During Prime Ministers questions David Cameron was asked about the impact of the Bedroom Tax (also called removal of the Spare Room Subsidy) on disabled people. The answer he gave was straight forwardly untrue:
“Obviously, what we have done is to exempt disabled people who need an extra room.” http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm131127/debtext/131127-0001.htm#13112751000012 Hansard 27th November 2013 Column 254
“[the Bedroom tax] is hitting disabled people who need an extra room for essential home adaptations or equipment which enable them to live independently..
We have been deeply frustrated at reports that disabled people and their families are protected from this policy. The stark evidence since the policy was implemented in April clearly shows they are not”http://news.sky.com/story/1174155/bedroom-tax-leaves-disabled-fearing-eviction
Ironically earlier in the day 50 charities wrote to the Government saying that the hardship experienced by disabled families because of the Bedroom Tax was being ignored because of inaccurate reports that disabled people are exempt from Bedroom Tax.
Disabled people who need an extra room are not exempted
Let us be totally clear there is no exemption for disabled people who need an extra room.Channel 4 Fact-check went through similar claims earlier in March http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-cameron-slips-up-on-bedroom-taxand in … Continue reading
There are a number of groups who are exempted. Pensioners are exempted completely. Foster carers, families with a child in the armed forces and families with children temporarily studying away from home are allowed additional rooms before being charged.http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-vote-office/March-2013/12-3-13/6.WorkandPensions-HousingBenefitreform.pdf Written Ministerial Statement setting out new exemptions The only exemption specifically for disabled people is due to a Court of Appeal judgment instructing the DWP to consider an additional room if a disabled personThe person needing care must be either the tenant or their partner – not their children – and the carer cannot be the persons own … Continue reading needs an overnight carer.http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/disability-and-discrimination-court-appeal-upholds-rights-disabled-people – CPAG explanation of the Burnip v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions judgement Disabled people who need an extra room for any other reason – such as being unable to share a room, or needing a room for medical equipment – are not exempted.
Disabled people are most affected by the Bedroom Tax
The Bedroom Tax mainly affects disabled people. Of the 660,000 families affected nearly two-thirds, 420,000, have a disabled adult in them. The Government’s impact assessment provides no information about disabled children so the 420,000 number is necessarily an underestimate. The deliberate intention of the policy was not to exempt even the most severely disabled – but instead to ask them to apply for a hardship payment.http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130227/debtext/130227-0004.htm Hansard 27 Feb 2013 Column 424
The temporary sticking plaster – Discretionary Housing Payments
When challenged about the unjust effects of the Bedroom Tax on groups such as the disabled, the Government often refers to the increased budget for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs). The nature of these payments means that while they help in the short term in the longer term they create uncertainty and insecurity. DHPs cannot exempt anyone from a charge – they can only offer temporary relief, and then only if you can get one.
The payments are temporary and come from a cash limited pot so if your council has run out of money for this year you will not get a payment no matter how compelling your claim is. These payments are discretionary – no-one has an automatic right to receive one and should you be refused there is no right of appeal.
Multiple problems – one small sticking plaster
Unhelpfully when challenged about the effects of the Bedroom Tax ministers often imply the whole DHP budget is to cope solely with the Bedroom Tax. In reality the £190 million fund is to deal with the housing problems associated with the whole raft of welfare reforms, in addition to the original purpose of the fund – helping people with housing problems not related to welfare reform.
To give an idea of the scale of the funding gap, imagine that:
- there are no problems caused by the Housing Benefit Cap, the Total Benefit Cap, Council Tax Benefit reductions or the introduction of Universal Credit.
- that there are no administrative errors in the DWP causing late benefit payments,
- no-one has difficulties with their rent for reasons unrelated to the benefit system.
Even in this fictional utopia there would still not be enough money to pay the Bedroom Tax for the disabled families affected!
The truth is important
Disabled people are not exempted from the Bedroom Tax. Discretionary Housing Payments don’t provide the security of an exemption, nor are they funded anywhere near well enough to help all the people it has been carelessly suggested they will help.
This is not the first time the Prime MinisterPrevious untrue statements by David Cameron about the disabled and Bedroom tax include March 2013 http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-cameron-slips-up-on-bedroom-tax and in July … Continue reading has falsely claimed that groups of disabled people are exempted from Bedroom Tax nor is he the first minister to make such a false claim – Ester McVey has that honourhttp://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130227/debtext/130227-0004.htm Hansard 27 Feb 2013 Column 424– but he should be the last. The reality that vulnerable people are facing hardship should not be batted away with untruth and obfuscation.
In our report, The lies we tell ourselves: Ending comfortable myths about poverty, we highlighted the biblical teachingFor example Isaiah 59:14 “Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square,and uprightness cannot enter”. NRSV that without truth there cannot be justice and righteousness in a society. “If our society misrepresents those who are at its margins, blaming them for their poverty and ignoring the massive injustices at work, then we are all set to fail. We will see greater depths of poverty; greater suffering as children are entrenched in circumstances which are damaging to body, mind and soul. We will see a society which is unsustainable and divided, where those with power or privilege are wilfully blind to those without.” This is why we believe it is crucial that Mr Cameron stops saying that disabled people are exempted from the Bedroom Tax.
- The Joint Public Issues Team has produced a briefing on housing benefit changes and a number of churches made a statement opposing the introduction of the policy.
- The Truth and Lies about Poverty Campaign page can be found here and the report downloaded here.