The emotional costs of 'bedroom tax' could far exceed savings in housing benefits, says Karen Wilson.
The recent news that the Government is going to look again at how the changes in housing benefit rules (dubbed ‘bedroom tax’) will affect disabled people was widely welcomed. Most people agree that it’s entirely necessary that an extra bedroom is necessary in the case of couples where a disability means that they can no longer sleep in the same room, or when a child with complex care needs requires a separate room from his or her sibling, regardless of gender.
Although people of pensionable age are exempt from the changes, those below are not. In addition to the thousands of families affected, one of the hardest hit groups will be single people now approaching old age, who have spent their entire lives living in the home in which they were born. Many will have previously cared for their own parents, but saving the tax payer thousands of pounds on social care costs appears to count for little when you have more than one bedroom.
The strong bond a person forms with the house they have lived in for many years is well documented, as is the intrinsic link between ‘home’ and social wellbeing. Evidence shows that to forcibly break this connection can have a devastating effect on an individual’s social and cognitive wellbeing, in some cases requiring health interventions that would otherwise not have been necessary. Where is the cost saving in that?
I have personal experience of such links. Following the death of his mother (my Grandmother), my uncle was told that he would have to move out of the Housing Association-owned home that he had lived in all his life, as the tenancy was not in his name and it had three bedrooms. He was offered a bungalow, which he was advised “would better suit his needs”. His increasing mobility needs maybe, but the social need to be in the place he had called home for the previous 62 years and which held his entire lifetime of memories? Definitely not! In the end, it required intervention from family, friends and local councillors, before he was told several months later that he could stay. Sadly, for the remaining eight years of his life, my uncle lived with an absolute, unnecessary fear of potential eviction.
We all recognise that there is an acute shortage of housing, not least family-sized homes, and where possible, we should work with individuals to consider whether downsizing is an option. However, rather than the draconian measure of forcing people through financial penalty to leave their home, we must consider alternative housing solutions, or the cost to society is likely to far exceed the savings on Housing Benefit.