The Bedroom Tax: Cruel, unfair, discriminatory - Sarah Champion

The recent ruling of the Court of Appeal confirmed what Labour, local councils, charities and campaign groups have been saying since the 'bedroom tax' was first introduced, it unfairly discriminates against society's most vulnerable people. The case involved a woman who had fled the most extreme domestic violence. She is a victim of rape, and had been harassed and stalked by a former partner who had threatened to kill her. Thousands of pounds have been spent by the police reinforcing her home's security and fitting a panic room with links to the local police station. The panic room was deemed to be a spare room and therefore subject to the 'bedroom tax,' costing the woman an additional £12 per week.

Police in Britain receive an average of 100 calls per hour relating to domestic violence. Each year 1.4 million women suffer some form of domestic violence. An average of seven women per month are killed by a former partner, with 100,000 people each year deemed to be at high and imminent risk of being murdered or seriously injured as a result of domestic violence. Domestic violence in Britain remains a serious problem and we must do everything we can to support those fleeing abuse and those at risk.

It disgusts me that women facing domestic violence should be confronted with a financial penalty for facilities essential to their safety and security. This is just one sign of the government's failure to get to grips with the problem. Cuts to local authority and police budgets have left support for victims of domestic violence at crisis point. Women's refuges face closure, with the government consistently refusing to ringfence funding. Police specialist domestic violence units are facing unprecedented demand and are struggling to cope. These failures leave women with a stark choice: flee domestic violence and risk homelessness, or remain and face violence or even death.

The 'bedroom tax' is fundamentally flawed. It ignores the differences in individual circumstances and seemingly automatically discriminates against those with specialist needs. Yet the government's response to this most recent setback has been nothing if not predictable. It will appeal the ruling. Rather than acknowledge what it has been told by the public, members of parliament, charities and now the courts, it remains set on this pernicious course.

The 'bedroom tax' does not even fulfil its supposed key objective: the freeing up of under-occupied social housing. The Department for Work and Pensions' own evaluation of the tax found that just one in nine of those affected were able to avoid the tax by moving to a smaller property. It also found that three in four had been forced to cut back on food.

Not content with presiding over this disastrous policy, the government seems determined to make these problems even worse. Measures announced in the autumn statement will set a new cap on housing benefit for social tenants equivalent to that for private rents. This will inevitably have a dire impact on specialist housing providers, including those for victims of domestic violence. These services face much higher costs than private rented accommodation and it is estimated that 82,000 specialist homes could become unviable, with a recent survey suggesting 95 per cent of supported housing organisations could have to close some accommodation.

The government's response, both to the recent court case and to concerns about housing benefit caps, has been to point to the availability of discretionary housing payments. But these have proved to be woefully inadequate. Less than 25 per cent of those hit by the 'bedroom tax' have been supported by discretionary housing payments. The additional £70m pledged by the government from 2018 is a drop in the ocean.

The government has pursued a systematic assault on social housing in Britain. The ruling from the Court of Appeal is just the latest setback for a policy which is cruel, unfair and discriminatory. Furthermore, it simply does not work. It is time that the government listened to what it has been told repeatedly and abandoned this shameful attack on Britain's most vulnerable.

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