By Lynn Malone
A leading charity has expressed its hope that a visit by a UN watchdog investigating the hated Bedroom Tax, will shine a "global spotlight" on the legislation and force Westminster to scrap it.
The controversial Bedroom Tax is being investigated by United Nations expert Raquel Rolnik who is charged with assessing whether member states have delivered on the right to adequate housing. During her visit Ms Rolnik will hear from those affected in Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Her visit will take in Edinburgh and Glasgow where she will meet with government officials, NGOs, housing associations and individuals affected by it.
Benefit cuts imposed due to the Bedroom Tax have already led to some disabled people in Scotland going without basic essentials such as food, heating and clothes, according to Capability Scotland.
Richard Hamer, Director of External Affairs, at the charity said he hoped the UN watchdog would take this into account and help scrap the tax.
He said: "Capability Scotland hopes that when Raquel Rolnik is in Scotland she will take the opportunity to speak to the many disabled Scots who have been affected by 'bedroom tax'.
"A recent Capability Scotland survey showed that disabled people in Scotland are being forced to go without essentials such as food, heating and clothing to make up for the shortfall in benefits income caused by the tax.
"There is no doubt that disabled people have been disproportionally affected by the 'bedroom tax' and Capability Scotland is currently in discussion with legal experts to see whether it is possible to raise a legal challenge against it in Scotland.
"We welcome the investigation by the United Nations as there is no doubt that 'bedroom tax' is impacting greatly on disabled people's human right to enjoy an acceptable standard of living in a home that meets their needs. Hopefully this visit will shine a global spotlight on the issue and provide further evidence to the UK Government that they need to abandon this ludicrous 'tax' once and for all."
SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, who was a former Director of East Kilbride Housing Association, said she hoped the visit will also show the world the way Scotland is being treated by Westminster.
"I am glad that the UN representative is visiting Scotland, even if that does no more than just raise awareness internationally of the way Scotland is treated by the Westminster Government. As so often happens, a policy designed to tackle the overheated economy in the South East of England, is implemented here." She told Newsnet Scotland.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur's inspection begins tomorrow and will finish on the 11th September. Ms Rolnik will assess the policies and programmes for social housing, affordability, discrimination and other issues related to the right to adequate housing.
In a statement, she 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 extend adequate housing, as one central aspect of the right to an adequate standard of living, is at the core of this commitment."
Ms Fabiani said everyone in Scotland had a right to a spare room and expressed her own hopes that the UN expert recognises how unfair the legislation is.
She added: "We have a different ethos in Scotland when it comes to what gets labelled 'social housing' – Councils and Housing Associations in Scotland have built homes for life. Not only do we not have one-bed roomed properties available to move people too, we recognise that someone in a rented property is just as entitled to a 'spare room' as anyone else.
"It angers me greatly that the likes of Ian Duncan Smith or Lord Freud reckon that someone can pay rent for decades, and then if they hit hard times be told that they are no longer entitled to a bit of help to stay in their home. And then of course there is the blatant discrimination against those with disabilities.
"I sincerely hope that the UN rep will recognise the inherent discrimination and unfairness of the bedroom tax when assessing the policies and programmes for social housing. I hope that she will recognise that Scotland's particular circumstances are such that tenants here are facing particular hardship. Surely she will find against this inflexible and uncaring Conservative and Liberal Democrat UK Government." She said.
Councils are able to cut the housing benefit of people with a spare bedroom by 14 per cent and 25 per cent for those with at least two spare bedrooms.
Newsnet Scotland recently reported on severely disabled single Mum of two, Lorraine Fraser, 46, who is facing eviction because she owes £248 to Labour run North Lanarkshire Council.
And in a letter to the Herald this week housing associations across the west of Scotland joined forces to call on all political parties to mobilise against the Bedroom Tax.
It is estimated 80,000 households in Scotland are affected by the bedroom tax with the average loss per household of £620 a year.