Tag Archives: discretionary housing payment

Latest DWP lie: Millions ‘unspent’ in support for ‘welfare reform’ victims

Fraud: This man wants you to believe DWP austerity measures are succeeding, in order to win votes at next year's general election. They aren't. He is a liar.

Fraud: This man wants you to believe DWP austerity measures are succeeding, in order to win votes at next year’s general election. They aren’t. He is a liar.

The Department for Work and Pensions is merrily claiming that more than £13 million allocated to help people who have been hit be the government’s unfair ‘welfare reforms’ via Discretionary Housing Payments has gone unclaimed. Lord Freud wants you to think “recent scare stories about councils running out of money were grossly exaggerated”.

He was – of course – lying through his teeth.

A quick look at the facts reveals that Discretionary Housing Payment was overspent by £3,505,582 during the 2013-14 financial year. That’s two per cent more than the government allocated.

The £13,285,430 underspend quoted in the press release refers to just 240 out of the 380 councils that distribute DHPs. It completely ignores the £16,791,012 overspent by 127 other councils, in order to provide a false figure. The remaining 13 councils spent all of their allocated amounts.

Focus on the regions and the picture gets worse: In Scotland, DHP was overspent by 76 per cent of the amount allocated – £28,700,215 against an allocation of £16,269,675 from the DWP. Scottish councils had to foot the bill for the extra amounts.

Wales spent an extra six per cent – £7,724,176 against an allocation of £7,274,829. Here in Powys, 1,200 of the county’s 8,300 social dwellings were affected by the bedroom tax, with a total annual loss of housing benefit of £800,000. The total DHP funding available was £154,975.

Looking at those figures, it’s amazing the overspend was so small.

It is only in England that a net underspend is recorded – of around £9 million.

So let’s have a look at Lord Fraud’s – sorry, Freud’s – statement that “today’s figures also show that recent scare stories about councils running out of money were grossly exaggerated.”

Grossly exaggerated? The fact is that 127 councils did run out of money – that’s more than one-third of the total.

It would be fairer to say that the scare stories came true.

The press release also states that “around three-quarters of councils also did not apply for a £20 million government top-up fund to help claimants adjust to welfare changes, leaving a further £7.1 million unspent”.

No figures are provided to support this statement.

People will be angry about this – and rightly so.

The BBC has just brought massed complaints down on itself after it chose to ignore a 50,000-strong demonstration against the government’s austerity measures that started outside the Corporation’s front door. Many incensed callers and emailers said they feared the BBC was participating in a conspiracy of silence about the harm being caused to ordinary people.

Now we see the DWP is lying to us about the harm its bedroom tax is doing to ordinary people – including hardworking employees, who make up more than 90 per cent of new housing benefit claimants.

Tory leader David Cameron has been banging the drum for Britishness recently – good for him. It gives us an opportunity to point out that, if there’s one British value that stands out above all the rest, it’s this:

We hate people in authority who try to mislead us.

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Manifestly inadequate again: Coalition cuts support for discretionary housing payments

Bedroom tax victim: Stephanie Bottrill, the woman who committed suicide after the Bedroom Tax - imposed on her in error - left her without enough money to make ends meet.

Bedroom tax victim: Stephanie Bottrill, the woman who committed suicide after the Bedroom Tax – imposed on her in error – left her without enough money to make ends meet.

The spin doctors at the Department for Work and Pensions are working hard to make a decision to cut funding for discretionary housing payments, by claiming it “builds on the £180 million funding this year”. What a crock.

A cut is a cut. There will be less money available to people in financial trouble as a result of government decisions to cut housing benefit (the Bedroom Tax) or other state benefits (the one per cent uprating, the benefit cap, local housing allowances… pick a benefit and it will probably have been slashed).

The announcement was made yesterday (Thursday), and councils have until Monday (February 3) to bid for top-up funds if they need to provide extra support. How nice of the Conservative ministers at the DWP to put a weekend in the middle of the time councils must use to work out what they need! Hopefully, councils already have the figures ready but, if not, it’s clear that the government wants to make the process as difficult as possible – for councils and for people who need help.

So councils will get £165 million in place of the £180 million they had last year – an amount that, itself, was attacked as far too little by councillors at the time. It was, as the Council of Europe has described the government’s supply of other benefits including pensions, unemployment benefit and incapacity benefit, “manifestly inadequate”.

But let’s get back to the spin. The DWP press release states that local authorities are getting the money “to provide extra help for claimants as they move through the government’s welfare reforms”. This avoids the fact that people would not need “extra help” if the government had not imposed these regressive changes in the first place. And they’re not “reforms”. Reform takes us forward. These are just cuts.

“The reforms [cuts] are a key part of the government’s long-term economic plans [cuts] to deliver a strong economy [based, as we know, on a debt-fuelled housing bubble centred on the southeast of England alone] that delivers for people who want to work hard [for extremely low pay] and play by the rules [that are made up by Coalition ministers as they go along].

Work and Pensions Minister Esther McVey said: “Capping benefits is returning fairness to the welfare system and reform of the spare room subsidy is absolutely necessary to make a better use of our social housing when over 300,000 are living in overcrowded homes in Britain and around 1.7 million are on social housing waiting lists in England alone.”

The phrase “capping benefits is returning fairness to the welfare system” is inaccurate as the cap is set too low. The government claimed an average family income is £26,000, but in fact it is slightly more than £31,000. The reason the cap was set at the lower figure is that, at the more appropriate amount, hardly anybody would be affected; the system was fair before the Coalition interfered. Also, the UK has social security, not welfare.

The phrase “reform of the spare room subsidy” is redundant, of course. She meant: “Our arbitrary choice to cut housing benefit – illegally, in many thousands of cases“. In fact, let’s edit out “spare room subsidy” from the rest of our analysis and call it what it is.

She continued: “We are ensuring all working age tenants are treated equally – as claimants receiving housing benefit in private sector already receive support for the number of bedrooms they need and not for spare rooms.” Is that so? How many private sector tenants have been hit by their own bedroom tax in the same way? Is there not a difference in income between private renters and those in social housing? Where are the figures to support this claim?

According to the press release, an advertising campaign was launched in the local papers this week, “to ensure claimants affected by the [Bedroom Tax] are fully aware of the support available to them from Discretionary Housing Payments, home swapping services or to get into work”. I just checked my own local papers…. No. Nothing.

The press release ends with a couple of long-demolished assertions. Neither of these are factually accurate:

“The removal of the [Bedroom Tax] means all working age housing benefit claimants in both social and private rental sectors receive support for the number of bedrooms they need – but not spare rooms.” Wrong. It removes support on an entirely arbitrary basis, according to whether an assessor decides a tenant has a spare bedroom – without reference to any definition of the word “bedroom”. Now, a judge in an Upper Tribunal case has determined that a “bedroom” must be one furnished with a bed and/or used for sleep. In addition, the use of the word “all” for affected housing benefit claimants is inaccurate because those who were in their current accommodation and receiving the benefit before 1996 are exempt from the Bedroom Tax. Many thousands were billed in error and at least one person is known to have committed suicide because of that mistake. That unnecessary death is one of many for which the Coalition government, and the DWP in particular, is responsible.

