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Cumbernauld's MSP says bedroom tax underlines need for indy Scot constitution

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 00:45 GMT on Tuesday, June 11th, 2013.

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THE under-occupancy charge – dubbed the ‘bedroom tax’ – is one reason for a Scottish constitution, if Scotland votes yes to independence in next year’s referendum.

Those were the words of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth’s SNP MSP three weeks ago when the Scottish Parliament’s welfare reform committee heard from the head of Scotland's human rights watchdog Expert: Bedroom tax breaches rights.

The Scottish Commission on Human Rights' Professor Alan Miller told Holyrood's welfare reform committee on Tuesday, May 28th, 2013 that the bedroom tax is one of the “most compelling” human rights issues to be facing Scots today. 

The bedroom tax came into force in April and means that a tenant assessed as having 1 extra bedroom they will be liable to pay 14% of their eligible rent – a 14% reduction in their housing benefit or local housing allowance, in other words. Otherwise, a tenant who is assessed as having 2 or more extra bedrooms will be liable to pay 25% of their eligible rent – a 25% reduction in their housing benefit or local housing allowance.

Figures show that more than 660,000 households could fall into arrears, as a result of the bedroom tax; a welfare reform which appears to mean that benefit receipts lose an average £728 a year - the equivalent of six weeks' worth of payments. Since the reform came into force two months ago charities, councils and housing associations have warned that there are simply no places available for affected tenants to downgrade to, with several high profile suicide cases appearing to blame the UK Government’s welfare reforms in suicide notes.

Addressing the Holyrood committee, Professor Miller said there was little doubt that the bedroom tax breached article eight of the European Charter on Human Rights, which prohibits unnecessary "interference" with a person's home – as well article three, which prohibits "inhuman or degrading treatment”.

"That is, there should be evidence given as to what other measures were considered and why they were rejected," Prof Miller said.

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The Scottish human rights expert said that successive UK governments had refused to "constitutionalise" the charter to ensure compliance was mandatory for any new legislation, adding that the coalition government had simply introduced the bedroom tax was a tick in a box, exclaiming that any assessment of impact was not needed. 

"A box was ticked to say 'no impact on human rights'," he said, adding that the bedroom tax could be considered to go, "against human dignity and the reality of life in the UK.”

"The bedroom tax is one of the most compelling human rights issues in Scotland,” he added. "It's not something we should be sitting round the table talking about in this day and age.”

The committee's deputy convener Jamie Hepburn MSP said the professor's comments further served to promote the need for a Scottish constitution in the event of independence, following next year’s referendum.

The SNP MSP for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth said: "Despite 90 per cent of Scottish MPs voting against this tax, it has still been imposed - and these welfare changes are stigmatising people and hitting our most vulnerable the hardest."

"As he said - we shouldn't be in this place," Mr Hepburn added.

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