Julie Fadden: Our welfare system should provide for the most vulnerable in society
Vice President candidate Julie Fadden shares her views on the bedroom tax.One of the key things that always galvanizes me into action and fires the passion within me is injustice, and social injustice in particular.
I fully accept that everyone cannot be at the same earning and lifestyle level, that’s normal life, but the whole purpose of our welfare system is that those at the most vulnerable level in our society are provided for.
Therefore when Iain Duncan Smith and Lord Freud unleashed their welfare reforms on the nation, we expected that our welfare provision would be restructured and simplified. We also expected that, in line with the government austerity measures, there would probably be a lot of people worse off in the government’s attempt to do their reverse Robin Hood and take from the poor to allow concessions for the better off as that wins them votes from the faithful - that's life!
However, what we were not ready for was the retrospective hit on social tenants by the imposition of the Single Room Subsidy, or bedroom tax, that imposed reductions in benefit for those who unfortunately had a bedroom or more spare in their homes.
I don't have the words in polite company to describe the level of anger and disgust the bedroom tax has brought out in me - it is THE most hateful, evil and cruel policy ever to be imposed on our tenants, and it has cost social landlords millions in lost rent, arrears, creating vacancies for downsizing via transfers, increased void expenditure, more staff required to manage the fallout. I could go on and on – but we all work in this sector and have lived through this experience.
Housing professionals are sensible, rational people, and we accept when government policy is changed that we need to flex and adapt what we do to accommodate. We work in an environment of constant change, we are used to it.
However, when the bedroom tax was applied it was done so retrospectively – not for new tenancies formed after the policy change – which although undesirable, would still have been accepted and implemented. We would’ve just ensured all under-occupation was avoided with effect from the commencement date and therefore managed the risk properly.
By applying this policy retrospectively, under-occupied tenants then had their benefit cut through no fault of their own. Disabled tenants who needed a separate bedroom for their partner or medical equipment were penalised, parents whose children died at Hillsborough were penalised, the list of the disadvantaged is horrendous and those affected have been driven to consider taking their own lives – this is simply not good enough.
The hardship that this policy has caused has driven decent people to queue at food-banks for free food to feed their families – is this right in 2015 in one of the richest countries in the world? I think not!
I hope and pray every day that sometime soon, the government will see sense and repeal this law that has caused untold harm. ALL parties should be committed to getting rid of it, not just the Labour Party.