Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales, spoke out after being accused by Harry Cole, a contributing editor to the right-wing political magazine The Spectator, of “scaremongering”, during a discussion on BBC Radio Wales.
Davies had been commenting on a new report by Wales & West Housing Association, which suggests that more than £40 million of public money could be wasted in Wales because of the bedroom tax.
The government’s “spare room subsidy removal” (SRSR) policy – known by its opponents as the bedroom tax – was introduced last April and punishes tenants in social housing financially if they are assessed as “under-occupying” their homes.
The new report estimates – using figures from 21 of the 22 local authorities in Wales – that about 3,500 homes that have been adapted for a disabled person’s needs have been affected by the SRSR.
It also estimates that almost half of those households are now in arrears with their rent.
The cost of adaptations to the 74 disabled households the housing association manages is estimated at an average of £7,700 per property, most of which has been publically funded.
The housing association says that the cost of removing the spare room subsidy from disabled people in substantially-adapted properties could therefore hit £40 million, through £25 million already spent on adaptations to existing properties, and £15 million that would need to be spent on adapting new, smaller homes.
Shayne Hembrow, deputy chief executive of Wales & West Housing, said: “Our research shows that the removal of the spare room subsidy from disabled people living in adapted properties in Wales makes no financial sense whatsoever.
“The cost of new adaptations wipes out the potential savings in housing benefit for many years.”
There is already a severe shortage of one- and two-bedroom social housing in Wales, said Disability Wales.
Thousands of tenants either face falling into arrears – potentially becoming homeless – or being forced into the private rented sector, “where conditions are often poorer, [and]much less secure and accessible for disabled people”, it said.
Davies said the effects of the bedroom tax were “a real concern, and a great cause of anxiety affecting many disabled people in Wales”, and were “pushing families into complete despair”.
She said: “Quite simply, there are not enough homes for disabled people to downsize to.”
She added: “Disability Wales is not in the business of ‘scaremongering’. The facts speak for themselves: money is being wasted and disabled people who need space, and who have nowhere else to move to, are being put at risk of debt and homelessness by this policy.
“This comes at a time when advocacy services are being cut in Wales and disabled people do not have adequate support to understand the changes arising from welfare reform and to appeal against decisions.”
6 February 2014