Wednesday, 11 September 2013

UN and Grant Shapps at odds over bedroom tax

This morning UN special rapporteur on housing, Raquel Rolnik, released her initial findings of an investigation into the impact of the government’s spare room subsidy policy, or bedroom tax as it's come to be known.

Rolnik said her, "immediate recommendation is that the bedroom tax is abolished", citing testimonies that led her to believe the UK was, "going backwards in the protection and promotion of the human right to housing". However, housing minister Grant Shapps has hit back strongly, claiming Rolnik is biased, that her evidence is anecdotal and that she had not met with any government officials.

Aspire has previously written about the problems with this policy and the impact it is having on disabled people. Grant Shapps may say that Rolnik has different political views to the government, but this does not address the problems she, and many others, have raised. It does not make the experiences of the hundreds of people Rolnik interviewed, the countless people who have contacted Aspire in fear of what will happen to them and their families, nor those surveyed by organisations such as the Papworth Trust, cease to exist.

There are simply not the required numbers of smaller properties to allow everyone deemed to be over occupying to move. This problem is compounded for many disabled people as it is even less likely that someone will be able to find accessible accommodation to move into. Research commissioned by Aspire found that twenty per cent of spinal cord injured people are already being placed in care homes after leaving hospital due to a lack of accessible housing.

Where the government have tried to address people's concerns about the policy their response has been inadequate. As Rolnik said, "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." This is not to mention that research has suggested that 3 in 10 disabled people applying for discretionary payments have been refused them.

Aspire welcomes Rolnik's comments and is very disappointed that instead of addressing her concerns Shapps decided to question why a woman from Brazil, a country with their own housing issues, was lecturing the UK.  Aspire would have hoped that Shapps realised that Rolnik was investigating on behalf of the UN rather than the Brazilian authorities and would prefer to see the government address the issues raised rather than just trying to shout these legitimate concerns down.

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