Charities, faith groups, trade unions and others issue call for collective action to reverse devastating policy
The third sector and wider Scottish civil society are already working with communities to help them deal with the devastating impact of benefit cuts. Rather than increasing economic and social independence, these cuts have had the opposite effect.
The under-occupancy penalty or “bedroom tax” has been the tipping point for thousands who are being forced into destitution or to move away from local support networks. The impact has been to effectively deny individuals and families the most basic human rights – as highlighted this week by the UN Rapporteur.
We welcome commitments made to repeal this policy but for some, the damage is already done. Together, we call on UK, Scottish and local government to stand with us and with all those affected by the Bedroom Tax in order to make a positive difference. As more evidence of the damaging and costly consequences of this policy emerges, the UK Government must abandon the Bedroom tax. At the very least, additional exemptions must be granted to ensure people are able to live independently. These include:
• Spouses/partners including unpaid carers who cannot share a room because of illness or disability or where space is need for vital equipment
• Unpaid carers who have had to move house to provide support to a loved one.
• A wider exemption for parents of servicemen and women
• Homeless people with no option other than temporary accommodation.
• Those with a spare room where no suitable alternative accommodation is available.
Guidance on current exemptions must also be clear and unambiguous.
We offer our support to the Scottish Government to consider all possible actions to eradicate the impact of the bedroom tax and to ensure that those affected have access to practical support and assistance.
We very much welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to provide £20million this year to mitigate some of the impact. To ensure this gets to the people who need it most, we must tackle the developing postcode lottery in information about, and access to Discretionary Housing Payments. This includes disability benefits being included in income calculations by some authorities but not others.
We must continue to work together to maximise the numbers eligible for exemptions and to ensure more consistent application of existing exemptions at local level.
Whilst the “bedroom tax” was not created in Scotland, the lack of affordable and appropriate housing stock here means that people may still be penalised and pushed into debt through no fault of their own. We must act collectively to ensure they face no additional pressure such as being pushed to sell possessions or receiving frequent phone calls about their debt.
The £20m commitment, alongside the proposed Housing Bill provides opportunities for us to work collectively to mitigate the worst impact of this policy. We need also to look ahead beyond this year. Therefore, civil society - faith groups, community activists, trade unions and others – are calling on the Scottish Government and local authorities to meet with us to tackle the challenges outlined above. We must ensure the experience of homeless people, unpaid carers, disabled people and others helps shape any response.
Scotland is a caring nation. Even where policies which impact on people are not of our making, we must stand up and speak out. We must also take every opportunity to take collective action to help those whose lives are being devastated.
Mrs Barbour’s Army
The Scottish Trades Union Congress
Faith in Community Scotland
The Church of Scotland
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
Child Poverty Action Group
Carers Trust Scotland
Voluntary Action Scotland
Community Transport Scotland
Self Directed Support Scotland
Glasgow Disability Alliance
One Parent Families Scotland
Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living
Glasgow Council for the Voluntary Sector
Lothian Centre for Inclusive Living
Turning Point Scotland
Carers Trust Scotland
For further information contact Dave Moxham 0140 337 8100