The Ghastly Bedroom Tax spreads Fear
By Jim Grundy
This is a transcript of a speech I gave at Ashfield District Council last night when I moved a motion calling upon the Government to scrap the appalling Bedroom Tax.
I, for one, wish that the whole ghastly Bedroom Tax was the product of some bizarre administrative error. But the fact is that from 1st April 660,000 households, two thirds of whom include someone with a disability, and nearly 1,000 within this District alone, will face having to find hundreds of pounds or even more each year just to stay in their own homes. And that is why this motion calls upon the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, who benefits from living in one home rent free courtesy of his wife’s rich family and another subsidised by the Tax Payer, to scrap the Tax.
So, what are the stated aims of the ‘Under-Occupation Charge’ or ‘Spare Room Subsidy’ as the Coalition insists on referring to the Bedroom Tax?
Ministers claim that it will cut the cost of Housing Benefit and increase the supply of larger family homes to help meet the demands imposed by growing housing waiting lists.
Noble aims that no-one would argue with. But is the introduction of the Bedroom Tax the right remedy for the problems it claims to address?
The simple answer is ‘no’.
The Bedroom Tax will achieve neither goal but it is already spreading fear amongst people bewildered at what is happening and already facing other cuts, particularly those with caring responsibilities. So why is the Housing Benefit bill going up? It is really quite easy to understand.
Average household incomes are falling; fewer people are able to buy their own homes; and more are obliged to pay the high rents charged within the private rented sector. As many people now rent their home from a private landlord as they do from their local authority. But the Government doesn’t seem to have noticed any of that.
It much prefers to end the development of genuinely affordable housing, hold down pay and to cap or cut benefits whilst leaving private landlords free to charge rents at levels that are anything but affordable. Therefore, having disposed of the bogus Housing Benefit-related justification for the Bedroom Tax, let us now consider the issue of under-occupation.
Is social housing under-occupied to such an extent that inefficient allocation policies have contributed to a shortage of affordable housing?
The Government’s own ‘English Housing Survey’ shows council and housing association properties are already the most efficiently allocated of all. It shows that, whilst 10% of social housing includes properties with a ‘spare’ room that figure rises to 16% in the private rented sector and 49% for owner-occupiers.
Members will be well aware that there is a huge debate about what is and is not a ‘spare’ room. Many disabled people, their carers, disabled children too, need a room of their own on clear medical grounds, grounds that the Government completely ignores with its own definition of how many bedrooms any household requires.
But despite the relative efficiency with which social housing is allocated, who is being targeted by this Government? Yes, once more the poorest, the most vulnerable.
Indeed, one of the crueller ironies is that one of the leading Ministers dealing with the Bedroom Tax, Lord Freud, has 11 spare bedrooms of his own – eight in his own country mansion (but we’d better not mention a Mansion Tax tonight) and three in what is euphemistically called his ‘town house’ in central London..
The other central issue is whether there are enough smaller homes to move people into to help them avoid the Tax and free-up a larger home?
Again, the answer is simply ‘no’.
Ashfield Homes estimates that it could, at best, move 40-50 households each year into smaller properties. But there are nearly 1,000 households affected by the Bedroom Tax in Ashfield, so even if we could somehow ensure that no-one’s circumstances changed from now on it would still take us around 20 years to help place people in what the Government says is the right type of property.
If we cannot move people within our own stock, can’t we just move them into smaller, privately rented homes? With rents so much higher in the private rented sector, even for small properties, such a move would actually increase costs.
All that pain, uprooting people from their homes, from their families and friend support networks and for it all to actually cost the country more. What a perverse outcome that would be. But we are dealing with a perverse Government that punishes the least well-off at every opportunity whilst rewarding the most fortunate.
What else can we conclude when at the same time as the Bedroom Tax is introduced, which threatens to make thousands homeless, millionaires get £100,000+ Income Tax cuts and existing home owners are offered funding to buy another home.
Taxing the spare bedrooms of the poorest. Subsidising spare homes of the richest. Is there any more blatant demonstration of this Government’s priorities?
Groucho Marx once said that, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies.”
For the benefit of any members of the Coalition, that is satire not the way to run a country.
Please support the motion.
Please also see: The Bedroom Tax: The unkindest tax of all. (Jim Grundy)