Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Bedroom Tax - Human Rights Commissioner comments

Grant Shapps, Conservative Party Chairman, is not happy.

United Nations Special Rapporteur on housing, Raquel Rolnik, has issued a press release following an investigation into housing problems in the UK. It was the 'bedroom tax' that particularly concerned her: this, in turn, was what angered Mr Shapps.

You can find her full press release here:

It's quite a short statement, and is worth reading in full. The full report will presented to the Human Rights Council in March next year.

If you are interested in social welfare in the UK it's unlikely that anything she says will be news to you. What matters here is not so much what is being said but who is saying it. Having said that, I will now quote her...

'The so-called bedroom tax has already had impacts on some of the most vulnerable members of society. During these days of my visit, the dramatic testimonies of people with disabilities, grand-mothers who are carers for their families, and others affected by this policy, clearly point to a measure that appears to have been taken without the human component in mind.'

It was not just the bedroom tax that concerned her. She was also disturbed by conditions in the private rented sector, particularly given that more people are being forced into this sector by the shortage of social housing.

It appears that Mr Shapps was especially annoyed, firstly, by her not meeting with members of the government, and, secondly, by referring to the measure as the bedroom tax and not by its 'proper name' of the 'spare room subsidy' (source: (the embedded interview).

The second point is interesting, and wrong. While it is true that 'bedroom tax' isn't the measure's real name, neither is 'spare room subsidy'. The measure's actual name is:

‘Housing benefit size criteria restrictions for working age claimants in the social rented sector from April 2013’ 

'Spare room subsidy' is just as opinion loaded as 'bedroom tax', and - arguably - more misleading. For example, imagine a home where two sisters, aged 12 and 15, have separate rooms. There is no 'spare room', but as the law now requires these sisters to share a room, their parents would still be facing a reduction of 14% in their maximum Housing Benefit (for more information about this, see ). 

Oh, and while we're thinking about children sharing rooms, I can't help mentioning Michael Gove, Education Minister, who, in the context of a discussion about planning changes, said (

'There are children, poor children, who do not have rooms of their own in which to do their homework, in which to achieve their full potential'.

However subsequent interviews suggest that he's either incapable or unwilling to make the obvious connection between this aspiration and the bedroom tax...

Further Reading:
There's a good opinion piece by Zoe Williams on the UN press release:
For more information about the bedroom tax check out my website:

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