The other false assertion – that “the benefit cap means claimants no longer receive more in benefits than average household earnings” – has already been dismissed elsewhere in this article.

Keep your wits about you.

The government will continue pumping out this kind of disinformation in support of its ever-more repressive policies – remember, this announcement states that it is cutting the money available for discretionary housing payments (DHPs) – and the right-wing-controlled mass media, including the BBC, will keep on mindlessly repeating it until the general election at least.

That is why sites like Vox Political need to keep reinforcing the facts as they become clear – and why you need to spread those facts, any way you can.

Don’t let them win this battle with lies.

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Bedroom Tax Tories: What they said and why they were wrong

Demonstrating for justice: Campaigners against the Bedroom Tax gathered outside Parliament while MPs debated it inside.

Demonstrating for justice: Campaigners against the Bedroom Tax gathered outside Parliament while MPs debated it inside.

“I’m amazed Labour have chosen to spend their allotted day in Parliament arguing for more unfunded spending on housing benefit.” That’s what Matt Hancock, Conservative MP for West Sussex, had to say about the Opposition Day debate on the Bedroom Tax in the House of Commons on November 12.

Hancock is, it seems, author of a book entitled Masters of Nothing, which sums up his understanding of the situation rather well. He clearly has not mastered the fact that the State Under-Occupation Charge will not save money. He has not mastered the fact that emptying dwellings of their current owners will not make them available to new familes as these people are afraid they will themselves be tipped onto the street when their circumstances change – instead the premises will be left empty, at huge cost to social landlords; and he has not mastered the fact that anyone evicted because of the tax will become a burden on local authorities, who have a duty to rehouse them in bed and breakfast accommodation, even though the money provided to them for this purpose by the government is ludicrously inadequate to the task.

Hancock is not alone in having misconceptions about the Bedroom Tax. Most, if not all, of the Conservatives who spoke during the debate uttered howlers – and the purpose of this article is to name them and explain why they should be ashamed of their words.

Please take the opportunity, Dear Reader, to look for your own MP in the catalogue of calamity that follows, then use it to attack them in their own consituency. Let’s make them realise that actions have consequences.

If you don’t have a Tory MP, feel free to use what follows in order to make sure you never have to put up with one.

We begin with Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) who asked of Rachel Reeves: “What does she say to the almost 400,000 families who are living in overcrowded situations when they look over their shoulders at the almost one million spare bedrooms in Britain?”

The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary responded without hesitation: “I say that instead of presiding over the lowest rate of house building since the 1920s, this Government should get on and build some houses.”

This is the fact of the matter. Conservatives throughout the debate berated Labour for building too little social housing, while ignoring their own abysmal record. In the 2012-13 financial year, only 135, 117 new homes were completed – the lowest number on the books.

The Minister of State, Steve Webb, came back to this point later, saying: “Who was doing the house building for 13 years?” Well, we all know who hasn’t been doing it for the last three.

Mr Ellwood said the Tax was brought in because the cost of housing benefit was rising alarmingly: “After 13 years of Labour the cost of housing benefit doubled to £21 billion. That is unacceptable. The cost to taxpayers was £900 per household. The system was getting out of control.” His failure is that he refused to accept the explanation offered by Labour’s Katy Clark – that this was due to the rising cost of rent in the private sector (private rents have indeed been rising massively and the government refuses to take action because this would interfere with the market. Bizarrely, the Conservative-led Coalition seems to believe it is acceptable to pay huge gobs of housing benefit to private landlords – who make unreasonable demands – and then blame social renting tenants for it). He also, by inference, rejected the evidence that the Bedroom Tax will not save any money.

Mr Ellwood also referred to the deficit run by the Labour government of 1997-2010. He said: “Labour lived beyond its means. In 2002-03, it spent £26 billion beyond its means. Four years later that rose to £33 billion. In its final year of office, the deficit rose to £156 billion. That always accumulates.”

This is disingenuous. As he must know, not only did Labour run a lower deficit than the Conservative governments of both Thatcher and Major (average 41 per cent of gross domestic product) from 1997 to 2007, it also made a surplus in the 2000-2001 financial year – something that the previous Conservative governments never did. This means Labour actually paid off some of the debts that had been accumulating. With that pedigree, even the 43 per cent deficit of 2008 looks respectable. The higher deficits of 2009 and 2010 were entirely caused by the bankster-instigated financial crisis, when the actions taken by Labour were entirely supported by the Conservative Party.

He went on to condemn Labour for voting against £83 billion of welfare savings; if the reasoning for them was as shaky as that for the Bedroom Tax (and it was; see previous VP articles) then Labour was quite right to do so!

It should be noted that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, was not present at the debate. RTU (as we like to call him) was woofing it up in Paris, rather than accounting for his misbehaviour to the taxpayer.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) echoed a comment by Mr Webb, but did it in such an inept way that we’ll look at her words rather than his. Following Labour’s Stephen Twigg, she referred to the too-low allocation of Discretionary Housing Payment to families having to cope with the Bedroom Tax: “Perhaps he would like to speak to his Labour-run Liverpool council and ask why, when it received £892,000 in discretionary housing payments last year, it actually sent back £337,000.”

Mr Twigg put her straight: “Does she accept that the figures that she has given are from before the bedroom tax was introduced? This year, Liverpool city council will certainly spend the entire discretionary housing pot.”

His words echoed fellow Labour MP Lucy Powell, who had previously berated Mr Webb: “The Minister incorrectly gave figures for last year—the bedroom tax was introduced only in April. I was talking about money that will come back this year. I can guarantee that the Minister will not be getting any money back from Manchester this year — the year of the bedroom tax.”

Referring to the 400,000 disabled people affected by the Bedroom Tax, Mrs Reeves said 100,000 disabled people live in properties specially adapted for their disability, but the average grant issued by local authorities for adaptations to homes [when they are forced to move out by the Bedroom Tax] stands at £6,000. The total cost of doing the adaptations all over again could run into tens of millions of pounds.

At this moment, Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire), said while seated: “They’re exempt.”

The response: “The hon. Lady said from a sedentary position that disabled people are exempt, but she would not say it when she was on her feet because she knows it is not true.” In Vox Political‘s home constituency, at least one disabled person has already been evicted because of the Bedroom Tax.

