Gareth Stowers currently has a job at Royal Court `wet house', helping those with severe alcohol problems get accommodation in a safe environment. At the end of this month, thanks to Salford Council cuts, the Royal Court is closing its doors (see here), and Gareth admits that worrying about their future wellbeing keeps him awake at night.
At the end of this month, when Royal Court closes, Gareth also loses his job as a support worker. He'll be claiming benefits. And then his own personal nightmare begins…
Gareth lives in social housing in Salford, and his daughter has her own room for when she stays with him at weekends and during holidays. He reckons that after Bedroom Tax, CSA (Child Support Agency) and Council Tax deductions, plus essential payments like water and electricity bills, he'll be left with just £16 a week to feed himself and his daughter.
"Currently I'm in employment and could afford to pay for the extra bedroom which my daughter uses when she stays over, but now I'm going to be deducted about £12 a week from my benefits for it" he explains "I figured it out that I'm going to be left with about £16 for food for me and my daughter – this basically means that I'll be going around the supermarkets at night looking for food that is just about to go out of date because that's the only way I'm going to be able to feed us both.
"I don't believe that I shouldn't be able to receive some kind of benefit for my daughter" he adds "And if I downsize she'll just have to sleep in the corridor at night or something. It's absolutely ridiculous."
Gareth's is just one of over 5,000 households that are going to be decimated by the Bedroom Tax in Salford – the second highest number in the country.
According to the National Housing Federation, in the constituency of Salford and Eccles, 3,200 households will be forced to pay £518 per year if they have one spare bedroom, or £945 per year if they have two. Meanwhile, in the Blackley and Broughton constituency, of which half is in Salford, 3,113 households will be forced to pay £526 per year if they have one spare bedroom, or £940 per year if they have two.
This comes on top of Salford Council's social housing `arm's length' company, Salix, raising rents and service charges from April 1st by around £14 a month, and Salford Council passing on £2.5million worth of ConDem cuts to Council Tax benefits - which will affect around 20,000 people and force them to pay up to 15% of Council Tax bills.
With the spectre of Universal Benefits coming in for October this year too, which will see all benefits made in one payment direct to claimants, everyone - from the housing associations to welfare rights organisations, activists and Salford Council itself – agrees that it's going to add up to a social disaster.
"Welfare benefit reform will see the introduction of universal credit, under occupancy reductions (bedroom tax), non-dependent reductions and direct payment of benefit to tenants rather than the landlord" states Great Places' Annual Report "These will all have adverse affects on arrears and bad debts in future."
Meanwhile, an internal impact report from Salford Council doesn't underestimate the problems, stating that Council Tax Benefit cuts will lead to "unprecedented levels of Council Tax arrears", and the overall benefit cuts "will worsen the economic circumstances of the poorest families in the City and will undermine the City Council's efforts to combat Child Poverty".
On the Bedroom Tax, the Council report states… "The upshot will be a growing number of people unable to afford their rent and this will almost certainly manifest itself in increased rent arrears, increased possession action, increased presentations of homelessness, a demand for cheaper rented accommodation leading to increased pressure on lower-cost areas of the City, and greater reliance on high interest lenders (legal and illegal)."
People living in social housing can avoid the Bedroom Tax by downsizing to a smaller property – but Salix told the Salford Star that only 17 households have done this so far.
"Like all housing providers we do have a limited number of one bed properties, approximately 2,400" Salix stated "Based on the last 12 months, we would expect that 365 of these will become available to re-let within the next 12 months. We cannot unfortunately guarantee that everyone who wanted a one bedroom home would be allocated one.
Salix added that tenants who wished to downsize would be given added points on Salford Home Search so they are given additional priority.
Meanwhile, a City West Housing report on the Bedroom Tax for tenants states that "there is a shortage of smaller properties, particularly one bedroom flats. In some areas you could wait many years to be housed in a smaller home."
A special meeting of East Salford Community Committee recently heard how City West has 4,000 one bedroom homes with a current waiting list of six years.
For those stuck in the Bedroom Tax and Council Tax trap, Salford Council has a Discretionary Housing Payment scheme (click here) but this is `short term' and `limited'.
The ConDem Pensions Minister, Steve Webb, has notoriously advised those in work and losing benefits to "work longer hours", move or "get a lodger". This latter advice was echoed by a smiling Karen Garrido, Leader of Salford Conservative Party on Channel 4 News at the end of January.
Having told Channel 4 that there probably won't be enough smaller accommodation for "ages to come", her advice was to "Get a lodger, get a lodger in and rent one of your rooms…".
Preceding Garrido on the Channel 4 News was an interview with Lower Broughton's Maria Brabiner, who the Salford Star first spoke to way back in October last year.
At the time, few people were aware of the Bedroom Tax and Maria, who had been watching the Labour Party Conference on tv, was staggered that Ed Miliband hadn't even mentioned it in his big speech - probably because the Labour Party actually brought in the `under occupancy' rule for private tenants while in Government.
"I got all excited when Ed Miliband came on" she said "He mentioned pastry taxes, this tax, that tax…but he didn't mention Bedroom Tax. But I blame the LibDems and Nick Clegg more than anyone. No way would a minority Tory Government have tried to get this through, because it would have failed. It's horrible and a real kick in the teeth."
Like Gareth Stowers, Maria also worked in the community, for Salford Social Services, before giving up her job to look after her mum, who had a stroke and unfortunately died in 2010.
Maria saved Salford Council and the Government a fortune in care costs, drawing just £50 a week for a carer's allowance. Now, unable to get back into the job market and with her savings dried up, she's reliant on housing benefit, Council Tax benefit and Job Seekers' Allowance. And she's about to get penalised for the spare room left by her mother's death.
"They're bringing in the Bedroom Tax to try and get people to downsize and get them in work" Maria explained "It might seem good on paper but not in the real world – there's no one bed properties around here, and no work.
"I can't get a job so I'm going to be hammered" she said "It's an injustice. It will cost me around £14 a week, which will leave me with £57 a week, but I've got water, gas and electric bills on top. I've even had a water meter put in because I'm thinking ahead to the Bedroom Tax. Who's to say if I'm going to get a job?"
Indeed six months on since that chat back in October, and Maria has become a bit of a pin-up girl for the anti-Bedroom Tax movement, appearing on leaflets, in newspapers, on tv and online in the `Bedroom Tax…think it's unfair…join the fight here' facebook group. But all the way along, all Maria has wanted is a job, so she could pay the Tax and stay in her home. It's not happened.
Even so, Maria is still thinking about other people in the community… "I'm going to struggle with the Bedroom Tax" she says "But it doesn't matter if you're disabled, and have a carer staying over, or you've got kids that stay…it's horrible and I dread to think about the affect it will have on other people. All I can say is `Find me a job'… I've been living here 34 years, my cat is 17…This is my home."
NO BEDROOM TAX NATIONAL DAY OF PROTEST
Saturday 16th March 1pm
Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester.
See previous Salford Star articles...
Salford Bedroom Tax and Rent Increase Horrors - click here
Greater Manchester Campaigns Against The Bedroom Tax - click here
Homeless Presentations To Salford Council Rocket - click here