Official study reveals ‘bedroom tax’ is driving people into hunger and debt

Iain Duncan Smith
Iain Duncan Smith

The ‘bedroom tax’ is forcing people to cut back on food and essential items while burdening them with large personal debts, an official government study has revealed.

Published on the last day of parliament before Christmas, the report reveals the lengths which many tenants are forced to go to keep a roof over the heads.

The survey of 1,500 housing benefit claimants, which was commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and conducted by Ipsos Mori, found that of those affected by the bedroom tax, 76 per cent attempted to find the extra rent by cutting back on food, while 46 per cent spent less on heating and lighting their homes. Over half were forced to cut back on essential items.

A quarter of all those affected were forced to borrow money from friends or family, with around one-in-ten driven to take out payday loans.

The report said that people who were still affected by the bedroom tax in 2014 were “more likely than those no longer affected to say they run out of money by the end of the week or month very or fairly often”.

“Among those still affected, claimants had paid the rent by: using up savings, borrowing from family and friends or accruing debt,” it added.

Introduced by Secretary of State for work and pensions Iain Duncan Smith in 2013 as a means to free up housing stock, the removal of the spare room subsidy has only resulted in a small minority of those affected being able to move to alternative accommodation, the study found.

Only 17 per cent of those surveyed were able to change their circumstances in order to no longer be affected by the change in the year that the study took place. However, just a small fraction (11 per cent) of this 17 per cent were able to move into smaller social housing and just 1 per cent were able to move into private accommodation.

Almost half of the families with children who were affected by the change, named their child’s enrolment at their local school as the most important barrier to moving.

The Child Poverty Action Group slammed the findings and attacked the government for slipping out the report as MPs head off for Christmas.

Alison Garnham, chief executive, said: “The DWP’s own evaluation finds that the ‘bedroom tax’ is not only pushing families into hardship but it’s also failing to free up more accommodation for families, the key argument ministers used to justify this controversial policy. This is a long and deep look at a hugely controversial policy – it really should not have been released just as MPs rise for Christmas.

“The research shows what anyone working with families already knows: the bedroom tax is forcing people to cut back on the basics of living – food, clothing and footwear.”

The report follows separate research, published earlier this month by Manchester University, which found that children in affected families were showing signs of emotional distress because of the increased pressure their parents were under, following the implementation of the tax.

DWP officials said that between November 2014, when the research concluded, and August 2015, 15,000 households had ceased to be affected by the spare room subsidy.

A Government spokesperson said: “It is wrong that under the previous system taxpayers had to subsidise benefit claimants to live in houses that are larger than they require. Removing the spare room subsidy has restored fairness to the system for claimants as well as the taxpayer, and the numbers subject to a reduction are falling.

“We know that there are cases where people may need extra support whilst they transition to our reforms – that’s why we have given councils £500m of funding to provide discretionary payments to those that need them, with a further £800m to be provided over the course of this Parliament.”

Read the full report on the DWP’s website here.

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