Philip Davies (also known as ‘Stupid of Shipley’) weighed in with a shocking error, in an attempt to attack his local housing association and its director, a Labour MP: “Does the Minister agree that the spare room subsidy is one reason why we do not have the right mix of housing? Social housing providers could build houses as big as they wanted, knowing that the Government would cover the full bill irrespectively. In that respect, does he deplore the social housing provider in my area, of which a Labour MP is a director? It complains on the one hand that it has too many three-bedroom houses—”

That’s as far as he got, and just as well. Let’s go through this one more time: The ‘spare room subsidy’ is a fiction. It never existed and therefore could never have been abolished by the Conservative-led Coalition government. Being entirely make-believe, it could never have affected the decisions of social housing providers. This is just one of the many reasons why Mr Davies is rightly considered to be one of the biggest twits in the Tory Party (among hefty competition). Another might be his claim that disabled people should work for less than the minimum wage.

David TC Davies (Monmouth) complained: “Opposition Members… do not want to talk about the fact that they introduced a measure like this for the private sector.”

He was among many Tories who complained about this apparent double-standard. Labour members reminded them that the Bedroom Tax is retrospective (affecting people currently in social housing) while the private-sector measure was for new tenants only. One may also ask why, if these Conservatives were so disturbed by the apparent discrepancy, they were not calling for this earlier measure to be scrapped as well.

George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) said: “We need to pose ourselves a question: what is dealing with the spare room subsidy about? Is it about reducing the housing benefit bill? Yes, of course it is. The Government propose a £500 million saving, which is important.”

It is important, because Conservatives seemed confused throughout the debate about whether they were trying to sort out overcrowding by putting people into appropriate accommodation, or trying to save money. The two are mutually exclusive. The only way to make money on the policy is for people to remain locked in housing that, thanks to the Bedroom Tax, is now too expensive for them – but this cannot last because they will soon be evicted for non-payment of rent. Moving people around, so that nobody is under-occupying, will result in a higher housing benefit bill because more people will be claiming – the original tenants in their new properties (which, if they are run by private landlords, will be more expensive) and the new tenants who will be occupying to the limit of a property’s capability and therefore may claim the full amount of housing benefit. Either way, Mr Hollingberry’s claim of a £500 million saving is pie-in-the-sky.

Margot James (Stourbridge) made a proper fool of herself. She said: “The Opposition… want to position the end of the subsidy and the creation of a level playing field between all recipients of social housing support as a modern day poll tax.” This is the least of her mistakes as some Labour members may have suggested such a thing; in fact it is Eric Pickles’ Council Tax Reduction Scheme that is the modern-day Poll Tax, because every household must now towards it.

Margot James went on to deny that the Bedroom Tax is a tax, saying: “A tax is a government levy on somebody’s income, whereas we are clearly talking about reducing a subsidy.” This is wrong on two counts. Firstly, there has been no subsidy to reduce – unless she was referring to housing benefit in its entirety. The spare room subsidy is, as already mentioned, as mythical as the “unicorns and fairies” to which Anne Main referred when she tried to dismiss the existence of the under-occupation charge as a tax on bedrooms. Both ladies are wrong, because a tax may also be defined as a government levy on property owned or used by a citizen (such as, say, a bedroom). So – not quite as mythical as unicorns and fairies. One has to wonder why Mrs Main mentioned these, as she has clearly been away with the fairies herself.

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) breezed in from another committee to provide the benefit of his own ignorance. He asked: “Is it fair that someone on a low income who is in privately rented accommodation should pay taxes in order to subsidise someone else’s spare room? Is it fair to raise taxation from low-paid workers to subsidise other people’s accommodation?”

The answer, of course, is yes. It is fair. In fact, it is a principle of our system of taxation. Everybody pays into the national treasury, in order to allow the state to provide services – such as housing – for those in need. This may be a detail that current Tories have missed, considering the government’s vigorous attempts to write the highest earners out of taxation altogether. If he wanted to help low-waged people in private rented housing, the answer to that is also simple: cap their rents.

And doesn’t he know that the very low-paid have been lifted out of taxation by his own government, as the Coalition has been raising the threshold for payment of income tax every year, aiming to reach a target of £10,000 income per annum by 2015.

At the end of the day, the motion to scrap the Bedroom Tax was lost by 26 votes. Some have already said that Labour could have won it if all members had been present, but that was never really on the cards; the government has the numbers, even if some Liberal Democrats (like VP‘s own MP, Roger Williams) abstained.

So what are we to make of it all? Simply this: The Conservatives do not have a credible narrative to describe what the Bedroom Tax is about. It doesn’t save money; it won’t put people into appropriate accommodation; and it certainly won’t cut homelessness!

Work out what it’s really about, and you will understand why they are so desperate to keep it.

Coalition policy success: 80,000 children homeless for Christmas

shame

Tory politicians don’t care and Liberal Democrats don’t have any power – that’s why 80,000 children are being housed in temporary accommodation, alongside drug users and enduring threats of violence, as reported by Shelter today.

The government’s own figures show 2,090 families living in bed and breakfasts – an increase of eight per cent on 2012 and the largest number in 10 years, according to The Guardian. Of these, 760 have been living in B&Bs longer than the legal six-week limit – a 10 per cent increase on last year.

More than 43,000 other homeless households with children are in other emergency accommodation – usually privately-rented short-term flats, which are expensive. This is an increase of nine per cent on last year.

To put this into context, a Labour government commitment to halve the number of families in this kind of emergency accommodation meant the total fell between 2005 and 2010 – but it has been rising again since June 2011.

This is a human disaster created by the Coalition government.

Most families interviewed by the charity said they felt unsafe, with one child directly threatened by a man after an argument over a shared bathroom. Almost half said their children had witnessed incidents such as sexual offences, drug use and dealing.

One mother of three said: “One of the reasons we left was one of the residents trying to sell us crack cocaine.”

Most of the 25 families Shelter interviewed lived in one room; half said the children were sharing beds with parents or siblings and the family was sharing kitchen facilities with others. All but three said it was hard to find a safe place for their children to play. Three families had no cooking facilities and one reported sharing a cooker and fridge with 22 other people.

More than half had to share a bathroom or toilet with strangers, with 10 families sharing with seven or more other people; two-thirds had no table to eat on, and schoolchildren were finding it hard to do homework.

And their health is suffering: “It’s so hard to give him a balanced diet as it’s impossible to make proper meals here, let alone a Christmas dinner. He’s getting really pale and is so tired all the time. He gets so scared but it’s difficult when I’m scared myself. This is no place for a child to live,” said a mother in a Hounslow B&B.

“This shouldn’t be happening in 21st century Britain,” said Shelter’s chief executive, Campbell Robb, who described the charity’s findings as “shocking” and the conditions forced on families as “shameful”.

He said: “No child should be homeless, let alone 80,000. But tragically, with more people struggling to make ends meet and homelessness on the rise, we’re bracing ourselves for an increase in demand from families who desperately need our help.”

Housing minister Kris Hopkins couldn’t care less. “We’ve given councils nearly £1bn to tackle homelessness and to support people affected by the welfare reforms,” he sniffed.

