This Government’s sickest joke…

January 30, 2013 11:31 am

The Bedroom Tax is this Government’s sickest joke. It is also a perfect example of exactly how they do business. It is based on both a twisted truth and a false premise, it categorically will not achieve its stated aim (which is well understood within Government as its real aim is quite, quite different) and it hurts the poorest and most vulnerable.

The Bedroom Tax is also the perfect case study for this Coalition government.

First, you need a crisis – real or imagined (so far we’ve seen this applied to the real crisis in the economy, a largely confected crisis in welfare spending, a misunderstanding of the nature of the NHS sold as a crisis… the list goes on), in this case, the very real housing crisis.The crisis is vital. the crisis lets you act radically, no questions asked. The crisis allows the Lib Dems to suspend their morality “in the national interest”. The crisis means you have to act fast, act now and ignore all the experts telling you how wrong you are. The crisis is the Government’s invisibility cloak, it’s Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card.

It helps if the crisis has – at least in part – its roots in a failing by Labour. It is arguable that the Thatcher and Major governments did far more to cause the housing crisis than Labour. It is unarguable that Labour did little to ameliorate it and failed significantly to change or regulate the housing market or to invest in social housing adequately. It was our biggest domestic failing and the lesson that most needed learning. Indications are that it has been. But we must prove that when next in Government.

Being able to blame Labour is really important to this coalition. Hatred of Labour is the glue that binds them. If you can convince yourself something is Labour’s fault, then you can also deflect all criticisms of your solution as partisan tribalism. Lib Dems and Tories can convince themselves that the Bedroom Tax is only being opposed by that nasty Labour Party and their allies because it is them imposing it. not because it is the wrong solution – even when it is their own people coming out against them.

The Bedroom Tax was mooted to solve the problem of people “under-occupying” their properties. The theory is that people will vacate large properties they no longer need and make these available for families who need these larger homes. The people vacating will move into smaller places. The reality is – of course – quite different.

The truth is that there are not anything like the amount of smaller social home available for people to move into. Because of the aforementioned failure to build enough social housing (one of the mooted reasons for this tax remember) these homes don’t exist in anything like the number of those who will be affected by the Bedroom Tax. But the Government know this. Their own impact assessment shows that they expect people to stay in their larger homes and to find the extra money. This blows out the water the argument that this is about the sensible reallocation of stock. It is about two things – raising money on the back of the poorest and most vulnerable people (two thirds of those who will be affected by the Bedroom Tax are disabled) and ideology.

Social housing is one of the most concrete examples of the welfare state in action. But it is one of the most vulnerable to attack. Like the NHS and state provided education it has been denigrated and run down by the Tories and right wing commentators for years. Sadly, unlike the NHS and state education, it was not revived by the Labour Government. New Labour learned most of its lessons in the early 80s. What started as a sensible project to learn to once again become electable became at times a calcified dogma – as stuck in the politics of the 80s as the Tories now seem to be. And little in the early 80s was more iconic than the sale of council houses. Because of that sale and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to it from the public, Labour no longer looked upon building social stock as important socially or electorally. Now however, the Tories try to recreate that moment to little effect. When Grant Shapps was serving as Housing Minister and running for Party Chairman he announced the return of right-to-buy. It did the job he wanted it too – it made him popular with his Party. No one else really noticed.

The idea of Social Housing being a home for life is completely anathema to the Tories. For them the Welfare state should be nothing but the very, very bare safety net. A home for a life encourages someone to have a relationship for life with the state as provider. For the champions of small state, private equity “I’m alright Jack” economics, it makes no sense for them to encourage that. That’s why we’re seeing “Any Qualified providers” snatching as much of our NHS as possible. It’s why Free Schools are being forced into education against the will of parents and teachers. At every opportunity, the Tories and their Orange Book ideological partners will weaken the social bonds between people and state.

If those forced to are not able to cover the extra costs of the Bedroom Tax they will be forced to move to smaller accommodation in the Private Rented Sector. Because of the current differential between rents in social housing and the private sector (though through the Orwellianly named “affordable rent regime” means this differential won’t remain in place for long) their housing benefit will likely go up. The scheme will probably not save as much money for the Government as they are estimating as a result.

But that’s not important. Because this was never about better stock allocation. It was only peripherally about saving money. The Bedroom Tax is about the same thing that is at the core of every policy introduced by this gang of radical headbangers. It is about enforcing a retreat of the state’s support for its people.

The Bedroom Tax probably won’t be the thing that this Government is remembered for. It probably won’t become the shorthand for this Government’s failings (I suspect the words “Triple” and “Dip” will feature there). But it is – for me – the clearest and most obvious example of this government’s priorities and their desire to let’s their overweening ideology do its worst – with no thought at all to the human cost. And I will remember them for it.

  • http://twitter.com/RF_McCarthy Roger McCarthy

    Spot on.

  • billbat

    This demonstrates a total lack of logic by the Tories. They oppose the Mansion Tax for Millionaires and Non-Doms because some poor old widows will be living in houses which they own but have no income. However a Mansion Tax would cause the poor widows to move out of their large houses into smaller houses with a lower mansion tax. And the rich bastards would have to pay their fair share.

  • http://twitter.com/NewhamSue Newham Sue

    It is sickeningly cruel. Also find idea of children of different genders being made to share bedrooms up to quite a late age, incredible. And agreed it’s financial madness just to apply it wholesale. Had a similar situation on the one occasion I claimed housing benefit. I was renting a flat in the private sector from a friend for a ridiculously low rent. She’d moved up to Birmingham and just wanted someone she knew in the place to keep an eye on things while she worked out what she wanted to do with it. Because it had a second bedroom the inspector who came round said I might have to move or wouldn’t be elligible (to somewhere he must have known would have been far more expensive – for housing benefit/ me – whether a one bed or studio flat). In the end, someone must have seen sense as I heard no more about it. Sadly today’s tenants won’t be so lucky.

