The Casual Cruelty of the Bedroom Tax

I recently spoke to a mother who was being hit by the Bedroom Tax. Because her son spends part of the week with her and part of the week at Dad’s, his bedroom in her home was declared a spare room. I was so appalled I asked her how this came about. This is her reply, which is published with her permission.

 

Over the past few months I’ve been hearing about the new Bedroom Tax. I read about lots of people who are losing money and in financial trouble because of it, including disabled people or people with disabled children. I thought it was disgusting for these people to have to pay this for bedrooms that are so clearly needed, for specially adapted beds and equipment for themselves or their child, or for carers to sleep in. But it didn’t occur to me that the bedroom tax was going to affect me at all.

Then in December I had a letter asking me to fill out a form to say who lives in my home. It said that if I have more bedrooms than I need my housing benefit will be reduced. I filled it in, stating that my son stays with me for four nights a week. It asked if I received Child Benefit- I stated that I don’t as his father receives this. We have joint custody and only one parent can claim Child Benefit.

I sent back the form and didn’t feel overly concerned, I live in a two bedroom maisonette and both bedrooms are being slept in – I don’t have more bedrooms than I need. I thought that this would make sense to them. Looking back, I think I was being naive or stupid. On the 25th of February I received a reply. It said that as my son’s father receives the Child Benefit they will treat him as the person who is responsible for my son and the person who provides him with his main home. Therefore they are unable to include my son in the assessment of my Housing and Council Tax Benefit.

When my son’s father and I split up I moved out of the house we were living in and took my name off the joint tenancy agreement. The housing association then told my ex that he had to move out as they now counted him as a single man living in a 2 bedroom house, even though we had joint custody and the 2nd bedroom was being used regularly. So I signed over the Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits to him so he wouldn’t be homeless. A few people told me that I was shooting myself in the foot so to speak, but I couldn’t live with him being evicted. The break up in itself was so stressful for me that I suffered a psychotic episode and was sectioned for a month because I was a danger to myself, convinced that I had to die to make things easier for everyone. Aspects of my mental health condition have a big impact on the way I handle change and stress and in particular conflict in my personal life. As a child I was made to feel overly responsible and guilty about the circumstances of certain adults in my life and was often put in positions of having to make choices that hurt someone no matter what or who I chose. As an adult the sense of guilt and worry about choices I make is still filled with the intense anxiety and panic I experienced as a child and at times that can tip me over the edge. 

It’s my wish to attempt to go back to work part-time, three days a week. I want to contribute to society, but at a level and pace that is right for me, that won’t set me back to square one with my mental health. I’ve worked hard to manage my condition and get to this place and I know that working full-time would be too much for me. However, if I work three days a week, the wage at my grade won’t be enough to cover my rent, bills and food etc (and now this bedroom tax on top) because I don’t have Child Tax Credits to top up my earnings. I don’t receive any financial support to look after my son. I’ve learned that I could apply to get disabled persons tax credits when I start work but this would only be allowed for one year, after that I have no idea how I would manage. I would probably have to go back on benefits. I don’t want this. I want to get into and stay in part-time work, not go backwards again.

I’ve discussed the situation with my ex. He is in the same boat. He is a carer for his elderly mother and is on benefits too. If he signs the Child Benefit and Child Tax Credits back over to me he will have to pay the bedroom tax and also then when he finds work won’t be able to have his earnings topped up to give him enough income.

Mothers and fathers are equally important to a child. I don’t believe that on paper it’s fair to say that only one of them is the responsible parent if both of them are caring for the child equally. I’m very sensitive about my role as a mother, I have a lot of anxiety about others assuming I’m not a good parent because of my mental health problems and for being on benefits, and it really hurt to see on paper that I’m not the ‘responsible’ parent.

I believe that parents who have joint custody of their children should have the benefits and financial support relating to a child shared between them by the DWP. If I wasn’t looking after my son at all and he lived with his father full-time then I would expect to pay this bedroom tax. But I do look after my son, as much as his father does.

I have to make a decision now about whether I push for the Child Benefit/Child Tax Credits, possibly having to go to court if he is unwilling to give them to me, or to stay in the position I’m in which is a very precarious one financially. Any day I will be called for my ESA review and medical (as thousands of others have been so far) and it’s likely I will lose that money, and will be put onto a single persons JSA – as I’m not considered to be looking after a child in the eyes of the DWP. There is no way I can support my son on JSA. I cannot make any progress in my life if I stay in my current position, but going to work will leave me worse off after a year when the disabled persons tax credits stop. This government want people back in work but they are making it extremely difficult for people to do so, how are you meant to get your life back on track with obstacles like these in the way? 

Some people might say that it’s not my problem what his dad has to deal with, ‘just do what you have to do, for you’. And there some moments I say to myself you just have to care about yourself now and forget about how your actions impact on someone else. But I can’t feel any conviction in that attitude. It’s not in my nature to not care about how others are affected by my actions (however it seems to be in this government’s nature). I do care about how things are for my son’s father, and how things are between us. It’s important for my son that we get along and for him to be able to continue to spend equal amounts with both of us – this could mean that he has to start living with just one of us – and then there will be a battle over who he lives with permanently. I can’t take that kind of stress and would be devastated to not have my son live with me at all. If his father signs the money back to me then I have to deal with the guilt of him being left in the same position that I’m in now. This government is pitting family members against each other, trapping them in dog eat dog situations.

I can’t cope with the stress and guilt of going to court over this, but I can’t carry on in this situation either. I feel unbearably trapped. Every morning I’m waking up filled with dread and fear over my future, suicidal feelings are surfacing and my mental health is getting worse and I’m really scared of going badly downhill again.

This government don’t see people as individuals, all with different circumstances and needs, we are just fodder to them.

To some extent you do have to put yourself first. But not totally, it’s about give and take, there should be a way for us both to be ok, not one person ok, the other left in dire straits. But this government is all take. Look after number one and screw you.

 

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