“I am very clear that they should be fully able to meet their legal responsibility to house families in suitable accommodation.”

Let us be very clear on this: the problem is not that Tories like Hopkins don’t understand. This is exactly the result that they wanted; they just won’t acknowledge it because it is electorally damaging.

Look at the policies that created this problem: The bedroom tax; the ‘Pickles Poll Tax’, otherwise known as the Council Tax reduction scheme; the benefit cap that so many people in this country seem to support without understanding any of its implications.

Vox Political reported back in January what they would mean: “There will be a rise in rent and mortgage arrears… affordable housing will be less available and landlords less able or willing to rent to tenants on benefits… Private sector rental may become less attractive to landlords if tenants aren’t paying the rent. This will lead to a growth in homelessness. Councils have statutory duties and may see an increasing burden.”

But increases to the Discretionary Housing Payment fund have been entirely insignificant compared with the extra burden councils have faced. They received £150 million between them; Durham County Council had £883,000 and spent it all within eight weeks.

We have seen the start of the social cleansing predicted by this blog back in August 2012, when we noted that at least one council would use these measures to “clear out the poor and set up shop as a desirable residence for the rich”.

The housing bubble created by George Osborne with his ‘Help To Buy’ scheme will accelerate this process.

So don’t let a Tory tell you it’s nothing to do with them. They wanted this. In fact, 80,000 homeless children at Christmas is probably not enough for them.

Will ‘independent’ study whitewash the Bedroom Tax?

Doesn't he look like a puppet? In fact the correct term is 'marionette' - for a puppet on strings, worked from above. But who's pulling Nick Clegg's strings this time?

Doesn’t he look like a puppet? In fact the correct term is ‘marionette’ – for a puppet on strings, worked from above. But who’s pulling Nick Clegg’s strings this time?

The Government is running an independent study into the impact of the Bedroom Tax, in order to find out if it is really possible for social housing tenants to move into smaller accommodation to escape its effects. The result should more likely be feared than welcomed.

Nick Clegg announced that the study was taking place in response to a Parliamentary question from Harriet Harman – but was immediately undermined by the Department for Work and Pensions. A government spokesman said the DWP routinely commissions research on new policies and an independent consortium was already carrying out evaluation work.

Clegg had to say he was taking action after his own party voted to change its policy on the Tax – the Liberal Democrats now oppose it – but this is not cause for celebration.

Who will carry out this independent study? We are told it is an “independent consortium” but what does that mean? What will be their terms of reference? What questions will they be asking and will they be the questions that need to be asked?

Observers should be raising serious doubts about all of these because this is not a government with a good track record on evidence-led policy.

We all know what this is about – the government’s hugely flawed scheme to claw back Housing Benefit cash from social housing tenants, taking 14 per cent of payments from those with one spare bedroom, and a quarter of the benefit from anyone with two. The Discretionary Housing Payment scheme for local councils was boosted to £60 million in anticipation of extra demand from struggling tenants.

It is true that evidence about the policy is conflicting. Lord Freud, introducing it in the House of Lords, apparently refused to listen to arguments that there were too few single-bedroom properties into which under-occupiers could downsize. Now he is blaming local authorities for the shortage.

The government said the policy would save £480 million, but the increased cost of DHPs must be subtracted from that, and also the costs of people who do manage to downsize. This could range from just four per cent of the 660,000 affected households to 20 per cent, depending on who you believe – a recent study by the University of York suggested that 20 per cent of households intended to move (which isn’t quite the same as actually doing it), but this was based on evidence from just four housing associations.

It seems unlikely that one-fifth of everyone affected nationally is moving to a different property – but even if they were, this would not create a saving for the government because it would have to pay out, not only increased Housing Benefit for those who have moved into smaller but more expensive private rented housing, but also Housing Benefit for people moving into the now-vacant larger social housing.

And then there are the people who cannot downsize but cannot afford the rent if their Housing Benefit is reduced. Recent reports had 50,000 households facing eviction – around one-thirteenth of the total number affected.

If they become homeless, local councils will have to find temporary accommodation for them – and this is paradoxically much more expensive than putting them in social housing, because they have to go into bed-and-breakfast rooms. Homelessness was already on the increase before the Bedroom Tax was introduced, rising from 44,160 households in 2011-12 to 53,540 in 2012-13.

Not only that, but there has been a sharp increase in complaints about this accommodation, according to the Local Government Ombudsman.

Finally, let us not forget that at least one suicide has been attributed to the Bedroom Tax – that of Stephanie Bottrill.

So definitive research is certainly desirable. There’s just one problem: The Coalition Government is very good at commissioning ‘independent’ reports that say exactly what ministers want them to.

Look at the report on culling badgers to get rid of bovine tuberculosis. A seven-year study during New Labour’s period in office concluded that this would be useless, and in fact could worsen the situation. The Coalition came in and a new study appeared advocating a cull.

With no knowledge of who is carrying out the report it is hard to predict whether its findings will be accurate – or just what the government ordered.

Nick Clegg is in ‘Bedroom Tax’ denial – how does he sleep at night?

The body language says it all: Nick Clegg appears to goose-step off the stage after his conference speech on Wednesday, Nazi-saluting his fellow party members.

The body language says it all: Nick Clegg appears to goose-step off the stage after his conference speech on Wednesday, Nazi-saluting his fellow party members.

It seems this blog’s prediction that the Liberal Democrat leader would ignore the wishes of his party in favour of cosying up to the Tories has been proved accurate.

The Northern Echo has reported that Clegg is refusing to do anything about the so-called ‘under-occupation charge’, even though it is now his party’s policy to oppose it and demand its repeal.

Instead he has blamed local authorities for any problems suffered by the tax’s victims. He told the Echo that councils were failing to spend – or even returning – Discretionary Housing Payment cash which the government has handed out to them as aid for people falling into rent arrears.

He was lying, of course. It seems unlikely that a falsehood of this magnitude can be ascribed to poor advice.

The example used by the newspaper was that of Durham County Council, which received £883,000 from the government to hand out as DHPs – a sum which the council’s resources director, Don McLure, said would last just eight weeks.

In total, councils have been given £150 million to hand out, which may seem a large amount – but is in fact dwarfed by the demand.

Clegg’s rationale for his claim was that several councils had returned some of their DHP allocation at the end of the last financial year – but this was before the bedroom tax had been imposed and so the claim means nothing – and he must know this.

Excuses for the bedroom tax are flying thick and fast, after research by the Independent and the campaign group False Economy proved that 50,000 families are in danger of eviction because of it.

On the BBC’s Question Time, Shirley Williams claimed that the tax had created problems because suitable smaller accommodation had not been built in readiness for the demand it caused. This is nonsense. If there was already demand for accommodation – and we must assume so, because this is the reason the Conservatives have spent so long bleating about families on waiting lists who need accommodation that the tax’s victims are, allegedly, blocking – then why didn’t the government just get on and build it?

