Cameron Watt is Head of Neighbourhoods at the National Housing Federation. Previously he worked for the Centre for Social Justice and at Conservative Central Office. These are his personal views.
Iain Duncan Smith and the Coalition Government are transforming our welfare system for the better. In radically simplifying its impenetrable complexities and ensuring work always pays, Conservatives have made a promising start to getting Britain working in the most challenging of economic circumstances.
As well as making work pay, the Government has to constrain the benefits bill. One proposed measure to try to achieve this is the ‘under-occupation penalty’ for social housing tenants in the Welfare Reform Bill. If implemented, from 2013, 670,000 households in the social sector will have their housing benefit cut by an average of £13 per week - £670 penalty a year - if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom according to DWP’s proposed size criteria. Some families will lose £1,400 a year. Two-thirds of these 670,000 claimants are disabled.
Proponents of the penalty argue that hard-pressed taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for people to live in homes that are too big for them. In theory most efficient use of the nation’s homes would require us all to live in homes of a size that exactly meets our needs. But in reality the profile of our housing stock, across all tenures, means this simply isn’t possible. Over many decades successive governments have abjectly failed to build enough market and social homes, so now there aren’t nearly enough homes of whatever size to go round.