Research from the Manchester Institute of Education at the University of Manchester has shown that the Government’s change to housing welfare policy commonly known as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ is contributing (alongside other changes in welfare) to significant hardship among low-income families, and that this is having a negative impact on the education and wellbeing of children in Manchester. It had already been established that there is a connection between poverty and education, such that the poorer a child’s family the less well they are likely to do in their education, and that mental health problems are also associated with negative outcomes and experience within education. This research supports the idea that as well as these two associations, there are more complex interrelationships at play between poverty, education and wellbeing.
The UK Government policy commonly known as the ‘bedroom tax’ was introduced in April 2013 among a raft of benefits changes affecting the incomes of working-age adults. It translates to a reduction in housing benefit payments for those deemed to have ‘spare bedrooms’. On average this equates to a loss of £11-a-week (£572-a-year) for those deemed to have one ‘spare’ bedroom and more for those with two. Previous research found that people affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ struggle to buy basic domestic items and services, such as food and utilities, report negative impacts on their family and community networks, and experience increased mental health problems (Moffatt et al., 2015). When considering this, we thought it was important that although the policy applies only to working age adults, given that low-income families with children have been found to lose the most from changes to benefits and taxes introduced between 2010 and 2014, children are also potentially impacted by the ‘bedroom tax’.
To explore this we conducted a small scale exploratory project, interviewing staff at 20 schools, housing associations and community organisations, and 14 parents impacted by the ‘bedroom tax’. In the interviews we asked about what people thought the impacts of the policy on children and their education were, if any. Our analysis indicates that children are perceived to be impacted by the ‘bedroom tax’ in a number of ways. Some of these impacts relate to basic needs. For example having less food in the house and the heating being on less often. One mum told us “I mean a loaf of bread isn’t going to keep me dry or keep me warm, or keep them warm or keep them dry. So you’ve got to pick that and that’s the hard bit”. Parents we talked to also told us about the difficulties of children of significantly different ages (e.g. 6 and 15) sharing one bedroom, and the problems this raised for getting homework done. They also reported an increase in their own mental health problems, which they suggested impacted negatively on their children. Children were reported to worry about the possibility of moving. Beyond the impacts which were seen within the house, participants also reflected on the impact of the policy on local communities and the feelings of particular groups of society being persecuted. Representatives from schools also told us that hungry children were struggling to settle with their work, which may potentially means impacts for children beyond those in households directly impacted by the policy.
Children are nested in a series of social systems, all of which contribute to both their wellbeing and their education. On the basis of our analysis combined with previous work in the area we suggest that children’s wellbeing is impacted both directly by the ‘bedroom tax’, and indirectly via the impacts it has on their parents and family, as well as the wider community and society. Simply put, our preliminary research suggests that this policy has negative impacts on children not only because of the way it makes their parents feel and the changes (both material and psychological) which occur within their own household, but also because of the impacts the policy has on their schools, community and the wider society they are situated within. Therefore, rather than looking at simply the relationship between poverty and education, or between wellbeing and education, we think it’s important that we consider the interrelationships between poverty, education and wellbeing.
For more information please see:
- Here you can find the full academic paper on which this is based
- The full report of the research project can be downloaded for free here
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