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The bedroom tax

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  • Gibbons, Stephen
  • Sanchez-Vidal, Maria
  • Silva, Olmo

Abstract

Housing subsidies for low income households are a central pillar of many welfare systems, but an expensive one. This paper investigates the consequences of an unusual policy aimed at reducing the cost of these subsidies by rationing tenants' use of space. Specifically, we study a policy introduced by the UK Government in 2013, which substantially cut housing benefits for tenants deemed to have a ‘spare’ bedroom – based on specific criteria related to household composition. Our study is the first to evaluate the impacts of the policy on its target group using a strategy that compares the observed changes in behaviour of the treated households to those of a control group. The treatment and control groups are defined by the detail of the policy rules. We find that – as expected – the treated group loses housing benefits and overall income. Although the policy was not successful in encouraging residential moves (despite efforts to make mobility within the social sector easier), it did incentivise people who moved to downsize – suggesting some success in terms of one of the policy goals, namely reducing under-occupancy. The policy did not incentivise people to work more and we find no statistically significant effects on households' food consumption or saving behaviour. The implication of our findings is that this type of policy has limited power to change housing consumption or employment in the short run. While it might reduce the costs of housing subsidies to the taxpayer, it does so by imposing a direct financial cost to social tenants unable or unwilling to downsize.

Suggested Citation

  • Gibbons, Stephen & Sanchez-Vidal, Maria & Silva, Olmo, 2020. "The bedroom tax," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 82(C).
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:regeco:v:82:y:2020:i:c:s0166046218301157
    DOI: 10.1016/j.regsciurbeco.2018.12.002
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. John Hills, 2007. "Ends and Means: The future roles of social housing in England," CASE Reports casereport34, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
    2. Raj Chetty & Adam Looney & Kory Kroft, 2009. "Salience and Taxation: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 99(4), pages 1145-1177, September.
    3. Gibbons, Stephen & Silva, Olmo & Weinhardt, Felix, 2017. "Neighbourhood Turnover and Teenage Attainment," EconStor Open Access Articles and Book Chapters, ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, pages 746-783.
    4. Fack, Gabrielle, 2006. "Are housing benefit an effective way to redistribute income? Evidence from a natural experiment in France," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 13(6), pages 747-771, December.
    5. Gibbons, Stephen & Manning, Alan, 2006. "The incidence of UK housing benefit: Evidence from the 1990s reforms," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(4-5), pages 799-822, May.
    6. Aki Kangasharju, 2010. "Housing Allowance and the Rent of Low‐income Households," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 112(3), pages 595-617, September.
    7. Matti Viren, 2013. "Is the housing allowance shifted to rental prices?," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 44(3), pages 1497-1518, June.
    8. Susin, Scott, 2002. "Rent vouchers and the price of low-income housing," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 83(1), pages 109-152, January.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Social housing; Social rents; Bedroom tax; Housing benefits;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • H55 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Social Security and Public Pensions
    • H2 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue
    • R21 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Housing Demand
    • R28 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Government Policy

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