowance are forced to pay up to 25% of their rent from £72 a week. Just over 50% of tenants having their HB cut are in arrears. But for the Discretionary Housing Payment that some have received, the arrears would be much worse. Even the majority of people who have at some stage received DHP are in arrears.

The impact of this policy on tenants has been drastic. They are having to rely on family to help them out (if they are lucky), or having to cut back on food and/or heating. People have literally been made ill by the stress it puts them under. There is no greater threat than that of losing the roof above your head.

The irony of government talk about ‘freeing up spare rooms’ is that their housing policy is cutting the number of homes available for those on the housing waiting list. Their enhanced ‘right to buy’ policy has led to an increase in the sale of scarce Council housing. Last year in Swindon three quarters of the homes sold off were larger family homes.

Martin Wicks, Secretary of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group, said:

“The government’s housing policy is not tackling the housing crisis. They are preventing Councils from building more homes, the only way to tackle the shortage. The ‘bedroom tax’ is part of their scapegoating of the poor for an economic crisis created by the finance houses and the banks. The coalition government’s inhumane policy treats tenants like pawns to be moved about at will, rather than human beings.

Contrary to the propaganda of the government and the mass media, living on benefit is not a ‘lifestyle choice’. More and more people in work depend on benefit to get by. Given the increase in precarious employment, including ‘zero hours’ contracts, more and more people struggle to scratch a living from month to month. That’s reflected in the Housing Benefit figures for Swindon. The latest available figures show that in the year up to February 2013 the number of new Housing Benefit claims was 5,480. The number of ended claims was 5,560. This reflects a situation where people are on and off of benefits regularly as their circumstances change.

Despite all the stories of human misery and tragedy related to the ‘bedroom tax’ over the course of the last year, this shameless government refuses to accept that this is a failed policy. The BBC has just reported that only 6% of tenants nationally have ‘downsized’. Even a government Minister, in quibbling over this figure, could suggest no higher than 8%.

It’s high time for the ‘bedroom tax’ to be abandoned. Swindon Tenants Campaign Group, last year collected over 2,200 signatures on a petition calling on the Council to press the government to repeal the legislation. They voted down the proposal. Yet so long as this unjust legislation remains in place we will continue to press for its repeal. The only serious way to deal with the housing crisis is to start building a new generation of Council housing.

Labour has committed to repealing the legislation. Even the Liberal Democrats have said that it should not apply to people where there are no homes for them to ‘downsize’ into. If that’s what they think then why are they demanding that their coalition partners agree to this now?”

For further comment ring Martin Wicks on 07786394593

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group and Swindon People’s Assembly against Austerity will be protesting against the ‘Bedroom Tax’ as part of a national day of protest on Saturday April 5th. They will be leafleting in the town centre from 10.30 a.m. (By the ‘Fountain’ at the junction of Regent St and Bridge St)