The tax was really brought in for several reasons: It is partly a reaction against the increase in the Housing Benefit bill to accommodate people with jobs whose wages are below their cost of living – this is due to greed on the part of employers; it is partly intended to clear housing – not for people on any waiting list but as a form of social cleansing, getting the riff-raff out of attractive parts of our towns and cities; and it is also another attempt to spite people on sickness, incapacity or disability benefits, who must either face the extra cost and inconvenience of removing special adaptations to their houses and reinstalling them elsewhere if they are able to move, or must lose the company of carers who use spare bedrooms when they have to stay over, or must pay the tax and live without food or heat, thereby risking their health.

According to Facebook friend Shirley Nott, the government’s spokespeople are extremely relaxed about this eventuality: “Apparently, there’s no need for alarm. Under no circumstances should anyone assume anything untoward is occurring.

“The reports of 50,000 potential – imminent (initial) evictions are not (“necessarily”) going to be “representative” of a potential situation in the more medium/long term. The ‘rationale’ for this cheery response is (obviously) that the ‘Not a Bedroom Tax’ is only just starting to make its presence felt and so, (of course) people have only just begun “adjusting” to it.”

So their imminent eviction followed, no doubt, by a nice quiet death in a side street is merely “adjusting” to the new system.

Shirley continues: “Government spokespeople… have been at pains to explain – in words of one syllable – that no-one else should worry. It seems possible that some – even most – of those 50,000 mentioned in today’s news might find such an artfully-delivered response to imminent eviction a little difficult to come to terms with – but interested members of the government are very likely to have reasoned that they’ll probably be far too preoccupied with practicalities to make much of it.”

Maybe not – but they can still rely on blogs such as this one to make the point for them.

Please – everyone – feel free to splash this article around wherever you see fit. Use excerpts in letters to your local newspapers, share it with friends who don’t realise the seriousness of the situation – we’ve already had suicides because of this tax, don’t forget…

Make sure it doesn’t go away.

UN housing investigator’s report exposes Shapps’ lies

A liar revealed: Grant Shapps, chairman of the Conservative Party (not 'Michael Green', as his name-badge suggests). The assertions he made this morning were proved wrong this afternoon.

A liar revealed: Grant Shapps, chairman of the Conservative Party (not ‘Michael Green’, as his name-badge suggests). The assertions he made this morning were proved wrong this afternoon.

Oh, so she wasn’t invited by the government and she didn’t visit government offices, did she?

And did she really not use the proper terms for government policies like the bedroom tax?

The press statement by Raquel Rolnik, UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, on her mission to examine the effects of the bedroom tax on the people of the UK suggests otherwise. In no uncertain terms.

Once again, Grant Shapps is exposed as a liar.

He is the chairman of the Conservative Party, the organisation that tells us it is running the country, and you can’t believe a word he says.

But we’ll let the report speak for itself, shall we?

London, 11 September 2013

Introduction

From 29 August to 11 September 2013, I undertook an official visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the invitation of the Government. My visit included various cities in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I also had the opportunity to meet Government office from Wales in London.

The main objective of my visit was to assess the country’s achievements and challenges in guaranteeing the right to adequate housing and non-discrimination in this context, in accordance with existing international human rights standards. The assessment includes legislation and policy frameworks as well as the consideration of concrete outcomes from those policies, examining how they respond to the housing needs of women, men and children, with a particular focus on those most vulnerable and disenfranchised.

I wish to start this statement by expressing my gratitude to the various Government Departments, for the cooperation and hospitality extended to us during the organization and throughout the development of this fact-finding visit. I have had the opportunity to meet with numerous Government officials, including some Ministers. In England I met with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Homes and Communities Agency, the Department for International Development and the Manchester City Council. I also met with officials from the Department of Housing and Regeneration from the Welsh Government. In Scotland, I met with the Scottish Government, including the Housing Services and Regeneration, the Housing Supply, the Homelessness and Equality Policy Departments; and with the Scottish National Housing authorities and Planning and Architecture Division. In Northern Ireland, I had the opportunity to meet with the Department for Social Development, and with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
I am also grateful for the opportunity to meet with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, including a representative from Wales, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and with a wide range of civil society organizations, including housing charities, human rights organizations, housing federations, housing associations, campaigners, researchers, litigators and academics.

Lastly, but most importantly, I am thankful for the opportunity to visit housing estates, local areas, Gypsy/Traveler sites and homeless centers, which took place in London, Basildon, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Great Manchester. I was able to hear first-hand testimonies and insights from residents of all ages, and witness living conditions. I wish to thank all those who took the time to meet with me, to travel to join meetings and hearings, and to offer their personal experiences to help me better understand the situation. Without their involvement, support and cooperation this mission would not have been possible.

Preliminary remarks

As I have said throughout my visit, the United Kingdom has much to be proud of in the provision of affordable housing. It has had a history of ensuring that low-income households are not obliged to cope with insecure tenure and poor housing conditions, and can be well-housed. Some of the policies and practices that have played a role in providing social housing include the construction and further regeneration of a large social housing stock as well as a welfare system which covers housing as part of a social safety net. These can serve as an inspiration to other parts of the world. There are also specific efforts to prevent and address homelessness, and the Scottish Homelessness Act abolishing a priority needs test deserves mentioning. These, and others, must be commended and recognized as good human rights practices to be sustained for present and future generations, both by the Central Government as well as the devolved Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

At the same time, I wish to suggest that the United Kingdom’s Government revisits some policy decisions with direct and indirect impacts on housing as a human right. I will limit myself to a few preliminary and provisional remarks on some of the issues of special concern. These along with other topics will be explored in more detail in my official report to the United Nations Human Rights Council at its 25th session in March 2014.

In carrying out my assessment, I am guided by relevant international human rights law, in particular by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, articles 2 and 11. The United Kingdom ratified this binding instrument on 20 May 1976 without reservations. According to it, the United Kingdom has obligations to take steps to ensure and sustain the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing, making use of the maximum of its available resources. Progressive realization represents a strong presumption against retrogressive measures in the protection and promotion of human rights. State parties cannot move backward without offering a strict, evidence-based justification of the need to take such measures and without having weighted various alternatives. Most importantly, Governments must put in place effective safeguards to protect the most vulnerable sectors of society if such decisions are made.

Some of my main preliminary findings indicate signs of retrogression in the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing. It is not clear that every effort has been made to protect the most vulnerable from the impacts of retrogression, indeed much of the testimony I heard suggests they are bearing the brunt. Housing deprivation is worsening in the United Kingdom. Increasingly, people appear to be facing difficulties to accessing adequate, affordable, well located and secure housing. The numbers of people on waiting lists for social housing have risen, with reports indicating waits of several years to obtain a suitable house.

