Summary of the Bedroom tax
The SGTO Public Debate brought the bedroom tax issue in Southwark to the feet of local Councillors at Bells Community centre. All three political parties were represented with Cllr Mitchell (Cons), Cllr Livingstone (Lab) and Cllr Al-Samerai (Lib Dem). Alongside the politicians on the panel sat Sally Causer of the Citizen Advice Bureau and Ian Ritchie of the SGTO.
The Councillors outlined their position on the bedroom tax, Cllr Al-Samerai articulated the Lib Dem position which is somewhere in the middle on the issue as she could not deny that the welfare system previously was not fit for purpose and reform was necessary. She however acknowledged that some of the effects of the bedroom tax are not acceptable and questioned the Labour Council’s use of resources to protect the most vulnerable in Southwark, as she felt more robust financial action could have been taken and can still be taken to protect the vulnerable from the worst effects of the bedroom tax. An estimated 3000 people are affected by the bedroom tax in Southwark.
Cllr Livingstone described the impact of the Bedroom tax as disgraceful, and spoke of the Labour council’s policies aimed at mitigating the worst effects of the bedroom tax listing the home exchange initiatives supported by the Council along with the discretionary fund, and like Cllr Al-Samerai he highlighted the need to redress the imbalance in overcrowding.
Cllr Mitchell was very clear that he welcomed the introduction of the bedroom tax because it brought much needed equity into the housing system, as tenants in the private sector have had to endure a bedroom tax after the loss of the extra room subsidy, incidentally this was a policy introduced by the previous Labour Government. Cllr Mitchell quoted the potential number of registered people living in overcrowded homes is around 6000.
Questions, comments and statements took up the rest of the evening, the questions ranged from “Should a feasibility study have been undertaken before the introduction of the bedroom tax?”, “evictions causing tenants to move from into the private sector – lost council more to pay for private rents in Housing Benefits” one irate member of the audience asked “why is Southwark Council selling off land to greedy private developers and where is the money?”. Many residents made clear statements of the abhorrence to the bedroom tax.
The last question from the audience fell upon local resident Natasha Ennen who asked what practical solutions where the parties offering to meet the acknowledged problems without increasing the marginalisation of hard to reach residents.
Ian Ritchie called the bedroom tax measure one of the most “wicked” measures he has seen during his 40 years of campaigning for tenants’ rights. Sally Causer was concerned about the health and wellbeing of residents who were struggling with the welfare reforms; she anticipated a rise in cases of depression and greater pressure on health services as a result.
The SGTO would like to thank the panel for their attendance as well as the 60 plus residents who attended the event and contributed to this very important issue.