On Tuesday in the House of Commons, MPs face a critical vote on the bedroom tax. Labour have pledged to scrap the tax in 2015 but we want to see an end to it now which is why we've put forward a motion in Parliament to do just that.
The bedroom tax is a cruel and unfair measure that hits over 400,000 disabled people and over 200,000 families with children. The government's own impact assessment concedes that there aren't enough smaller properties in many areas for people to downsize to. Most of those hit by the tax are staying in their homes and paying this tax is making it even hard to get by. People are already struggling to pay their energy bills and put food on the table, the bedroom tax is just another example of how out of touch this government is with the cost of living crisis.
But not only is the bedroom tax an attack on those currently living in social housing, it also hits the five million people on the waiting list because it has led to fewer houses being built. A recent survey by the National Housing Federation found that a quarter of households affected have fallen behind in their rent for the first time ever. Councils and housing associations have said that tens of millions of pounds are likely to be lost through the build up of rent arrears.
But rising rent arrears not only mean heartache for vulnerable tenants and a headache for housing associations and councils they also have consequences for house building too.
The knock-on effect of the bedroom tax is that housing associations are finding it more difficult to borrow, plan for the future and ultimately build homes.
Twenty four leading housing associations had their credit ratings downgraded recently in part because of welfare measures such as the bedroom tax and the chaos surrounding the introduction of universal credit. Measures such as the bedroom tax are making investors nervous about current and future investment, risking potential funds for housebuilding.
A recent report based on figures collected from housing associations in Merseyside showed that more than £22million to build desperately needed new homes could be lost a year as a result of the bedroom tax. This lost money could pay for the construction of 250 new homes. And that's in just one area of the country.
The government knows that its Discretionary Housing Payments aren't enough because it has given Councils permission to use funds from their Housing Revenue Account to pay for the failure of their policy. Southwark council has said they refuse to see their vulnerable tenants fall into a spiral of debt and have used more than £1million from their HRA. Tory-run Swindon council have also had permission to set-up a £420,000 fund.
These funds should be being used to build homes and carry out much needed repairs - but instead they're being used to protect the most vulnerable from this government's bedroom tax.
And the bedroom tax is also having the perverse consequence of leaving some homes completely empty. Coast and Country Housing, which owns more than 10,000 properties on Teesside, says it is struggling to rent out some properties. With estimates that void properties can cost on average £3,000 in repairs, lost rent and increased staff costs, this is yet more money which could be being used to build more homes.
Finally, there are the costs of adapting properties for the needs of disabled people. Two thirds of those hit by the bedroom tax are disabled and around 100,000 households live in properties adapted for their needs, some through local authority grants at an average cost of £6,000 according to some estimates.
Not only is this policy a tragedy for those being forced to move from their homes it will again come at huge cost to the public purse as the taxpayer will have to foot the bill for potentially millions of pounds to adapt the new properties.
There is a chronic shortage of homes and we are building fewer than half the number we need to keep up with demand. Not only is the bedroom tax cruel and unfair, but it is an attack on affordable housing and is exacerbating the housing crisis. The government are in denial not only about the effect of the bedroom tax, but about the scale of the housing crisis.
Labour is determined to tackle this crisis which is why we've committed to increasing house building to over 200,000 by 2020. But we don't have to wait until 2015 to make a difference which is why we've put the motion today to scrap the Bedroom Tax once and for all.