Ever since the enactment of the Welfare Reform Act, 2012, the “Bedroom Tax” controversy has been in the headlines in United Kingdom. The Tory party government of David Cameron has been facing scathing criticism over this bill, which was sponsored by the conservative MP Iian Duncan and came into force on 8 March, 2012. It was envisaged as a key component of the “program of austerity” policy introduced by the conservative government.
This Welfare Reform Act 2012, has been linked with another controversial piece of legislation, the “Poll Tax” enacted by the British Parliament in 1990’s. The opposition Labor party, political pundits and the media have carried a relentless campaign against the Welfare Reform Act 2012 since it was passed by parliament.
There are certain provisions of said act which have been the main target of criticism by the public, opposition political parties and the media. These provisions concern changes to housing benefits within the British social security system. These controversial changes in the housing sector were enforced on 1 April, 2013.
A very contentious change enforced by this act is ” under-occupancy penalty” – popularly referred to as the “Bedroom Tax” by the opposition, political commentators and the press. This penalty or tax envisages a reduction in the amount of social security benefits to the claimants if they have too much un-utilized living space.
According to the “under-occupancy penalty” provisions of this act, benefits are restricted if it is found out that there are more rooms on a premises than occupants. The policy of one room per person or one room per couple is strictly enforced under this law and if the number of rooms are greater than the number of occupants than the housing benefits are reduced by 14 percent for one extra bedroom and by 25 percent for two or more extra bedrooms.
Government spokesmen are of the view that this law – especially the housing changes introduced therein – would lead to a drastic decrease in dependency on social welfare and hence support working class families. The opposition and large sections of the general public hold the completely opposite view. According to the estimates of the opposition this law would increase the hardships of the common man instead of alleviating or reducing them. Further, the Liberal Democrats and the Labor party hold that this “Bedroom Tax” will result in re-allocation of the masses all over Britain because of the scarcity of one bedroom properties all over the United Kingdom, adding more to the woes of the already affected sections of the population. A number of exceptions are envisaged by the promoters of this law, such as children over 10 years of age and under 16 who are of the same gender are to share a room; plus, there is a provision that a separate room is allowed for the carers of disabled individuals who need to stay overnight to look after the disabled person.
These exemptions are not deemed good enough by the majority of the population in comparison to the reduction of social security benefits by the government. It is because of this reason that the under-occupancy is not viewed as a subsidy but more of an additional burden in the shape of the controversial “Bedroom Tax”.
Editorial by Iftikhar Tariq Khanzada