The ‘bedroom tax’ and the poor

2 Apr

By Chris Hansell

A protest against the bedroom tax in Durham

photo by Byzantine_K

On Easter Monday one of the coalition’s most controversial policy changes came into force, dragging huge numbers of the population back into a harsh reality.

The ‘bedroom tax’ is not a tax per say. It will however reduce the amount of housing benefit received by claimants if they have one or more spare rooms. It has been one of the most divisive policies in long time, and has even led labour MP Frank Field to call for direct action against it.

In what has been a remarkably unsurprising move by the Chancellor the changes will affect some of the poorest people in our society – housing benefit is intended for people on low incomes. The new cuts will only affect people living in council housing or housing association properties.

A recent article on the BBC website points out ‘the government estimates that more than 660,000 claimants will be affected, with an average loss of £14 a week’. With February seeing a rise in the Consumer Price Index of 2.8% from its level a year earlier losing £14 a week for some families could be a disaster.

Putting aside the fact that those with spare rooms not claiming housing benefit remain free to leave them empty and gathering dust, those who are affected are asked to seek smaller accommodation. This is where the cruelty of this policy truly shows itself. Those seeking somewhere with fewer bedrooms face a chronic shortage of social housing.

In London in particular housing projects seem focused on replacing housing deemed dreary and derelict with playboy pads for the wealthy. The Guardian’s Anna Minton talked in a column this week of the situation in Brixton. Minton says ‘A combination of high rents and housing benefit cuts ensuring places such as Brixton will no longer be affordable to those on low incomes.’

For Minton it appears that housing policy in London has become about building homes for tax exiles, like the Strata building and its future siblings.

The problem of unaffordable housing keeps coming up. Last year controversy surrounded whether certain London boroughs intended to send those seeking housing in their area as far away as Stoke or Derby due to the absence of any affordable local accommodation.

The most depressing part is the rhetoric coming from parts of the media.

‘The first rule of political propaganda is that if you repeat a plausible slogan enough times, and that goes unchallenged, it will eventually be widely believed’. These are the words of the Daily Mail’s Stephen Glover, and I find it extremely difficult to ignore the irony of this statement. Mr Glover is of course talking about the bedroom tax, but his words could just as easily be used to describe how the mail has demonised people on benefits.

Searching the word ‘scroungers’ on the mail’s website currently brings up 176 articles.

Mr Glover’s assertion that the bedroom tax is ‘essentially voluntary’ misses the point that in many cases there simply isn’t the social housing available for those with spare rooms to move into smaller properties.

Meanwhile the top rate of income tax will be slashed from 50p to 45p in April, saving some of the wealthiest people in Britain up to £40,000. Corporation tax will also start a steady decline this year, starting at 28% now and falling to 20% by 2015. According to the Guardian this will cost the UK £800 million a year from 2016 onward.

Glad to see we live in a fair society.

The bedroom tax is just another example of where the priorities of this government lie. The ‘nasty party’ is alive and well and knows exactly who it wants to look after.

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