A new blog launched today by Eileen Herden and colleagues at LSE Housing and Communities, My Spare Room, documents through photographs and first-hand accounts those hit by the government’s punitive ‘bedroom tax’. Here she introduces the new site and explains its aims.
Earlier this year LSE Housing and Communities published Is Welfare Reform Working?, a study that followed 200 social housing tenants over two years in order to better understand the impact of welfare reform on individuals’ lives. Over a quarter of our sample had been affected by the bedroom tax since it was introduced in April 2013, and our research showed that this group was struggling financially and emotionally with the burden of having to cover the shortfall between their housing benefit and rent.
Of all of the people we spoke to, it was those hit with the bedroom tax who were most likely to cry on the phone, to be in unmanageable debt, to confess to problems with their mental health, and four of them even admitted to attempting suicide. Over 600,000 people are currently affected by the bedroom tax. They face a choice of paying £40-£100 a month to remain in their homes, or moving to new, often unsuitable, properties at their personal expense.
My Spare Room, launched today, is a new blog co-produced by LSE Housing and Communities and social housing tenants affected by the bedroom tax. The blog shares people’s stories of paying the bedroom tax along with photos they have taken of what has been identified as their ‘spare room’.
The photographs are revealing. They show small and spartan rooms, often children’s bedrooms or box rooms that can barely fit substantial furniture, let alone a single bed. One image shows walls covered in mould, due to damp that has made the room uninhabitable.
In reading the entries on the blog it becomes evident what it means to go without an average of £14 a week for a group of people who are by definition already in precarious financial circumstances. Their stories illustrate how the bedroom tax gives rise to or exacerbates issues of debt, food and fuel poverty, unemployment, child poverty, and poor mental and physical health.
As more people share their experiences, recurring themes begin to emerge: losing a home of many years, the worry that comes with insecure tenancies, the problems that housing instability can create for children, the exhaustion that comes with years of surviving on insufficient income, and the loss of dignity experienced by people forced to turn to their family and friends for help and support.
In telling their stories, the contributors to My Spare Room also reflect on what it means to be a citizen of the UK in 2015. They raise pressing questions about notions of fairness in our society, how much people should care for each other’s wellbeing, the continued salience of a British class system, and the structural demonisation of the poor and the unemployed.
Through the regular posts on My Spare Room, people’s experiences of paying the bedroom tax can reach the rest of society. It is also a means of showing people affected by this legislation that they are not alone. One contributor to the blog wrote recently:
“It’s almost comforting to hear other stories and realise I am not the only one suffering from this cruel tax. Let’s hope the blog and the stories it contains gets the press rallying behind us all and starts a movement to rid the country of this penalisation of the poor.”
Through sharing these stories, My Spare Room hopes to invigorate a more nuanced and serious discussion around the bedroom tax. If you are paying the bedroom tax and would like to participate, please get in touch with us.
Eileen Herden is a researcher at LSE Housing and Communities and a doctoral student in the Department of Social Policy at the London School of Economics. She is a co-author of the recent publication Is Welfare Reform Working?. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org