The trend has been to give priority to home ownership in detriment of other forms of tenure and to encourage a private renting sector with flexible tenure arrangements. Today, in England, approximately 17.4% of the population is renting in the private market and social housing renters provides for 17.3%. Figures of social renters are slightly higher in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but considerably lower than two decades ago everywhere in the UK. Furthermore, private tenancies can be as short-lived as six months and significantly more expensive than the social rental sector.

Home ownership has provided housing for more than one generation and it is deemed a common aspiration for many. However, the takeover of the housing sector by the financial sector has exposed many households to a highly volatile market, with skyrocketing prices during the boom years and, since 2008, a credit crunch that has essentially paralyzed access to credit. Various stakeholders have warned of potential risks once the interest rate on mortgages starts to claim back. In Northern Ireland, repossessions due to mortgage default continue to be one of the issues of concern.

In England the Government and most stakeholders report that there is a clear shortage of housing due to a mismatch between supply and demand. For example, estimations range around 221,000 new homes needed in England per year, with less than 50% of this need actually being met (approximately 110,000). In view of the Government, this shortage is due to two main factors: the lack of available financing for the housing sector and planning constraints which lead to lack of available land for housing development.

In order to respond to this critical situation, the current Government has launched several initiatives contained in its 2012 Housing Strategy in England, and has created various schemes for investment such as “Help to buy equity loan” and the “Build to Rent” to support private house buyers and developers. A smaller funding allocation is provided for grants for affordable housing under this same package of initiatives. In devolved Governments, various schemes have also been created. For example, in Wales, the “Houses to Homes” initiative aims at bringing long term empty homes back into use.

A second element of this strategy is a significant reform to the planning system which, among other aspects, aims at reducing long and cumbersome administrative processes, by eliminating the regional level planning and pre-defined benchmarks for local councils to provide housing. In turn, this means that local authorities have more responsibilities as well as more direct and autonomous decision-making power. In Scotland, regional level planning has been retained in the four largest cities. A third aspect of the strategy involves the unlocking and selling of public land for housing development, through auctions in the private market without any conditionality.

Simultaneously, the Government has also taken fiscal austerity measures in the context of the economic downturn in efforts to curve spending. The Welfare Reform Act of 2012 which applies UK-wide, includes some measures that have particular impact on the housing benefits, including the housing benefit cap, reductions in legal aid, and in council tax benefit.

Especially worrisome in this package is the so-called “bedroom tax”, or the spare bedroom under occupancy penalty. It came into force on 1 April 2013, without having been previously piloted. It essentially means a reduction in the amount of benefit paid to claimants if the property they are renting from the social housing sector is considered under occupied. The Government has argued that this policy reduces dependency and will make available a stock of under occupied homes.

Fiscal austerity measures include budget cuts in local Government expenditure, as well as significant reduction on the grants available for housing associations to provide social and affordable homes. This implies that social landlords will be required to reach out to the private financial markets in order to fund their building activities. As a consequence they will be pressured to increase their profit-making activities, potentially being forced to increase rent and reduce the stock made available to social renters.

Let me briefly examine how these measures are in line with the right to adequate housing and their impact on the lives of individual people. Allow me to explain.

It is true and I fully share the view of many stakeholders that house building is essential for the economy and for creating much needed jobs. I also fully share the view that there is a shortage on the supply side of the equation, especially in some high demand areas like London or other main cities. However the right to adequate housing compels Governments to look beyond aggregated general figures of supply and demand in order to place housing needs – and not housing markets – at the center of the decision-making.

The right to housing is not about a roof anywhere, at any cost, without any social ties. It is not about reshuffling people according to a snapshot of the number of bedrooms at a given night. It is about enabling environments for people to maintain their family and community bonds, their local schools, work places and health services allowing them to exercise all other rights, like education, work, food or health.

Some researchers argue that the “Help to Buy” scheme can intensify the pressure on prices, which are already high in a number of places. Also, according to recent trends in the housing market and taking into account the high prices of land, market builders have moved towards the higher end of the market. This will not increase the supply for the ones who are struggling to pay their rents or who linger for years in the social housing waiting lists.

Historically, access to affordable housing has been sustained by two main policies, namely, development of social housing with public funding and a needs-tested welfare system including housing benefits and other services that have been directly or indirectly been linked to housing for low income households.

I would like to refer now to the package of welfare reform and its impact on a number of human rights, but especially on the right to adequate housing, such as for those seeking to live independent and dignified lives with physical and mental disabilities. The so-called bedroom tax is possibly the most visible of the measures. In only a few months of its implementation the serious impacts on very vulnerable people have already been felt and the fear of future impacts are a source of great stress and anxiety.

Of the many testimonies I have heard, let me say that I have been deeply touched by persons with physical and mental disabilities who have felt targeted instead of protected; of the grandmothers who are carers of their children and grandchildren but are now feeling they are forced to move away from their life-long homes due to a spare bedroom or to run the risk of facing arrears; of the single parents who will not have space for their children when they come to visit; of the many people who are increasingly having to choose between food and paying the penalty. Those who are impacted by this policy were not necessarily the most vulnerable a few months ago, but they were on the margins, facing fragility and housing stress, with little extra income to respond to this situation and already barely coping with their expenses.

Another aspect that deserves some comments is the reform of planning policies in England, gives local level authorities expanded responsibilities. The power dynamics of a particular local council may not allow for a forceful negotiation with developers, to speed up delivery, and this situation may last for years despite the urgent need for additional housing stock. In fact, several documents and assessments acknowledge that land with permits has increasingly become the asset in itself, rather than an asset for the social well-being of the community. Similarly, it is also of concern that there is no property tax on land, including dormant or vacant land for years. Land value, including in the financial circuits, has escalated in the last decades, yet it is still mostly regarded as a private matter, hence for-profit. I would recommend that the Government sets a regulatory framework to avoid this kind of speculation.

Similarly, on the land and planning strategies let me say that selling public land to private developers for the best price can mean that a valuable public resource is not being used as a means to increase the availability of housing for those who need it, in times of housing stress. A significant part of the existing social housing stock in UK was built on local council and other public land. In times of pressure on affordable housing, the mobilization of public land can be an important tool, so I recommend that the Government releases public sector land only for social and affordable housing to be built.

Planning systems reforms are also being considered in Northern Ireland, devolving powers to Local Councils, which will also be territorially redefined. In this context, I want to express my concern at the potential that this decentralization may have for increased sectarianism and discrimination.

In closing, let me also mention that during my visit I have also received multiple testimonies on the shortage of sufficient, adequate and safe sites for Gypsy and Traveller communities across the United Kingdom, many of whom feel this is part of the stigma and discrimination they regularly face from Governments and society as a whole. Despite multiple efforts and policies put in place to address this situation, it is fair to say that leaving local authorities to make their own decisions with no accountability and national process to reconcile the Gypsy and Traveller communities with settled communities remains a source of concern. Gypsy and Traveller communities too should engage more in the political debate and make efforts to ensure that their situation effectively changes.

