Friday, 19 July 2013

The bedroom tax and disabled people

The 'bedroom tax', or spare room subsidy, has been brought in to try and tackle the rising housing benefits bill and address the issue of overcrowding. The government believes this measure could save the taxpayer £465m per year.
However, research carried out by the National Housing Federation estimates that there are 180,000 households under occupying two bedroom social homes, yet only 85,000 one bedroom properties are available in a given year. This is before considering the 970,000 people on waiting lists for one bed properties.
This would mean that many people would need to move into considerably more expensive privately rented accommodation, with a one bed flat costing an average of £1,500 more per year than a two bed social housing property. The National Housing Federation suggests this could lead to an increase in benefit claims of £143m a year.
Two thirds of those affected by the bedroom tax are disabled people. The government has said that an extra £25m will be available in the form of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to try and address this. However, this would only amount to £2.09 each per week going to those receiving DLA. This problem is compounded by recent research which suggests 3 in 10 disabled people who applied for DHP were turned down. The same research found that of those disabled people refused DHPs "nine out of ten are cutting back on food or bills, nearly four out of ten are cutting back on specialist mobility transport, and more than a quarter are cutting back on medical expenses such as medication, therapies and monitoring health conditions". What’s more, DHP by its very nature is discretionary and is a finite pot of money. No public official has been able to answer our concern about what would happen if the pot runs dry.
Research commissioned by Aspire found that twenty per cent of spinal cord injured people are being placed in care homes after leaving hospital due to a lack of accessible housing. This is problematic on several levels. Firstly, most newly spinal cord injured people are considerably younger than the majority of people that live in care homes. Secondly, the staff in care homes are not used to caring for people with spinal cord injuries and this can lead to health problem and complications. Thirdly, living in a care home often results in a lack of independent living. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities CRPD - to which the UK government is a signatory - independent living should be a human right for all disabled people.
Matt has a spinal cord injury and is just one of many people who have been affected by the bedroom tax. Matt had to live in a care home when he first left hospital, with a lack of accessible accommodation in his area leaving him little option but to put up with life in this totally unsuitable environment. After lengthy delays, the council provided him with a purpose built three-bedroom property, with a room for him, one for his live-in personal assistant, and one for his daughter who he has joint custody of. Since his daughter doesn’t live with Matt full time, her room is considered to be ‘under-occupied’ and Matt was told he would now have to pay an extra £668.20 a year. Matt would move to a smaller place, but that’s not possible; the time he spent in a care home was brought about because suitable properties do not exist. And moving back into a care home, a situation that robs people of their independence and would devastate the family relationship, is hardly viable. What makes this situation so perverse is that the council were the ones that provided this three-bedroom property in the first place, recognising that it was the only way to meet Matt’s needs.
Fortunately, this particular story has a happy ending. Matt’s mum, Sue, wasn’t prepared to accept the ruling and from the moment it first came up she has made a point of fighting the decision. Yesterday, she got a letter from the Local Government Ombudsman in response to her complaint, ruling in her favour and therefore ensuring that Matt isn’t liable for the extra payments. She’s delighted with the news, but knows it’s not actually the end of the fight:
“We applied for discretionary funding right from the start, and the council said no. So we appealed and they said no again. So we went to the Ombudsman. If you don’t challenge these decisions, they’ll get away with them. It’s so stupid as they know that to get Matt a two-bedroom place adapted will cost them far more than they’ll get from making him pay this extra amount. But for Matt to pay £12.85 would be a huge drain. We’re not done yet, we’ve still got to challenge the decision to hit him with extra council tax too, and we’ve been told that we’ll probably have to fight the bedroom-tax again next year. But for the time being it feels good. My advice to anyone in a similar decision would be to not just sit back and take it. I know it can be daunting to take the fight on, I know we shouldn’t have to do it, but you can’t let people get away with decisions that have such a big impact on people’s lives.”
So, here we have a policy that purports to be about a better use of public resources, but that was actually threatening to waste the resources that had been used to build Matt a property suitable for him as a disabled person and as a father. And a policy that research suggests is unworkable in any fair sense anyway. No one wants to see public money wasted, and having housing high up on the agenda is something we’re pleased to see. But until disabled people are not penalised – neither because they have specific needs requiring extra rooms, nor because suitable-sized accessible housing is not readily available – then we cannot support the implementation of the bedroom tax. Instead, we encourage everyone who has been unfairly treated to follow Sue’s advice and get those appeals and complaint letters in.
- Rosa Morris, Campaigns and Research

Friday, 12 July 2013

The case for a cumulative impact assessment of Government changes affecting disabled people

This week the House of Commons debated a motion calling for a cumulative impact assessment of the impact of recent changes in policy affecting disabled people. This means reviewing all the ways that disabled people may have been affected by things such as bedroom tax and benefit cuts. The motion was put forward at an Opposition Day debate. On most days when the House is sitting, the Parliamentary agenda is set by the Government of the day. Opposition days allow opposition parties to choose the subject for debate and, on Wednesday, the Labour Party decided to have the following motion:
That this House believes that the Government should publish, by October 2013, a cumulative impact assessment of the changes made by the Government that affect disabled people.
In the last few years there have been a range of changes in policy and law that Aspire believes has had or is due to have a significant impact on the lives of people with Spinal Cord Injury.
These include;
·  The benefit change scrapping Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and replacing it with Personal Independence Payments (PIP) where, from the Government’s own estimations, 500,000 fewer individuals will be in receipt of PIP by 2015/16 compared to what would have happened under DLA.
·  Time limiting of Employment Support Allowance (ESA), where disabled people who receive the contributory benefit and are in the support group of ESA will have their benefit removed if they haven’t found employment in 52 weeks.
·  The scrapping of the Independent Living Fund (ILF). Our own care research found that 14% of all care hours received by people with Spinal Cord Injury are provided through ILF.
·  New under-occupancy changes, better known as the Bedroom Tax, where people will be financially penalised for having rooms deemed spare. This will not take into account couples not able to share rooms because of heavy or noisy machinery, such as ventilators needed for people who have higher level injuries and need breathing assistance,  or space needed to store and use equipment such as standing frames.
·  Cuts to local authorities; with some councils reporting reductions in their budget of up to 40%. A huge chunk of council spending is on social care, so this is bound to affect local social care services.
Equality impact assessments were introduced through the Equality Act 2010 to make sure officials took account of disability, gender and race in their decisions. This has been done for the decisions taken by Government mentioned above. However, the impact of all these changes, all happening at the same time, has not been looked at.
Given that each of these changes do not happen in isolation to individuals, surely we need to take a wider look at the impact of these multiple changes on the lives of disabled people? Aspire believes it makes perfect sense to have a wider stock take of the impact on disabled people in the form of a cumulative impact assessment. 
The motion was not passed by Parliament as it was defeated by a majority of votes from MPs. We are concerned with the outcome as we would have thought that MPs of all parties would find it worthwhile to look at the overall impact of changes that have been introduced. It is important that decision makers know about the whole impact of their decisions and this assessment would have helped to identify if the fears that many people and disabled people’s organisations were having were valid or if things were working well for disabled people and we had nothing to worry about.
Aspire, and I am sure that other groups that work with disabled people, will continue to support the case for a wholesale look at these reforms on disabled people from Government. We will be further raising the matter to MPs and Ministers and would like to encourage you to write to your own MP about this too. If you would like help on how to go about doing this, contact me on 020 8420 6702 or email me on
Krupesh Hirani, Policy and Research Officer