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17 July 2014

The Lib Dems’ change of heart over the bedroom tax shows the tide is turning

Even if the Liberal Democrats' u-turn on the bedroom tax is a political tool, it is a step in the right direction of abolishing this toxic policy.

By richard kramer

The bedroom tax has been one of the most unpopular benefits policies in a long time. It has unfairly penalised disabled people and their families leading to financial hardship, not to mention emotional distress. Ill thought out and poorly implemented, it really is an example of top down policy with no consideration of the impact on disabled people’s lives. Unsurprisingly the Liberal Democrats are now distancing themselves from this toxic policy and have called for reforms to protect disabled people, the elderly and children.

Disabled people should never have been included in the bedroom tax. Placing financial penalties on some of the most vulnerable in society, many of whom have struggled to find a suitable property in the first place, is deeply flawed.

One of the farcical elements of this policy has been that in the long-term the costs of forcing a disabled person to move far exceed the savings of them living in a smaller property. Someone that I recently spoke to lives in a small two bedroom flat which has been specially adapted as he is deafblind.  He has also had extensive mobility training so that he can move around his home safely. He cannot afford the financial penalty imposed by the bedroom tax but equally moving will cost his local council a great deal as they will need to adapt a new property and provide more training to help him settle. Ironically if he moves he we will require a spare room for an overnight carer while adjusts to a new property.

Sadly this is just one example of the impact of the bedroom tax. Many disabled people are also found to have a so called ‘extra room’ despite requiring it because of their disability. This might be for storing equipment, for carers to stay in or for siblings who are unable to share a bedroom.

The media has been full of these troubling examples over the past 18 months including the Rutherford family in South Wales. Paul and Sue Rutherford care for their grandson Warren and use a spare bedroom for an occasional overnight carer. In May they lost their High Court battle against the claim that they are under occupying their property and their fight continues. Of course the emotional toll of these cases is also high and it is the human element of these stories that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Society’s treatment and views of disabled people are epitomised by the bedroom tax. I don’t believe that the Government set out to directly target disabled people when they drafted this policy. But their lack of care and overlooking the potential impact of disabled people is negligent and part of a much wider narrative. 

Disabled people have borne the brunt of coalitions benefit reforms. The move from DLA to PIP has been marred with delays, poor assessments and private sector companies who have performed poorly. Cuts to social care have also had a huge impact and many disabled people are struggling to get by. The Government should not be implementing sweeping national policies on housing or benefits forgetting the impact they will have on this large constituency. 

A one size fits all approach simply does not work when it comes to disability. After all ‘disability’ isn’t all the same. This is at the heart of the bedroom tax problem. Disabled people have different needs and these needs to be taken into account. Short term care and extra equipment need to be taken account of. We should not be marginalising disabled people, forcing them to live on the fringes of society. I fear this is what this policy is achieving.

The Liberal Democrats change of heart over the bedroom tax may well be a political tool, but it is a sign that the tide is turning.  Not only has the policy been a PR disaster for the Government, it has had a huge personal cost as well. Exempting disabled people from the bedroom tax is the right thing to do and I hope that the Government follows suit and finally acknowledges that they must reconsider this disastrous policy.
 

Richard Kramer is deputy CEO of deafblind charity Sense