In recent days the ‘bedroom tax’ has shot up the political agenda. The Sunday People, displaying the very best of tabloid campaigning journalism, has relentlessly exposed both the unfairness and the failures of this policy in the last few weeks. Meanwhile Ed Miliband has rightly been on the offensive at PMQs while Labour MPs have continued to raise it in Parliamentary debates – in the most recent of which disgracefully no Tory or Lib Dem backbench MP could be bothered to show up.
While I don’t represent one of the top ten worst hit cities, but I do represent a constituency which already too often shows up in deprivation statistics. In Leicester we are now coming to realise the full extent of how this ‘bedroom tax’ will hit us.
People in Leicester South will lose an average of £12 a week for under-occupation by one bedroom, and £22 a week for under-occupation by two or more bedrooms. In Leicester city as a whole, 2,182 council city properties will be affected by the bedroom tax. And across Leicester South 642 of those households will lose up to £22 a week. This is before we take into account those living in housing association accommodation.
One of my constituents contacted me about how the ‘bedroom tax’ will affect her and her husband. She is severely disabled following an accident at work and requires a 24 hour morphine drip, while her husband is both her full-time carer and has a full-time job of his own. He sleeps in a separate bedroom so he can get enough sleep for work. The bungalow they live in has been specially adapted to suit her needs, and they’ve lived there for over 20 years. Now, as a direct consequence of the government’s ‘bedroom tax’, they are now faced with the ‘choice’ of leaving their home because they can’t afford to live there and somehow finding the extra money. These people aren’t ‘scroungers’ as some politicians would have you believe.
The government’s shameful ‘bedroom tax’ will see hundreds of families across my constituency suffer like this and every week at my advice surgery I’m confronted with more and more heartbreaking stories of the impact of this policy.
In response as a local MP I’m determined to do all I can to support people in the face of these cuts, though I’m under no illusions about the true extent of the effect of these changes. Nevertheless I’ve pulled together local agencies, charities and voluntary organisations to see what support we can offer people collectively. We’re also working closely with a local credit union Clockwise, helping them reach out deeper into the community. This is on top of the work we’re doing with local Unite members and the wider community to help support the food banks throughout Leicester city.
For those struggling to find work in this current economic climate, the double whammy of benefits cuts and unemployment will hit them hard. In my Leicester South constituency alone, the Work Programme has proved to be a shambles. Of the 2,110 people referred to the Work Programme between June 2011 and May 2012, only 70 of them had a job outcome – a mere 3.3%. In fact, far from declining, long-term unemployment is on the rise. In Leicester city, 85 young people were unemployed for over 18 months in January 2012; by December 2012, this figure had increased by 215, with a total of 300 long-term unemployed youth in the city.
In the Freeman ward of my constituency, one of the Leicester wards which will be worst affected by Tory cuts and ‘bedroom tax’, working with voluntary groups we’re creating a ‘Jobs Club’. The ‘Saffron Jobs Club’ will provide employment advice, training and skills to those seeking work. Again I don’t for one moment think this will go anywhere near to solving our unemployment problem – for that we need a proper national plan for growth – but at least locally we are trying to do something albeit small.
Over the next few weeks I will be working with local churches and other faith groups also to see what further coordinated support can be offered to those hit by this double whammy of local cuts and unemployment.
I’ve no idea if all this counts as the community organising that is so in vogue on Labour blogs these days, I just know there are many of us in our local community who feel we can’t just stand by and do nothing.
This ‘bedroom tax’ hits just as Cameron and Osborne will hand 8,000 millionaires an average tax cut of over £107,000 per year, amounting to a tax cut of over £2,000 a week. What an insult. The Lib Dems have said the ‘bedroom tax’ is driven by the need to control the public finances even though its actually going to cost us more in the long run as families are driven into the high priced private sectors and thousands of pounds are sucked from the local economy. But we know the motivation of the Tories. We have a Chancellor more interested in ‘dividing lines’ than budget lines. He’s wants to position the Tory Party against those on benefits who he dismisses as people who stay in bed in the morning. This ‘bedroom tax’ policy isn’t about fairness, it’s about cheap, nasty politics.
Jonathan Ashworth is the Labour MP for Leicester South