Bedroom tax investigated by UN housing official
Raquel Rolnik on two-week tour of UK cities to assess general housing policy as well as impact of bedroom tax on human rights.
A senior UN official is in the UK to scrutinise the impact of the bedroom tax on the human rights of people in low-income households. The special rapporteur on housing, Raquel Rolnik, is on a two-week tour of cities where she will meet tenants affected by the policy as well as officials, campaigners and academics.
Social tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need have had their housing benefit reduced under changes to the welfare system that came into affect in April.
Ministers say the change tackles an unfair spare room subsidy not available to private-sector renters and suggest it will save around £500m a year as part of the government’s deficit-reduction strategy.
But the policy has triggered protests, with critics claiming it is forcing families into deprivation and that it will ultimately increase the benefit bill by pushing people into the private sector where rents are higher on average.
Rolnik, who will reveal the initial findings of the unprecedented inspection next Wednesday, said the UK faced a unique moment when the challenge of providing adequate housing was “on the agenda”.
Rolnik asked the British government to allow her to make an inspection late last year. She makes two country investigations every year. Her decision to visit the UK was prompted in part, she said, by her sense that Britain was experiencing a housing crisis and by concern about the impact of welfare changes on the right to adequate housing.
“There is a housing crisis. This is very clear,” she said. “The aim of the visit is to assess the current situation. Of course the bedroom tax and austerity measures and welfare reform as far as they impact on the right to adequate housing is part of our agenda.”
Judging by her previously frank assessments of government’s housing records, Rolnik is likely to be vocal in outlining her concerns at the end of reporting trip next week.
A spokesperson on the visit said Rolnik’s investigation would not just focus on the bedroom tax but also on UK housing policy more widely.
Article 25 of the universal declaration of human rights includes housing as part of the “right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family”.
Rolnik said: “The UK has voiced its commitment to human rights on repeated occasions, and this mission will give me an opportunity to assess in-depth to what extent adequate housing, as one central aspect of the right to an adequate standard of living, is at the core of this commitment.
“The UK faces a unique moment, when the challenge to promote and protect the right to adequate housing for all is on the agenda.
“In doing so, special attention would need to be given to responding to the specific situations of various population groups, in particular low-income households and other marginalised individuals and groups.”
The visit – at the invitation of the government – takes in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Manchester and will include sessions in local communities.
A UN spokesman said the UK was the signatory to a number of international treaties that protect the right to adequate housing and non-discrimination.
The final report will be presented by Rolnik to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.