Other population groups, highlighted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2009, which continue to face inadequate access to affordable housing are Catholics in Northern Ireland, specifically in North Belfast. The current allocation scheme was created to be fair and open, and to allocate accommodation on the basis of meeting the housing need of people. Despite the efforts of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, I remain concerned that full equality has not been achieved yet.

I also received information and testimonies about discrimination in access to housing by EU citizens, migrant workers and their families, refugees and asylum seekers. I am especially concerned with the policy which places the responsibility (backed by the threat of a fine) on landlords to check residence status of tenants, which I have heard often pushes undocumented people into the most insecure, worst quality and poorest located housing.

Summary of recommendation

As a brief summary of my preliminary remarks, I would like to highlight three recommendations:
First, and foremost, I would suggest that the so-called bedroom tax be suspended immediately and be fully re-evaluated in light of the evidence of its impacts on the right to adequate housing and general well-being of many vulnerable individuals.
Secondly, I would recommend that the Government puts in place a system of regulation for the private rent sector, including clear criteria about affordability, access to information and security of tenure.
Thirdly, I would encourage a renewal of the Government’s commitment to significantly increasing the social housing stock and a more balanced public funding for the stimulation of supply of social and affordable housing which responds to the needs.

I hope that my visit and subsequent report will be able to assist the Governments in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in these efforts and I look forward to continuing the constructive dialogue established during my visit.

Look at those recommendations.

Ms Rolnik has put the UK’s Coalition government in direct opposition to the United Nations. There is no way the Conservatives will accept the need to repeal the bedroom tax. The Party of Deregulation will never willingly install a new regulatory procedure and increasing social housing would reverse a policy they have been running since the days of Thatcher.

Shapps’ complaint to the UN secretary general will come to nothing because he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

And anyway – to mix metaphors – the shoe is on the other foot now.

Do not expect to see this in the right-wing mass media unless they are given no choice about it, as it shows up the Coalition government for the steal-from-the-poor-to-give-to-the-rich, money-grubbing liars that they have been all along – and that’s not part of the narrative the Murdoch press or the Daily Heil want to push onto you.

But something’s going to happen because the Coalition – and especially the Tories – are being told in no uncertain terms: Change direction or be declared an outlaw state.

It’s as serious as that.

UN bedroom tax report reveals truth about Tories

The facts: United Nations special investigator Raquel Rolnik has been criticised by Grant Shapps because she has refused to allow the government to influence her report on how the Bedroom Tax has inflicted misery on families across the UK.

The facts: United Nations special investigator Raquel Rolnik has been criticised by Grant Shapps because she has refused to allow the government to influence her report on how the Bedroom Tax has inflicted misery on families across the UK. (Picture: Daily Mirror)

What a spoilt little brat Grant Shapps has shown himself to be.

After the United Nations’ special investigator on housing told the Coalition government it should scrap the bedroom tax, describing the policy’s effect on vulnerable citizens as “shocking”, he threw a hissy fit.

He claimed that Raquel Rolnik had been biased from the start and had not met any ministers or officials, and said he would be writing to protest to the UN secretary general.

Why would an investigator, who has come to this country to see for herself the actual effect of a government policy, waste any time listening to ministers who want to overwrite her report with their own agenda?

Ms Rolnik is perfectly capable of accessing the reams of material that has already been written by the government about the bedroom tax – or spare room subsidy, as Mr Shapps (if that’s what he’s calling himself today) still insists on describing it.

She wanted to find out what it actually means to people it affects. And she did find out, didn’t she?

“My immediate recommendation is that the bedroom tax is abolished,” she said.

“I was very shocked to hear how people really feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why – being so vulnerable – they should pay for the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis. People in testimonies were crying, saying ‘I have nowhere to go’, ‘I will commit suicide’,” she told The Guardian.

Ms Rolnik told the newspaper she was “disturbed by the extent of unhappiness caused by the bedroom tax and struck by how heavily this policy was affecting ‘the most vulnerable, the most fragile, the people who are on the fringes of coping with everyday life’.”

She said that the bedroom tax should be scrapped and rapped the Coalition for damaging the UK’s record on human rights by allowing it onto the statute books. She said the UK’s previous good record was being eroded by a failure to provide enough social housing.

And she said the government’s regressive changes to social security were forcing the poorest in the country to suffer extreme hardship, just to keep a roof over their heads. The country was “going backwards in the protection and promotion of the human right to housing“.

“It’s so clear that the government didn’t really assess the impact on lives when it took this decision. The mechanism that they have in place to mitigate it – the discretionary payment that they provide the councils with – it doesn’t solve anything, it’s for just a couple of months, and the councils cannot count on that on a permanent basis.

“They don’t know if it’s going to be available next year, so it’s useless,” she said.

The UN investigator spoke to dozens of council house tenants during a two-week visit in which she travelled to Belfast, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, visiting council estates, food banks, homelessness crisis centres, traveller sites and housing association developments. And she has received correspondence about the situation from people across the country.

The bedroom tax could constitute a violation of the human right to adequate housing in several ways, she said – for example, if the extra payments forced tenants to cut down on their spending on food or heating their home.

She said her conclusions should carry weight in British courts, where legal challenges to the bedroom tax are under way. “It depends on how much the judiciary here takes into account the international legislation. In principle they should because the UK has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” she said, referring to the document which defines adequate housing as a human right.

This blog could not be more delighted by Ms Rolnik’s findings – even though that may seem a strange thing to say about such universally negative results. They vindicate everything that has been said here since August last year, and provide solid support to all the evidence sent by our good friend Samuel Miller, who has been providing evidence on this matter – and others – to the UN for a considerable time.

Mr Shapps has taken a different view – one that he managed to undermine personally by saying that Ms Rolnik had not been invited by ministers. According to the Daily Record, “It was the Tory-led Government who gave the Brazilian housing and architecture academic permission to carry out the study.” Shapps now denies this, but he is a well-known and long-since-exposed habitual liar, of course.

“It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with government ministers, to fail to meet with the department responsible, to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring, and even to fail to refer to the policy properly throughout the report,” he said.

Some might say the Tories would know all about abusing process, considering the way they pushed a retrospective law through Parliament after their government was found to be breaking the rules on Workfare/The Work Programme – or indeed with the so-called Transparency of Lobbying Bill today.

And is publication of a preliminary report not established practice in matters such as this?

As for whether it is improper to refer to the policy as a bedroom tax rather than a spare-room subsidy, let’s repeat the challenge: Would anybody connected to the government please indicate which piece of legislation enshrined a subsidy on spare rooms in law?

Any takers?

Didn’t think so.

Bedroom tax decision: So Cameron has committed contempt of Parliament too

bedroomtax

It was hardly the resounding victory on which the government must have been depending; faced with a ruling in favour of the DWP, the 10 families who brought a judicial review against the bedroom tax just said, “We will have to appeal.”

