Next week is a very important meeting of council as it’s when we set our budget. Normally I wouldn’t add to the volume of business to be discussed on such a night, but there is a very pressing issue to raise. This is the ‘bedroom tax’ which is due to come into force in 6 weeks time. This will affect 1008 households in our borough and has to be one of the worst thought through pieces of legislation of recent years (and that’s saying something in my opinion). Anyone who has a ‘spare bedroom’ and receives housing benefit under retirement age will have to pay for the privilege.
Now that might or might not be reasonable if you imagine a single person living alone in a three bedroom house. However the reality is that most of these spare bedrooms aren’t spare at all. For example on medical grounds many disabled children are not able to share a room, and indeed many adults with medical conditions or disabilities are not able to share a bedroom with a partner – I’ve heard of a case locally husband lies with his wife while she falls asleep and then gets up to go to the spare room so that he doesn’t risk hurting her in his sleep – she has recently had abdominal operations following cancer.
Parents whose children are serving in the armed forces would not consider their room ‘spare’ – but the legislation would. There are also divorced or separated parents who ‘share’ their care and keep a room for when their child comes to see them at the weekend. All of these people will be hit by the bedroom tax.
We also have foster carers in Reading who keep a room available for children who they foster. Amazingly foster children aren’t counted as part of the household for this calculation. Fostered children are already vulnerable and disorientated, what message does this send out?
There isn’t as much that the council can do about this as I’d like but I’ve put the motion below together and my colleague John Ennis, who is lead councillor for education and children’s services has agreed to second it because of the very great impact this will have on many youngsters.
I have deliberately avoided attacking the Conservative party in this motion, not because I am not angry but because I want to make it easier for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors to vote with us or at least abstain. I hope that they will agree that their affected constituents need support on this issue – and that local council shouldn’t have to absorb the inevitable increase in homelessness, rent arrears and need for care packages that this will lead to.
This council notes that:
The ‘bedroom tax’ is due to take effect from April this year.
It will affect anyone of working age (below 61 ½) deemed to be ‘underoccupying’ a social
housing home this is 596 council tenants and 412 housing association households in every part of
That those families with a disabled child who should not be sharing a bedroom for medical
reasons are not exempt from this.
That those couples who need an extra bedroom because of one of them having a medical
condition or disability are not exempt from this.
That foster carers are not exempt from this.
That the Berkshire authorities have recently launched a joint campaign to recruit foster carers
That this council is committed to supporting all residents both children and adults, including
those with disabilities and medical needs.
That the discretionary payments fund that the Tory-led government has made available is
estimated to cover less than a quarter of those affected by the bedroom tax.
That the government’s own equality impact assessment estimates that 2/3rds of households
affected will have a member with a disability.
10. That many independent analysts are predicting that households will move into the private rented
sector, costing more and that care needs for many disabled people will increase, again costing more.
11. That there is not an excess supply of small properties available for households to move to in
Council therefore believes:
That the bedroom tax will unfairly hit many people including foster carers, families with
disabled children, disabled veterans and other adults with disabilities.
2. This policy may well end up costing the public purse more.
3.That this policy will penalise foster carers who do so much to support this town’s most
vulnerable children at a time when we want to recruit more.
4. That disabled people – both adults and children – deserve respect and not to be penalised for
their medical needs.
5. That both housing associations and this council will have more difficulty in keeping arrears
down, damaging services for all tenants.
Council therefore resolves to:
Mandate the Managing Director of the council to write to the secretary of state outlining our
concerns and urgently requesting that the bedroom tax is suspended.
Mandate the lead councillor for housing and neighbourhoods to write to the borough’s MPs
outlining our concerns and asking that they lobby for their affected constituents and push for the
bedroom tax to be suspended.
To encourage housing associations to be proactive in supporting their tenants.
Request that housing, housing benefit and children’s services work together to look at foster
carer’s individual situations to provide support to them.
To write to all affected council tenants inviting them to meet and discuss their individual
situations and offer advice and support.
To ask officers to hold surgeries in accessible locations around town to encourage face to face
contact with tenants who are affected.