Dr Alice Diver (Ulster)
The recent statutory cap on Housing Benefit in England and Wales is commonly known as the ‘bedroom tax’ or the ‘spare room subsidy’, depending upon whether one is a critic or a proponent of it. It has given rise to a small, but significant spate of domestic legal cases that examine issues such as legally justified discrimination and the impact of public purse decision-making on socio-economic rights (e.g. housing, health care). This presentation examines ‘bedroom tax’ case law. It examines whether some form of baseline, adequate housing rights standard can ever be identified (i.e. in respect of preventing indignity, squalor or homelessness), or whether instances of inequity, unequal treatment and discrimination will be inevitably framed as both lawful and justified, on the basis of finite state resources. The findings of such an examination are highly relevant within the context of Northern Ireland, given the ‘welfare reform’ controversy, budgetary challenges and the apparent need for a ‘fairness agenda’. They serve to highlight the inherent link between rights and public expenditure, in particular how a failure to ring-fence funding for fundamental rights can easily serve to nullify the concept of a right to adequate housing or health care.