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The Dark Con of Clegg: The Harsh Reality of the Bedroom Tax

Posted: 13/02/2013 17:02

Under the veil of alleviating hardship, our government is preparing to implement a tax that will hit the weakest in our society. Disabled people who need a bedroom for their carer will soon face a massive cut to their housing benefit. The con is that there is help at hand. Because in reality, help is nowhere to be found.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg is trotting out the existence of a discretionary of £50million housing fund to be spread across the whole of the UK. The aim is to alleviate any hardship that might occur from April when the Welfare Reforms cut the amount of benefit that people can claim if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home. The fund is to be used to meet the shortfall created by government policy and on the face of it, it appears to do what it says on the tin. Its purpose is to bridge the gap between the rent charged and the benefit paid, in appropriate circumstances.

Unfortunately there is a catch. Local authorities are adding extra definitions to the criteria such as: "The award is intended as a short-term measure to alleviate poverty or difficult circumstances and should not be relied upon in the long term." While this may be acceptable in the case of an elderly or acutely ill person with a temporary need, it is of no use whatsoever to a young disabled person with a devolved care package seeking to live with support in their own home. I personally know several hundred people with this level of need.

It seems we must continue fighting the same battle for the right of people with extra social and care needs, as we have done for years.

2009 otherwise marked a landmark decision when Commissioner Turnbull, who leads the upper tribunal service on matters relating to specialist housing, ruled in the case CH/4018/2007 [2009] UKUT 116 (AAC). The decision settled a case involving a restriction of benefit on the grounds of under-occupation. In this case and others, including some that I have been directly involved in, Turnbull held that the room required for a carer was occupied as the claimant's home and was therefore eligible for benefit.

Since this landmark ruling, local authorities have rolled out self-directed care - giving more disabled people control over their own care budgets. It marked a time when severely disabled people faced the real prospect of living an ordinary life, with support.

But now, it seems, we are returning to square one: a place where people's lives are lived by a succession of temporary deals.

During the committee stage of the Health and Social Care Bill the secretary of state for health, Andrew Lansley acknowledged that housing was at the centre of social care. He also acknowledged that, at times, the housing sector felt a bit like an 'add on'. Yet government policy continually fails to taken the housing needs of disabled people into consideration.

The people whose case I am arguing here are not people who will 'get better'. Many of them will, however, lead long full lives. Therefore, we cannot simply provide a succession of temporary fixes which are costly, unsatisfactory and which will result in further stress and hardship for some of society's weakest.

The bedroom tax is nothing other than a money saving vehicle. In quizzing Mr Clegg on the issue, several MPs stressed that there is simply no smaller accommodation available for these people to move into. The bedroom tax will have a direct impact on vulnerable people; reducing their standard of living to a level we should be ashamed of as a welfare state. Yet their concerns seem to be falling on deaf ears.

Disabled people in Britain are under attack: from the tightening of eligibility criteria for domiciliary care, the hike in charges, the latest assault by ATHOS and now the bedroom tax. On this point our government is incompetent, incapable or unwilling to listen to the voices of the most vulnerable in society.

Under 'discretionary fund', disabled people who need a bedroom for their carer will have a choice between cutting their food bill, cutting their care bill or living without a night time carer - hoping that they will wake up in the morning. If you think that sounds harsh, you should spend a day with me. Because for many people, it is the harsh reality of life under this government.

 

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