New research reveals ‘bedroom tax’ is damaging children’s education
Experts have called on the UK government to review its ‘bedroom tax’ policy after a new study revealed the reform is having a serious impact on children’s ability to learn.
In the first piece of research to examine the impact of the welfare policy on children and their education, academics found that the introduction of the so-called bedroom tax, alongside other cuts in benefits, was having an adverse effect on pupils’ ability to learn and concentrate, with the emotional distress caused by poverty taking its toll on schoolwork.
The report from Manchester University found that children are arriving at school less able to learn as a result of hunger and stress – with head teachers drawing attention to “the way that material hardship was affecting children’s ability to learn, both at school and in the home”.
It also found that forcing children to share bedrooms – required under the government changes which reduce housing benefit for those judged to have ‘spare rooms’– was having a negative impact on schooling by leaving youngsters without a quiet place for homework or undisturbed sleep.
The qualitative study carried out in-depth research with a small group of parents, schools and community organisations over a 16-month period.
“The findings of this study confirm a wider picture emerging from research which points to the bedroom tax failing to meet its original aims while contributing to significant hardship among low-income families,” said Professor Ruth Lupton, from the University of Manchester, who is one of the report’s authors
“Our study suggests that the pressure put on families by this cut in benefits may also be working contrary to other policies that are intended to support child wellbeing and educational achievement, diminishing their effectiveness.”
Professor Erica Burman, co-author, added: “The Government should review its policy. Doing so would show a greater commitment to supporting children, helping parents to maintain their responsibilities, reinforcing communities, tackling educational inequalities and ensuring that the effects of austerity do not fall disproportionately on poor families.”
The university found that parents were saving money by cutting back on food, heating and other essentials and foregoing warm winter clothes, shoes and school uniforms for their children as a result of the reduction in benefits.
Families were becoming more isolated and children’s access to friends and after-school activities were reduced. Some parents said they were regularly going without meals so that their children could eat.
School staff interviewed as part of the study told how children were showing signs of emotional distress caused by the effects of poverty, including seeing the pressure felt by their parents, and that material hardship was adversely affecting their ability to learn.
Schools and community groups explained how they had responded to the benefit changes by reallocating their finances, staffing and care services to prioritise feeding and clothing children. Pupil premium funding, for example, had been used to extend breakfast clubs, while one school had opened its own account with a shoe shop.
The SNP said the study reaffirms the importance of the Scottish Government’s full mitigation of the bedroom tax.
The Scottish Government has now committed £90 million to fully mitigate the policy in Scotland and will effectively abolish the measure completely when it has the powers to do so.
SNP MSP Kevin Stewart said: “This is yet further evidence of the terrible impact the Tories’ bedroom tax is having south of the border – not only pushing more people into poverty, but preventing children in England and Wales from reaching their full potential.
“Figures published last month show that if the SNP in government had not mitigated impact of the bedroom tax, over 71,500 households would have been hit with the iniquitous tax – and at least 11,000 children in Scotland would be facing the same problems as children south of the border.
“The SNP in government remains committed to abolishing this unfair policy when it has the powers to do so. The fact is that the bedroom tax is a failed policy by every measure – and the Scottish Government has now spent £90m on cleaning up the Tories’ mess and protecting children, the disabled and vulnerable households.
“It’s time George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith recognised the impact of this hated levy on children in England and Wales and on public finances in Scotland. The simplest and fairest solution remains for the measure to be dropped immediately by the DWP.”