A woman in Merseyside has been told she is losing some of her housing benefit because the sensory room for her severely disabled daughter is classed as a spare bedroom.
I absolutely agree with the removal of housing benefit for spare bedrooms – if someone else is paying your rent then the house you live in should be absolutely what you need, nothing more – and I won’t call it the bedroom tax because it’s not a tax, that’s just a phrase the Labour Party propaganda machine invented. The problem is that the changes have been poorly implemented as usual and that’s led to so much injustice that the majority of the population thinks that it’s a bad idea and would gladly see a return to the system where the taxpayer is subsidising a middle aged couple whose kids have left home to live in a 4 or 5 bedroom house that they don’t need and can’t afford. Of course, if you frame it in those terms most people would say it shouldn’t happen but this is why benefit reform needs to be done right first time, because if you get it wrong the heart overrules the head and people will agree to virtually anything to end the injustice caused by it being done wrong.
In the case of this woman in Merseyside, her 28 year old daughter is registered blind, mentally handicapped and uses a wheelchair. The spare bedroom in their bungalow has been converted into a sensory room with a ball pool, a TV and lights and is also used to store her wheelchairs. Because it’s still classed as a bedroom though, she loses part of her benefits which leaves her in a situation that there is no real way out of. She can’t move to a smaller place because she needs the extra space to store the wheelchairs and sensory equipment and if she finds a part time job to pay the rent shortfall she’ll need a carer for her daughter which the local authority will have to pay for.
Local authorities have been given £150m by the Department of Work & Pensions so they can clear up the mess the benefit reforms have left behind which is a tacit admission that the British government knows it got it wrong and knew in advance that the legislation was poorly written but this isn’t a secure funding source and it’s unlikely that £150m actually covers the costs. This woman in Merseyside has been given a discretionary award to cover the shortfall in her housing benefit for the start of the year but it still leaves her in limbo, knowing that at some point in the near future she’s going to have to go cap in hand to the local authority again and hope that there’s some money available to help her.
People who are using a spare bedroom as sensory rooms or as storage for medical equipment or for some other type of necessary facility for a disabled person shouldn’t have their housing benefit cut for that room. Nor should couples who have to sleep in separate rooms because of a disability or medical condition (such as one of them being too restless, kicking out, etc. in the night). Part time parents (such as weekend dads and mums) who have overnight contact with their children shouldn’t have their housing benefit reduced for a spare room for their children either because in a great many cases that means that the agreed contact with their children can’t happen. Nor should housing benefit be reduced for parents who are keeping a bedroom for their child who normally lives at home who is currently serving overseas in the armed forces and will return home after their tour.
These exclusions could easily have been written in to the legislation to prevent the injustice we’re seeing now and the abolition of the spare bedroom subsidy would have been better received and would be better perceived by the majority. Instead, it is seen as an attack on the sick and disabled and it will be years before the public are willing to support benefit reform again.