Appeal Court ruling that benefit restriction discriminates against most vulnerable should prompt UK government to ditch it
Just in case any more evidence was required to prove the “spare room subsidy”– more commonly known as the “bedroom tax” – is a deeply flawed and iniquitous imposition that penalises the most needy, it arrived in spades yesterday.
Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas ruled that a domestic violence victim and the family of a severely disabled teenager had been discriminated against by the controversial UK government initiative.
The cases dealt with by Lord Thomas provided a graphic illustration of the misery bedroom tax can cause to those who least deserve such treatment.
At the Court of Appeal, Lord Thomas found that the measure discriminated against a single mother, who lives in a council house fitted with a secure panic room – installed to protect her from a violent ex-partner.
Furthermore, it also discriminated against Paul and Sue Rutherford, devoted grandparents who look after their disabled grandson Warren – a 15-year-old who requires overnight care.
As a result of the UK government’s policy, the single mother faced losing £11.65 a week from her benefits, because her panic room was regarded as a spare room under the rules.
Nonsensically, she was deemed to be “under-occupying” her home. It may be that if she had needed to use the panic room that ruling might have shifted. How absurd
The sheer folly of the policy was underlined further by the Rutherfords’ case, which saw them lose out because their specially adapted bungalow had a third bedroom used by carers staying overnight.
There is a well-known expression that David Cameron would be well-advised to take on board when it comes to the bedroom tax: “When in a hole, stop digging.” The Prime Minister needs to stop digging now. He must recognise that the bedroom tax – which sees those in council or housing association accommodation denied part of their housing benefit if they have a spare room – is a terrible piece of legislation.
The Scottish Government, to its credit, has taken steps to mitigate against it – effectively scrapping it north of the Border by compensating those who are hit by it.
Lord Thomas’s decision was met by joy from the Rutherfords, who hoped that others would benefit from the ruling. In that context, it was disturbing to see a spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions say it had been granted permission to appeal.
It is difficult to see what motivates the Conservatives to keep fighting against public opinion on this one.
Perhaps they feel the hole they have dug is too deep and the U-turn required to extricate themselves would be damaging politically.
But no matter the reason for the UK government’s intransigence, it is time for a change.
In its relatively short existence, too many vulnerable and caring people have been harmed by this tax and the public’s sympathies lie with the victims. By pursuing this in the courts the government reveals itself as heartless.
Alarming news on EU security
A report by the European Commission published yesterday identified that Greece has “seriously neglected” its obligation to control its portion of the EU border. The report’s contents make for worrying yet unsurprising reading.
Given the assorted and serious nature of the challenges facing Greece, it is perhaps to be expected that the Commission should find failures to register, check and fingerprint migrants making their way to the southern European country.
Greece has been struggling to deal with the huge influx of migrants, a struggle that has been exacerbated by the country’s severe economic and associated social pressures.
Last year more than 850,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Greece and a further 44,000 have reached the Greek islands since the start of 2016. They are numbers which underline the scale of the challenge facing the Greek authorities.
The European Commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis told a news conference in Brussels yesterday that there were “serious deficiencies in the carrying out of external border controls that must be overcome and dealt with by the Greek authorities”.
But arguably the most alarming aspect of the report is that Greece has been given three months in which to turn round the situation.
At times like these, security is paramount. It was little more than two months ago that 130 people were killed in the Paris terrorist attacks. Any deficiencies in border security should be tightened up as quickly as possible. Making such a broad timescale public has effectively given Islamic State militants a deadline by which to smuggle in people whose aim is to do harm to Europe.