Many unhappy returns to the bedroom tax

Stop carping, you lot. The removal of the spare room subsidy is a success.

Today is of course the first of the month as well as the first anniversary of the introduction of the bedroom tax and a wave of other welfare reforms. But I am paraphrasing Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey rather than making a token effort at an April Fool.


Yesterday’s work and pensions questions brought inevitable attacks on the policy that has caused so much controversy since its introduction a year ago.

Labour’s Kate Green quoted last week’s reports from the BBC that just 6 per cent of households affected by the bedroom tax have managed to move and from Real Life Reform that eight out of ten are in debt and their borrowing is increasing by £52 a week. ‘Rather than preaching about careful budgeting, why do Ministers not just scrap this hated and unworkable tax, which is sending people spiralling into debt?

IDS’s reply is worth quoting in full:

‘It is interesting that the Opposition and the hon. Lady take the view that people moving is a bad thing. Let me just tell her—[Interruption.] It is interesting that they say that, but 30,000-plus people—I will repeat that: 30,000 people—who were in overcrowded accommodation have now had the opportunity for the first time to move into houses where they are not overcrowded. The hon. Lady and the Opposition left us with a quarter of a million people in that position— 250,000—so in 10 months over 10% have had the opportunity to move and we are saving over £1 million a day. I call that a success.’

That £1 million a day savings is one of those DWP statistics that it gives to the press without ever publishing on its own website so there is no way of checking it. Presumably it simply reflects the saving to the DWP housing benefit budget for social tenants without including any of the other costs that will eventually fall on taxpayers.

The 30,000 figure is 6 per cent of the 498,000 households currently affected by the bedroom tax. Note first that there is no attempt to repeat McVey’s claim on the Today programme last week that the real figure is 8 per cent or acknowledge that the more people that move the less money the DWP will save. But more importantly note the careful phrasing of the answer. The matching 30,000 people in overcrowded accommodation ‘have had the opportunity to move’. He can hardly say more than that given the regional mismatch between overcrowding and under-occupation and all those newly empty three-bed homes in the North. ‘I call that a success.’

But IDS seemed so pleased with his success that the careful phrasing went out of the window when he was asked a friendlier question later on. Conservative MP Philip Davies asked if he had noticed that the ‘Labour BBC’ had at first complained that too many people would be removed from their homes yet was now complaining that too few had moved. ‘In the interests of fairness, surely taxpayers not on housing benefit who cannot afford a spare bedroom should not be expected to pay for a spare bedroom for people on housing benefit,’ he said.

IDS’s reply is again worth quoting in full:

‘The first and principal point is that this programme is saving over £1 million a day for hard-pressed taxpayers, many of whom, as my hon. Friend said, cannot afford a spare room themselves but were paying taxes to subsidise those who had spare rooms. The second point is that over 30,000 people who were once in overcrowded accommodation, left behind by Labour in terrible conditions, are now moving into better houses. This programme is a success. The Opposition did nothing about those people the whole time they were in government. ‘

More importantly, note how in the time between the two questions those 30,000 overcrowded families have gone from having ‘the opportunity to move’ to ‘moving into better houses’. As far as I am aware there is absolutely no evidence for this – and lots of evidence of bedroom tax victims who want to move but can’t because no smaller homes are available – but ‘this programme is a success.’

The bedroom tax is of course only one of a wave of welfare reforms introduced under the coalition. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that most of these have also been successes.

Take the Work programme and its record on helping disabled people find a job. According to IDS, ‘it has been successful for those who are furthest from the labour market’. According to shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves: ‘The truth is that just 5 per cent of disabled people on the Work programme end up in work. If that is a success, I would like to know what failure is.’

Take Universal Jobsmatch, the programme on which it emerged recently that 60 per cent of jobs are bogus (MI6 was not really seeking a ‘target elimination specialist’). That ‘revolutionises the way jobseekers look for work’, said Esther McVey. ‘Shame on you!’ she told the Labour MP who questioned it.

Or take Universal Credit. Labour’s Chi Onwurah asked whether the government would ‘continue the development of the existing, discredited universal credit IT system while building a new system in parallel’. How much would the double development costs and how it was going to recruit the skills it needs ‘given the current shambles’? IDS’s answer will not surprise you. Recruitment has been ‘a big success’ and the system is ‘not ‘discredited’.

Labour’s Chris Bryant pointed out that the government originally promised that a million people would be on universal credit from today. The actual figure is less than 4,000.

Instead of moaning, said IDS, he should get out and ‘see how successful its rolling out has been’.

After all that success, it was some relief to hear Mike Penning, the minister for disabled people, admit to problems with the work capability assessment and personal independence payment and failures by Atos and Capita as a succession of MPs complained about delays.

As we uncelebrate the bedroom tax’s first birthday, it’s vital to remember that it is just one of a whole range of welfare reforms and that, as the FT reported yesterday, 60 per cent of coalition spending cuts are yet to come.

Originally posted on Inside Edge, my blog for Inside Housing


3 Comments on “Many unhappy returns to the bedroom tax”

  1. beastrabban says:

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    This is an introduction to a much longer piece demolishing IDS’ claim that the Bedroom Tax is a success, as is Universal Credit and the government’s professed help getting the disabled back into work. In all of this IDS simply holds forth with statistics that are not published on the DWP’s website, so they can’t be independently verified, and the context of the statistics is omitted, to make what are actually horrendous failure seem like successes. This is indeed a government that couldn’t stop lying if it’s life depended on it.

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