    • JoeDM

      “children of different genders”

      Why not just say “brothers and sisters” or is that politically incorrect these days?

      • Brumanuensis

        Because they might not be?

        See, easy.

        • Redshift1

          LOL.

  • PaulHalsall

    As chair of my local Tenants and Residents Association, I think I can say with some certainty that most people due to be affected have not yet realised it (we are pretty sure they do not read our newsletters), but equally, according to the local council, 38% of social housing households in the Northwest are affected. In many cases it it where a split up couple both provide a bed room for children who in effect share accommodation. I think this along with council tax benefit changes might cause riots. If not it will cause countless child custody disputes (where the parent that a child stays with 4 nights a week seeks custody to cover the rent.)

  • Brumanuensis

    “The idea of Social Housing being a home for life is completely anathema to the Tories. For them the Welfare state should be nothing but the very, very bare safety net”.

    This really is the nub of issue. For conservatives, welfare is morally compromising because it creates ‘dependency’. The existence of state-dependency is particularly noxious, because it relates to taxation and most conservatives, implicitly, regard taxation as either a form of theft or a very disagreeable necessity. As such, recipients of benefits raised through taxation are complicit in the unethical expropriation of resources from others. In essence, they are thieves. Thus the need to shrink welfare to the lowest possible level and the obsession with the virtues of ‘private charity’, which looked at rationally, is nothing more than an equal form of ‘dependency’.

    Similarly, the very idea of redistribution, which entitles the state to allocate resources and not the individual alone, is seen as an intolerable form of imposition upon the freedom of the individual. Because conservatism is suspicious of any form of authority that is not ‘organic’ – religion, the monarchy, tradition – the state is seen as alien and hostile. So universal child benefit is more morally repellent than universal tax benefits, in the mind of someone like Alistair Heath( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/9788481/Abolish-child-benefit-and-give-families-a-tax-break.html ) because it consists of making value judgements about the allocation of resources within a society (cf ‘the politics of envy’). A tax benefit is something personal; a payment benefit is collectivism incarnate.

    Unsurprisingly, I don’t think much of those views. More damaging though, is the government’s wedge strategy for public provision, in which policies like the benefit cap or the bedroom tax or cuts in public-sector pension provision, are sold on the basis that people in the private sector get far worse. It’s pure ‘politics of envy’, but because it relates to the public-sector, it doesn’t count in the conservative mind. But if Labour want to build social-democracy, we’ll need to keep making the case, unapologetically, for universal provision, universal benefits and equality. Otherwise the conservative frame will become the public frame (see ‘Overton Window’).

    • jaime taurosangastre candelas

      If Labour believe in redistribution, how about a bit of redistribution away from the public sector pensioner “fat cats” (like I will be), in favour of the private sector low- or non-pensioners? Only when Labour have a policy addressing the scandalous issue of gross over-payments to public sector pensioners will the Party be worth listening to.

      • Brumanuensis

        “If Labour believe in redistribution, how about a bit of redistribution away from the public sector pensioner “fat cats” (like I will be), in favour of the private sector low- or non-pensioners?”

        Well I suppose we could, but they’re fairly thin on the ground. I’d need an example before I can comment further.

        I’m not sure why public sector pension income should be treated differently from private sector pension income.

  • Monkey_Bach

    The real agenda is to cut welfare to the poor by making them subsidise living costs out of benefits designed to cover living expenses excluding housing costs. The bedroom tax is a part of this pernicious programme.

    People suffering a housing benefit cut because they have a spare room will have little choice but to make the shortfall up from other benefits earmarked to buy food, drink, and pay utility bills and such like. Most of those affected will have little option but to try to do this this, even if they are willing to “downsize” to a smaller property, since figures show that there is an insufficient quantity of smaller affordable rented accommodation is available. (The government’s own figures show that they don’t expect many people to move because of the cut.) Those affected will effectively suffer a massive cut in benefits barely adequate to meet living costs as is because they will be forced to subsidise their rents directly from of those benefits. In addition to this horror some cash strapped councils are planning to charge people living on benefits up to 25% of their Council Tax, from which they were previously exempt, because the Coalition has massively cut their grant. And then on top of this all benefits, if George Osborne has his way, will only be uprated by 1% per year for the foreseeable future meaning that benefits will lose value over time, by not keeping up with inflation, therefore suffering a substantial cut in real terms.

    Having to pay part-rent, part-council tax, and suffer a real term cut in benefits will result in disaster for many. Catastrophe. I never imagined that any British government, not even a Conservative government, would perpetrate such wickedness in the twenty-first century.

    And yet: Where is Labour?

    Will the party address, reverse, and commit itself to heal these injurious wounds?

    Eeek.

  • John Hart

    UKIP, will introduce new easy term mortgages supplied by the government so council stock can be sold with a rent to own scheme. This will include a buy back and part exchange system so the buyer will never be caught in a no equity trap and easily move up the property ladder as there family expands and downsize when they fly the nest, leaving you with a nice retirement nest egg. all existing housing stock will be in the buy back scheme, there’s an easy answer to everything and Tax is Not it. When we leave the EU the multi-Billion Pound saving will go into housing stock for easy buy systems for local councils with the longest serving tax payers and waiting list people getting early offers. Proper boarder controls will slow down economy migrants from stopping long term residents getting fair housing first. Vote UKIP stop the corruption.

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