The High Court ruled yesterday that the change to housing benefit, subtracting amounts according to whether tenants had one or more ‘spare’ rooms according to arbitrary guidelines laid down by the DWP, do not breach the human rights of disabled people.

The families – all disabled or parents of disabled children – had challenged the changes, claiming violations of the Human Rights Act and the Equalities Act.

The DWP was quick to get a comment out to the press. Unfortunately for ministers, it was shrill in tone and undermined the department’s case.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are pleased to learn that the court has found in our favour and agreed that we have fulfilled our equality duties to disabled people. Reform of housing benefit in the social sector is essential, so the taxpayer does not pay for people’s extra bedrooms.”

(Let’s just pause to bear in mind that one of the architects of the bedroom tax is Lord Freud, whose eight-bedroom mansion is indeed funded by the taxpayer. How many extra bedrooms is that?)

“But we have ensured extra discretionary housing support is in place to help those who need it and today we have announced a further £35m of funding to councils to aid residents.”

That’s right, there is a discretionary fund that councils can use to help social housing tenants. At £150 million, it is considered woefully inadequate for the task.

The fact that the DWP announced a further £35 million for this purpose indicates that the government thinks so, too. So, despite insisting that they are fulfilling their duties, ministers under Iain Duncan Smith are also admitting that they aren’t.

Meanwhile, lawyers representing the families who launched the legal challenge released comments of their own, in which they made it perfectly clear that they were not going to go down without a fight.

A statement from Leigh Day, one of the three law firms representing the claimants, said: “The Court found that the Secretary of State has been aware that the law must be changed to provide for disabled children since May 2012, and they were highly critical of his failure to make regulations to provide for them. Lord Justice Laws said that the current state of affairs ‘cannot be allowed to continue’.

“The Government must now make regulations ‘very speedily’ to show that there should be ‘no deduction of housing benefit where an extra bedroom is required for children who are unable to share because of their disabilities’.”

This means Iain Duncan Smith has known for more than a year that the bedroom tax would discriminate against disabled children, and has done nothing about it. One can only wonder which of his beliefs justified this cruelty.

The Leigh Day statement continued: “The court held that discrimination against adults with disabilities, even those in the same situation to children with disabilities who could not share a room, was justified. Lawyers for adults with disabilities today said that they believe this cannot be right. They should be entitled to full Housing Benefit for the accommodation they actually need.

“Lawyers for adults with disabilities… confirmed that they intend to appeal the ruling, arguing that the discriminatory impact of the measure on people with disabilities cannot be justified and is unlawful.

“Disabled children and their families also intend to appeal as they are now left in a position where they do not know whether in fact they are entitled to full housing benefit to meet the costs of the homes that they need. This is because the Government has declined to confirm that the new regulations, which the court says must be made, will cover their situations, or to provide a date by which the new regulations will be made.

“Since the new housing legislation was introduced it has had a devastating effect on many people across the country. Charities, social landlords and advice agencies have spoken out about the plight of people with disabilities who have been affected by the measure.

Richard Stein from the Human Rights team at Leigh Day added: “We will be seeking an urgent appeal to the Court of Appeal. Many people with disabilities including our clients may lose their homes unless the law is changed. Their lives are already difficult enough without the fear of losing their accommodation, which has been provided specifically to meet their exceptional needs.”

Two other law firms are representing the claimants: Hopkin Murray Beskine and Public Law Solicitors.

Rebekah Carrier of Hopkin Murray Beskine said: “The Government’s position in relation to disabled children is incomprehensible. In May 2012, the Court of Appeal held that the Secretary of State was discriminating against disabled children who need to share a bedroom because of their disabilities, yet by February 2013, when these proceedings were issued, no action had been taken.

The Prime Minister then told the House of Commons in March that disabled children were exempt, when this was plainly not the case. When he was questioned, the Government rushed out a circular to local authorities, which suggested that the rule may not apply to some disabled children; yet the Government continued to fight this case.

“It is no wonder local authorities and affected children and families are confused.”

She said: “We are pleased that the court has recognised that the current situation is not acceptable and that the Government must act quickly. We are disappointed however that the Government has delayed for so long already and is still foot-dragging.

“Until it is absolutely clear that these claimant families and others like them will not have their benefit cut on the basis that they live or hope to live in homes which meet their children’s needs, these claimants, like the disabled adults, have no choice but to appeal.”

Emma Burgess from Public Law Solicitors said: “The Government has failed to recognise that many people with disabilities will not be able to make up the shortfall in rent by working or taking in a lodger; and many will not be able to move due to the nature of their disabilities. The Discretionary Housing Payment scheme ‘safety-net’ relied on by the government is inadequate to plug the gap.

“A July survey by the Papworth Trust, backed by the National Housing Federation , said nine out of 10 disabled people are cutting back on food or bills to pay the bedroom tax if they are refused a safety-net housing payment.

Left unchanged these measures will see disabled people facing eviction and homelessness.”

So yet again we have a Secretary of State who knew there was an urgent need for action to rectify his flawed policies but – as in so many other cases we have witnessed – did nothing.

And our sorry excuse for a Prime Minister actually lied to Parliament about the threat to disabled children – let’s say that again, to DISABLED CHILDREN!

This blog has already called for Iain Duncan Smith to be thrown out of Parliament for the contempt he has shown that institution by knowingly telling falsehoods to its members. It therefore follows that David Cameron should suffer the same fate.

The longer they remain in office, the more we may conclude corruption has set into the highest level of government.

And there is no way they can argue that the relevant legislation was only recently found to be inadequate. Look at this comment from Esther McVey, Tory minister for disabled people, in The Telegraph: “This has gone through a lot of reviews, it has gone through a lot of decision-making and it’s taken a long period of time.” So there is no excuse for the dog’s breakfast that the High Court upheld with yesterday’s decision.

Fortunately, there are developments among the Opposition that will hearten anyone fighting the bedroom tax.

In a letter to constituency Labour organisations, Peter Wheeler, a member of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee has stated: “To win the election it is vital that we are very clear with the electorate that a Labour Government will offer real hope to people suffering under this government.

“One of the key issues will be the bedroom tax. We need to be very clear that a Labour Government will abolish this wicked piece of Tory legislation.” He went on to call for constituencies to demand that this will be a part of the Labour election manifesto in 2015.

Oh – one more thing: The Tories are still referring to the bedroom tax in terms of removing a ‘spare room subsidy’. Let’s just remind them that there is no such thing. If there was, then they should be able to tell us when this amount was added to housing benefit payments and what piece of legislation made it possible. Was it an Act of Parliament? I’m sure we’d all like to know.

(The first collection of Vox Political articles, Strong Words and Hard Times, is available now in paperback or as an eBook, containing the best articles from 2012, fully supported with a large ‘footnotes’ section in which you can actually connect to internet links, if you’re reading on a device that supports this kind of activity.)