Severely disabled mum of two Lorraine Fraser suffers from scoliosis (curvature of the spine), arthritis and is a wheelchair user. Lorraine and her children now face impending homelessness due to just £248 of Bedroom Tax arrears. Campaigners will be holding a Mass Sleep Out this Saturday in more than 60 towns and cities in solidarity with Lorraine, and so many others paying the penalty of ideological austerity.
Bedroom Tax Evictees
The Labour run Council moved 46 year old Lorraine into a specially adapted flat with a wheelchair ramp, wet room and hand rails just two years ago. She has faced court action over £248 arrears in bedroom tax and has received a letter from North Lanarkshire Council on August 8th stating:
“I can advise you that North Lanarkshire Council has commenced court action to evict you from your home.”
She also faces the bill for the Council’s legal costs in pursuing the action.
Lorraine was already struggling to pay bills and feed herself prior to the Bedroom Tax, as she is reliant on Disability Living Allowance and other social security which is being reduced while the cost of living is rising. But on April 1st this year she was informed she needed to find £62 a month in additional rent. Council officers have visited her in her home to explain the eviction process, and no alternative accommodation has been offered.
Speaking to the Daily Record, Lorraine said:
“I can’t believe I am going to be thrown on the street. My condition is getting worse every day. This has caused me so much stress and anxiety it’s making me really ill. I feel angry, upset and totally helpless.
“I feel like my life is falling apart. I have been in this house for two years and it was the council who put me here because they knew I needed a specially adapted home for my disability. Now they want to throw me out on the street like a piece of old rubbish. They are targeting the most vulnerable in our community. It’s a disgrace they are allowed to get away with it.”
In a matter of months we have become a nation which puts severely disabled people and their children on the streets, rather than supporting them to live in dignity. If only Lorraine was an isolated case.
Last August, wheelchair user Veronica Kenning was given a year to live last August, after developing terminal cancer. Veronica refused to find the cash from her meagre budget to pay the Bedroom Tax in her final months alive. Rather than let the issue go, Birmingham City Council is pursuing her through the courts for the £23.57 a week. She has received documentation from the Council stating:
“Your rent debt is now at an unacceptable level and we are serving you with a notice of seeking possession. This is a legal notice and should not be ignored.”
Veronica responded defiantly: “I haven’t got enough time left to waste it filling out forms. I’m making a stand.”
These are just two cases. But Inside Housing report that of the 660,000 social housing tenants hit by the Bedroom tax, around two thirds will be disabled people. These tenants will lose between £520-1300 a year. For those unfamiliar with being dirt poor, this means choosing between eating three meals a day and having the heating on for an hour in the evening in the winter. Now the worst fears of campaigners and poor council housing tenants alike have become reality – they are losing their homes.
Some Housing Associations have pledged not to evict tenants over the Bedroom Tax, but will still face the reduced funding for Housing Benefit.
It’s Not Fair, and it’s Not Necessary
The three pillars of the pro-Bedroom Tax argument are fairness, proper allocation of housing to need, and a reduction in the housing benefit bill to the tax payer.
First let us look at capacity. There are five million people on waiting lists for social housing in the UK today.
Currently the UK is building 100,000 homes a year less than it needs to in order to meet requirements. There is not adequate housing of sufficient type (one bed, two bed, three bed, etc.) to meet needs.
It was discovered recently that for 19 of every 20 people hit by the Bedroom Tax, no ‘appropriately sized’ accommodation was available.
Reducing the Housing Benefit Bill
Secondly, on the matter of reducing the Housing Benefit bill to the taxpayer – the government has failed to properly address why the bill has risen. It simply states that it has, and that it must be reduced.
The National Housing Federation issued a report last year which showed Housing Benefit has doubled in recent years as a direct result of an astronomical increase in housing costs. The report shows an 86% rise in housing benefit claims by working families, with 10,000 new claims coming in per month. House prices are now 300% higher (in real terms) than in 1959. If the price of a dozen eggs had risen as quickly, they would now cost £19. Rents across the UK have risen by an average of 37% in the UK in just the last three years. The rise in Housing Benefit is coming from escalating private rents outpacing the rise in wages, not the ‘burden’ of the jobless.
Instead of expanding the social house building programme, instead of taking on this cartel of private landlords who are artificially inflating rental prices to increase profits on tenants who have no option but to pay up, the government is walking away from the problem and blaming the victims. How is that in any way fair?
The Mass Sleep Out
This Saturday, 24th August, thousands of people across more than 60 towns and cities will be sleeping on the streets in protest at the Bedroom Tax. The Mass Sleepout is not only a protest, but a chilling preview of coming attractions if we do not unite and fight back against the Bedroom Tax and regressive changes to the social security system. It is time to stop asking when people will rise up. They are rising. The question is – will you be joining them?
Join The Mass Sleep Out this Saturday. Go to the website, find your nearest event and join in. It doesn’t matter if you are a veteran protester or have never seen a placard in your life. You will be welcomed and a part of something bigger than yourself.
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