Spare Houses for the Rich – No Spare Bedrooms for the Poor
There were two items of news this week which seemed to fit uncannily together.
One of them was about the bedroom tax, one of the new raft of welfare reforms which are being brought in by this government to cut people’s benefits. There was a story about it in last week’s Whitstable Gazette: about Ian Salt, who will lose benefits because he keeps a kidney dialysis machine in his spare room.
How selfish of him. Doesn’t he know that in this new world of austerity it is a crime to be sick? After all, we need that money to pay for banker’s bonuses, don’t we?
But something occurred to me as I was reading the story. Spare rooms for kidney dialysis machines is one thing, but the very notion of the bedroom tax implies that people on benefits aren’t expected to have any kind of a life at all.
What about a spare bedroom for guests to stay in? What about spare rooms for the kids? Or aren’t the poor allowed friends any more? Aren’t the kids of poor parents allowed to play?
The whole philosophy is based upon the idea that the poor should only have a minimal existence. It is a return to the notion of the deserving and undeserving poor which guided the institution of the workhouse in the nineteenth century.
It turns out that almost half of our old council houses are now owned by private landlords. So it’s all right for the rich to have several spare houses, but it’s not all right for the poor to have one spare bedroom.
The point about this is that a large proportion of our housing benefit over the years has gone to pay a premium to private landlords to pay off mortgages on buy to let properties; as a supplement to the private sector, in other words, rather than as a benefit to the public.