The “bedroom tax” is a cut in benefits to families who are deemed to live in too large a house. Not like this of course
just a bit bigger than the Government believe needy families deserve, calculated on the expectation that two children aged 10 or under must share (16 or under if the same sex). It means a loss of around £10-15 a week per “spare” bedroom.
A team from Manchester University have been researching the impact on children and their education. It is a small-scale but detailed and sensitive study focusing on a sample of 14 families (total 24 children) in two contrasting neighbourhoods. Interviews were also held with various service providers and school staff.
The DfE’s official response was to shrug it off as “only a few families”.
Added to all the other cuts for low-income families, this is driving many families to the wall. They are expected either to earn more or find cheaper accommodation. Neither option is easy so a frequent consequence is hunger and cold. Families are getting into more debt: few have been evicted yet, but this becomes more and more likely as arrears increase.
Moving out is rarely a good option: it involves children changing school and families being cut off the support of close relatives and neighbours. Besides, it is often difficult to find smaller accommodation.
Parents are stressing about money and the threat of eviction.
I do cry, I do get snappy which is not fair on them. It’s not nice when you have to say ‘no’ to your children. They are noticing, don’t get me wrong. They say ‘don’t cry, don’t cry it’s alright’ but you can’t say ‘not really, mummy can’t handle this one’. You know, but you can’t say that to a five year old, a six year old, because they see you as superwoman don’t they? (Lisa, mother of two)
Because it makes you snappy; anybody who is stressed they’ll tell you straight away: if you are stressed you snap. And if you snap you feel guilty afterwards, and then you get stressed again and then is a vicious cycle. (Kevin, father of two)
It is having an impact on relationships and causing depression.
The system makes us depressed; you know you sit there and you’re looking after your children, you’re picking the children on time, you cook for them, food is so expensive but you cook for them and then you have a disabled child who’s always not well, is always in hospital and you sit down and you want to do something. I am a graduate! I was working for a firm and I had to stop because I have to look after my son who is not well for the last 8 years (Melanie, mother of three)
Stigma and shame
Poverty like this increases stigma and undermines pride. You don’t want to be seen as a “scrounger”:
Somebody said, you know, there are food banks. And I think it’s more than a pride thing. I don’t want to have to queue outside the church for a bag of food! (Anna, mother of four)
I am very proud of myself, I am not going to beg, yes! (Melanie, mother of three)
Earning more is often not an option:
Employers don’t want families with issues; you see if you look at the forms …they are already discriminating to ask you if you have any children to look after; and if you have any disabled children … they shouldn’t be asking those things you know (Melanie, mother of three)
I ended up sacked from work because I was spending so much time in hospital, so I claimed benefits again; it’s so unpredictable (Mary, mother of two)
Why not move house?
One of the biggest barriers to moving is the loss of essential support. Moving away from family and neighbours would make working even more unmanageable for some.
I know people who have lived in communities in social houses for years. They know their neighbours and their families might be two doors down… Often people would say that the neighbours would look after the children if I get to work or if I do this or I do that and then being uprooted from that community would have the impact … or children are in and out of each other houses and everyone looks after all of the children and then the impact for us to move away from that community where you don’t know anyone, you don’t have any family then the impact … I guess you know that if people have to move there must be potentially a change of school which can be disruptive … (Manager, Community Health Service)
(To be continued)