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The United Nations special investigator on housing Raquel Rolnik has said that the Bedroom Tax could constitute a violation of the human right to adequate housing.
Rolnik, a former urban planning minister in Brazil, has has told the government it should abolish the bedroom tax, after investigating how the policy was affecting vulnerable citizens during a visit to the UK, and said Britain’s good record on housing was being eroded by a failure to provide sufficient quantities of affordable social housing, and more recently by the impact of welfare reform.
Rolnik said she was disturbed by the extent of unhappiness caused by the bedroom tax and struck by how heavily this policy was affecting “the most vulnerable, the most fragile, the people who are on the fringes of coping with everyday life”. “I was very shocked to hear how people really feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why – being so vulnerable – they should pay for the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis. People in testimonies were crying, saying ‘I have nowhere to go’, ‘I will commit suicide’.”
Rolnik reported that council officials, were struggling to cope with the repercussions of the Bedroom Tax’s introduction, because there is a shortage of single-bedroom properties for tenants move down to. She said “It’s so clear that the government didn’t really assess the impact on lives when it took this decision. 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.”
Rolnik confirmed that the bedroom tax could be a violation of the human right to adequate housing. If for example the extra payments forced tenants to cut down on their spending on food or heating their home. She said her conclusions should carry weight in British courts, where a number of legal challenges to the bedroom tax are under way. “It depends on how much the judiciary here takes into account the international legislation. In principle they should because the UK has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.”
A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said: “It is surprising to see these conclusions being drawn from anecdotal evidence and conversations after a handful of meetings – instead of actual hard research and data. Britain has a very strong housing safety net and even after our necessary reforms we continue to pay over 80% of most claimants’ rent if they are affected by the ending of the spare room subsidy.”
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