Thousands of North East families are facing a bedroom tax bill of almost £20m.
According to new figures, by August – four months after the controversial spare room subsidy policy was introduced – nearly 30,000 of the region’s households had been hit by the new fees.
Each faces losing out on an average of £679.14 in housing benefits each year – though the picture is worse for people in County Durham, Newcastle and Sunderland, which are among the top 10 hardest-hit areas in the UK.
The National Housing Federation claims that 51% of households affected by the bedroom tax were unable to pay their rent between April and June. Their North East external affairs manager Monica Burns called for the policy to be repealed.
“These new Government figures show that the bedroom tax is affecting thousands of people in the North East – for many, there isn’t even anywhere for them to downsize to. There simply aren’t enough smaller social homes available, and the cost of private rented housing is rising.
“The North East is particularly hard-hit, with the highest proportion of people living in social housing affected by the bedroom tax in the country. The Government says discretionary housing payments will help those who cannot downsize, but there isn’t anywhere near enough money.
“The bedroom tax is trapping many people in homes they can no longer afford and where they are struggling. It is unfair, badly designed, and must be repealed.”
A spokesman for the Department for Work & Pensions ( DWP) said that it has given an extra £5,382,375 in funding to councils to make discretionary payments to help those struggling to pay.
Northumberland has received £416,365, Newcastle £685,271, Durham £883,089, Gateshead £373,518, North Tyneside £331,993, South Tyneside £305,483 and Sunderland £658,202.
Hang on – so the government imposes this tax on the poorest sector of society, presumably to raise money. Then, via the DWP, gives over 5 million of it back in order to fund people who cant pay it. Who then give it straight back to the government. Eh ?
I make no claims to being a financial expert (which, on recent evidence of the Co-Op Bank, should put me in the frame for a top job in banking), but I cant help thinking “why not just scrap the tax ?”
It doesn’t seem to raise much cash, is focused on the worst off, and is hardly a vote winner. Perhaps the government should put its mind to all those non-tax-paying corporations and super-rich tax dodgers instead ? But I guess bullies always go for easy targets.
Newcastle North MP Catherine McKinnell (Lab) –
“The bedroom tax is raised by constituents time and time again, who are being penalised for a situation not of their own making and who simply can’t afford to pay.
“These new figures illustrate the appalling impact this pernicious policy is having on many thousands of families across the region – with the extra £680 per year an almost impossible ask for people on low incomes already struggling with a cost of living crisis.
“The policy makes no sense. There are nowhere near sufficient smaller properties for people to move to, and it therefore does nothing to address overcrowding.
“Or – for the thousands of disabled people affected – they clearly need an additional bedroom as it can often be totally impractical for a couple to share in these circumstances.”
Oh, if only I believed Labour would rectify the situation if they win the next election… sadly I no longer have any faith in that direction.
Unemployment in the North East fell by 2,000 in the three months to August, according to official figures.
The Office for National Statistics showed that a total of 133,000 people were unemployed in the region between June and August – a fall of 2,000 on the previous period.
The region’s unemployment rate was 10.3% and saw a fall of 1.5%, but is still the highest in the country.
The devil, of course, is probably in the deatails that they dont’t tell you. For example, how many of those 2000 were sanctioned ?
For those who aren’t aware of them, sanctions for benefit claimants were introduced by Labour, and allowed the DWP to stop the benefits of those who were seen not to be trying – missing appointments, not turning in a list of jobs applied for (even if they were jobs you had no chance of getting), etc. Although it was there, it seemed you had to be pretty stupid – or very unlucky – to get one.
Come the current maladministration and it’s Work Programme (WP). The WP is delivered by private for-profit companies who, in the best neo-liberal traditions, see the unemployed as something to make money out of. The “advisers” working for these companies were given the power to sanction people (although the sanction has to be confirmed by the DWP).
This was obviously a stupid move. The WP companies get paid for everyone they get off the unemployment figures – by whatever means. Someone who has been sanctioned is not counted as being unemployed for the period of their sanction – which could be for between a month and 3 years.
So if you cant get people into jobs that dont exist, sanction them instead – you hit your targets, the company makes money, who loses ? Apart from the poor sods scraping by with no income, but hey – collateral damage.
An analogy might be if firemen were only paid by the number of fires they attended. How long, especially in quiet periods, before firemen actually started fires so that they could attend them and claim the money ?
Nowadays sanctions have mutated from being a fairly rare event to flying around like confetti at a wedding. You dont actually have to do anything to get one – I know, it happened to me.
The first thing I knew about it was when I got a brown enverlope from the DWP informing me that a sanction doubt had been raised against me because I did not attend an official appointment with a WP adviser.
As I pointed out in my appeal, the reason I didn’t attend was very simple… I didn’t know about it. No-one told me !
Happily my appeal was upheld and the sanction overturned. But by all accounts, this “phantom appointment” ploy is happening all the time now. The odd one or two you could put down to ineptitude (my WP provider once booked me an appointment on a Bank Holiday, when the office was closed – this kind of elementary mistake happens all the time) but the sheer quantity suggests that it is widespread and seen by WP advisers as a legitimate way of achieving their targets.
So – when I see figures like the ones at the top of the page I always wonder how many of that 2000 were actually sanctioned, and not in work at all ? Two thousand divided by three months only equates to 666 per month (told you the devil was in the details !) How many of those were serving sanctions, I wonder.
And however you slice up the statistics, we still have the worst unemployment levels.
If you are having problems with sanctions – or just want to read more horror stories – I suggest you view the Unemployment Movement forum – see the links section on the right of this page.