Newcastle residents ‘going hungry to pay bedroom tax’

Families in Newcastle are going hungry just so they can hang onto their homes following the introduction of the bedroom tax, a report has said.

Research released by Newcastle University reveals communities are being ripped apart by the tax, which has left people in the region feeling “hopeless”.

Many are finding it almost impossible to manage ever-decreasing incomes, with many spiralling into debt and rent arrears in order to afford bare essentials such as food.

Tyneside, where the research was carried out, is disproportionately affected by the bedroom tax with some 50,000 households estimated to be ‘under-occupying’.

Social housing provider Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) reported last year that 66% of people affected by the bedroom tax were in rent arrears.

Residents were finding it increasingly difficult to buy simple, basic foodstuffs and in some extreme cases, cutting down to just one meal a day, or going to bed early to evade hunger and keep warm – a pattern more prevalent among parents to ensure their children were properly fed.

The University research – A qualitative study of the impact of the UK ‘bedroom tax’ – looks at the effects of the tax on the area.

It followed people living in Walker in Newcastle, which is in the top 10% most deprived areas of the UK, where around 650 homes are affected by the bedroom tax.

Dr Suzanne Moffatt, who was involved in the research, said:

“The bedroom tax reduces a home to simply bricks and mortar.

“However, these are homes that people invest in over time, places of safety within communities that offer friendship and support.

“As a consequence, many of those we interviewed elected to pay the tax in order to stay in their homes, resulting in cutting back on essentials such as food and heat to do so.

“Rather than improve housing stock efficiency and save tax payers money, the effect of the bedroom tax in the North East is likely to make the distribution of social housing less efficient.”

 

Dr Moffatt says the new study undermines Government claims that implementing the ‘removal of the spare room subsidy’ in April 2013 would not have a detrimental impact on people’s health and well-being.

She added:

“Monumental effort was put in by people to simply ‘survive’. Their accounts powerfully demonstrate how loss of income as a result of the bedroom tax has a detrimental effect on mental health, with many saying it had left them feeling ‘hopeless’.”

Researchers within Newcastle University’s Institute of Health and Society also looked at the YHN pilot scheme set up in help people in response to the introduction of the tax.

Neil Scott, director of Tenancy Services, said:

“We encouraged residents to enrol onto training courses. For those that took part, it was highly beneficial, with a small number of mainly short-term jobs created within our organisation.”

The pilot ran for seven months from September 2013 to April 2014 and included budgeting and housing advice, with a focus on testing the Government’s claims that work pays by supporting residents who were farthest from the labour market to gain employment.

Dr Moffatt added:

“Although this pilot was fantastic for those involved, one person working over seven months can only achieve so much.

“At a time when local authority budgets are being increasingly tightened, it is always going to be difficult to fund interventions of this kind.

“These people are not languishing around on benefits by any means – they face many complex barriers to employment such the poor state of the local labour market, as well as mental or physical health issues and lack of qualifications.”

Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 16 Mar 2015

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