Don’t be a housing tenant under this LibDem/Tory Coalition.

Alex Sobel at the Anti-Bedroom Tax rally 5 April 2014
Alex Sobel at the Anti-Bedroom Tax rally 5 April 2014That’s the message whether you’re in the private or so-called ‘social’ rented sector.
  •  Local Housing Allowances – that’s the benefits that help you pay your rent if you’re in the private rented sector – are being reduced – to 30% of the market rate instead of 50%.[i.e. they’re capped based on a calculation of the cheapest 30% of properties not the cheapest 50% ]
  • Then there’s the benefit cap which reduces the amount of Housing Benefit paid where overall benefit entitlement is greater than £500 for a couple (or £350 for a single person)
  •  And, of course, the infamous Bedroom tax – which reduces Housing Benefit by 14% where tenants are judged to have 1-bedroom too many and by 25% where it’s 2-bedrooms too many or more.

Rising rent, and falling Housing Benefit – it’s a vicious pincer movement crushing the weakest and most needy – many of whom, remember, are disabled, most of whom are in low-paid work.

Don’t be a tenant – and don’t be a Local Authority, either! Because it’s Local Authorities who are having to pick up the pieces of the LibDem/Tory Coalition’s mess – with less and less money to do so.

These cuts to financial support for people living in rented accommodation have wreaked havoc among the most needy and deserving in Leeds. And they’ve been roundly criticised by council leaders – who are having to plan to make up the shortfall by using money from the city’s housing revenue.

As everyone surely now knows, the Bedroom Tax has fallen primarily on the disabled and vulnerable. Leeds council is having to step in to help these people – with ‘Discretionary Housing Payments’. These have become an increasingly important part of the ‘welfare system’ – or rather of the safety net which our society tries to extend to the needy – or at least, which it USED to try to extend, before this nasty Coalition got into power. But the number of people needing these payments is increasing dramatically, while the money available from the Coalition to make them is not.

Councillor Keith Wakefield, Labour Leader of Leeds City Council, has summed up the situation

“Local government in Leeds and throughout the country is increasingly stuck between a rock and a hard place. The help we had previously from Government recognised more tenants need extra support to deal with the changes they have made to support for tenants. But we are now hitting a crunch as these measures are withdrawn and tenants face impossible choices. ‘

Councillor Wakefield also made clear the impact of the Bedroom Tax here in Leeds – including on the disabled and foster carers!
‘Looking solely at cases where families were subject to the bedroom tax, in the last financial year we used Discretionary Housing Payments to help 456 families with severely disabled people in adapted properties and 35 households with foster carers.’

Peter Gruen, in charge of Neighbourhoods, Planning and Personnel in Leeds, echoes this – in the Bedroom Tax, the LibDem/Tory Coalition has produced a tax which was based on totally false assumptions that people would be able to move into smaller accommodation.
‘This is not the case in Leeds, or many other cities. There simply aren’t the smaller properties to move into.’
The result is misery, increased poverty and fear – and in these circumstances, Leeds council steps in.
As a city we are trying to improve the situation with housing, but this is a long term plan and in the short term we must support those who need our help to keep a roof over their head.

This is where the Discretionary Housing Payments come in. As the name suggests, these are payments the Council can make to those it judges really needy. Well over half of this fund – designed to meet a range of desperate housing needs – has had to go on payments to those whose lives have been made a misery by the Bedroom Tax. The Coalition’s grant for the Discretionary Housing Payments has not come anywhere near meeting the need. There’s a £370,000 shortfall in 2013-14 alone – and it will only get worse.

Councillor Wakefield again

“Leeds is facing having to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds in coming years to help out tenants who have lost financial support through no fault of their own.’

The situation is desperate, and getting worse – more so because of the general level of Coalition cuts to Leeds budget.
Leeds Labour Council has now been driven to dip into the Housing Revenue Account to cover these Discretionary payments – that’s the account which is meant to cover the management, maintenance and improvement of the Council’s own housing stock. Housing Revenue Account funds will be used to give particular support for disabled people who face losing out most from the government changes.

Keith Wakefield states the stark truth of what is happening
‘As a council we are committed to doing our best to help as many as possible, but we have to fund that help from money we would want to spend providing more houses for those who need them, and other services for people in the city. This is more money in effect going from local people in Leeds to shore up the central government coffers.”

It’s a mess, it’s a mess of the LibDem/Tory Coalition’s making, and it’s a mess others are increasingly pushed to clear up.

Meanwhile, back at LibDem HQ. . . . 

Leeds Labour Council is doing all it can – and more – to protect the weak and vulnerable in difficult times.
Yet, amazingly, in September the LibDems blamed Labour councils for the Bedroom tax misery!

We don’t claim to understand the parallel universe the LibDems live in.

Considering that not a single LibDem MP voted against the Bedroom Tax in February 2013, that Labour has tried – and without LibDem support failed – to abolish the Bedroom Tax, and after Labour ensured a LibDem private member’s Bill on the Tax got through recently, LibDem claims here are a bit rich. We’ve set out the facts about what’s happening in Leeds. We’d be interested to know how the LibDems feel they can say Labour in Leeds is to blame for the Bedroom tax misery.

But maybe we’re not so surprised. The LibDems have been more than willing partners in this Coalition government. And their major aim now seems to be to save their electoral skins – at whatever price in truth and honesty.

But as Leeds Labour Council shows, if we want sanity in this whole area of housing policy again – there’s only one choice. Not just Labour government locally, but nationally.

Roll on May 2015.

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