Lord Freud’s controversial comments on the bedroom tax this week should come as no surprise to anybody. For three years we’ve been part of the fight against this policy, highlighting the lack of equality, the lack of compassion, and the false economy of it. His two suggested solutions to the ‘bedroom tax’ were quite simply letting children sleep on a sofa bed when they stay, or finding a job. Not only do these solutions demonstrate that same disregard for compassion and equality that we have become used to, but they ignore an overwhelming body of evidence that say they will not work.
The first ‘solution’ makes the assumption that a tenant – a single mother or father – has managed to downsize from the house the policy judges them to be under-occupying. Evidence has shown that they are unable to do this. Figures unearthed by BBC Wales revealed that just 400 social rented single bed homes were available across Wales for people to downsize into. Lord Freud’s own department estimates 40,000 under-occupiers.
There is, of course, the option of downsizing into the private rented sector. CHC members’ own evidence to the Welsh Affairs committee, supported by a Channel 4 investigation, has shown consistently that this is a more expensive option. You have to wonder how much consideration Lord Freud has given to this false economy when he talks about ‘very expensive things’ for the state to do.
And so, to the argument that those people under-occupying their homes should look for work. 20% of housing benefit claimants already work. Then there are those who can’t. People with disabilities have often been lost in the debates about the ‘bedroom tax’. We’re left with those who can work who, in Wales, find themselves amongst 119,000 unemployed people, with less than 20,000 vacancies up for grabs. Assuming that all applicants are equal, and of course they’re not, that’s a 1 in 6 chance of a job. Statistics show that in some of our most deprived communities such as Blaenau Gwent, that is more like 1 in 23. This is before we consider the circumstances of the applicants, who may well be unable to find any suitable jobs in their area.
Lord Freud made it very clear in his evidence that he believes tenants have a choice when it comes to the ‘bedroom tax’. However, six weeks into the life of the policy, the only choice many face is whether to pay their rent or feed their family.