Article @ Morning Star, published 1 March 2016
Heartless Tory Iain Duncan Smith dragged the elderly grandparents of a severely disabled teenager back into court yesterday in a bid to overturn a previous verdict that declared the bedroom tax discriminatory.
Appeal judges had confirmed that Paul and Sue Rutherford, who look after their 15 year-old grandson Warren, unjustifiably “suffered discrimination” under the new rules.
The discretionary payments the Rutherfords receive to cover overnight care for Warren will run out next month, leaving the couple in dire straits.
Ahead of the three-day hearing, Child Poverty Action Group solicitor Mike Spencer, who represents the Pembrokeshire family, said: “Paul and Sue Rutherford work round the clock to care for their severely disabled grandson Warren.
“Without carers who can stay overnight they just wouldn’t be able to cope and Warren would have to go into care, at substantial cost to the taxpayer.
“We hope that the Supreme Court will uphold the judgment of the Court of Appeal and grant them the security they need to stay in their home.”
Current regulations exempt disabled adults in need of overnight care from the bedroom tax, but provisions for the care of disabled children are not available.
A panel of seven Supreme Court judges also heard the cases of spina bifida sufferer Jacqueline Carmichael, wheelchair user Richard Rourke, veteran Mervyn Drage, who has a mental illness, and James Daly, the father of a disabled 13-year-old.
Ms Carmichael’s husband and full-time carer Jayson spoke of his “heartache” following the introduction of the penalties over the couple’s housing benefit support. “It has caused us a lot of stress and heartache,” he said during a vigil outside the London court.
“We are having to think about it all the time and being depressed about it. It is fight after fight, case after case.”
Shadow work and pensions secretary Owen Smith MP told the Star it took a “rotten” Tory government to stoop as low as to jeopardise disabled people’s lives.
He asked: “What sort of government would spend over £250,000 in legal fees at the Supreme Court, defending their right to discriminate against disabled children, while at the very same time just 100 yards away in the House of Lords they will concede that they were wrong to try to cynically drop income from the measurement of child poverty?
“The answer is only a government as two-faced and rotten as this one.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman told the Star that making specific exemptions would make the process “exceptionally onerous and extremely difficult” for the government.
“Removing the spare room subsidy [the official name for the tax] has restored fairness to the system for claimants as well as the taxpayer, and the numbers subject to a reduction are falling,” he said.
“We know that there are cases where people may need extra support — but rather than put in place complex exemptions, we have given local councils the freedom to decide what is best for their communities.
“That’s why we have given councils £500 million of funding to provide discretionary payments to those that need them, with a further £870m to be provided up to 2020.”
Jacqueline Carmichael, Stockport
Jacqueline Carmichael suffers from spina bifida and is cared for 24/7 by her husband Jayson. The couple live in a two-bedroom housing association flat in Stockport, Greater Manchester. Because of her condition, Ms Carmichael cannot walk and uses a wheelchair.
To sleep she needs to be in a fixed position, so a hospital bed with an electronic mattress was installed in the couple’s bedroom. However, due to the small size of their home, there isn’t enough space for another bed next to Ms Carmichael’s, meaning that her husband has to sleep in a separate bedroom for which the council now wants to charge £56 a month.
In the eyes of the Department for Work and Pensions, Mr Carmichael’s bedroom is a “spare room” and the couple are, under the new bedroom tax legislation, liable to lose 14 per cent of their housing benefit.
A local court concluded that the legislation was in breach of the couple’s human rights, as defined by the Human Rights Act.
However, when the Carmichaels tried to take the government to the High Court, their judicial review claim was dismissed, as was their challenge to this decision at the Court of Appeal.
James Daly, father of a 13-year-old disabled boy, Stoke-on-Trent
James Daly has joint custody of his severely disabled son, taking care of the boy every weekend and at least one day a week. He lives in a two-bedroom ground-floor flat which provides easy access and freedom of movement to him and the child.
His son’s room has been classified by the Department for Work and Pensions as an excess room, so Mr Daly will be charged an extra £14 a week for it.Mr Daly, who is now in work, fears that if he became unemployed again he would be refused any kind of housing benefit and made homeless.
Richard Rourke, Derbyshire
Widower Richard Rourke, who is a wheelchair user, lives in a three-bedroom council-owned bungalow. His disabled stepdaughter used to live with him during university holidays. A box room in the house is used by Mr Rourke as storage for his mobility equipment, including a hoist to lift him, a power chair and a shower seat.
His legal team argued that Mr Rourke had inquired about a social two-bedroom home for rent but none were available that would suit his wheelchair use and mobility needs. In the private sector, he said he had also been unable to find adapted properties.His housing benefit has since been reduced by 25 per cent.
Mervyn Drage, Moston
Mervyn Drage lives in a three-bedroom flat in a high-rise block in the Moston area of Manchester. As he is a single man, the DWP has classified his home as “underoccupied” and will apply the bedroom tax to his housing benefits.
Mr Drage argues that moving to a different flat would have a detrimental effect on his life and health.
He said: “I am settled in my flat. All the support services I rely on are nearby. I feel safe living here.
“I am living on a knife edge. The amount of money they want from me may be small, but it is too much for me. I am being squeezed from pillar to post.”
Like the Carmichaels, Mr Drage has applied for a judicial review of the legislation, but his case was dismissed in the High Court and thrown out by the Court of Appeal.