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The failure of government to replenish social housing means that the introduction of the ‘bedroom tax’ from April next year will lead to a huge increase in human suffering.
It was (of course) the Conservative Party that first decided to sell off council houses, at discounts that went up to 70 per cent. The first sales took place in 1980, piloted by Michael Heseltine, after the plan had appeared in the Tory manifestos for 1974 and 1979.
Even then, the Tories were obsessing about shrinking the state. This, and the now-infamous privatisation of state industrial/utility assets, were both conceived as populist moves to encourage private sector alternatives indirectly. They understood that the welfare state was popular and that a frontal assault on it would harm their own credibility.
The plan was phenomenally successful. By 1990, 1.2 million houses had been sold – one-fifth of the entire council house stock. The sales raised £20 billion.
Whatever happened to that money?
We know it did not go into new council house construction – the annual level slumped from 86,000 to 21,000 during the 1980s and this meant there was a worsening social housing shortage by 1990.
Now, more than 20 years further on, that shortage is diabolical.
Everyone who is affected will know that the bedroom tax affects anyone who has a bedroom that is going spare, according to strict rules devised by the Coalition government. I’ve gone into these rules elsewhere so I won’t rehash them.
The intended result – what the government wants – is generally taken to be that people with too many bedrooms will ‘downsize’; they’ll move into smaller homes.
The problem with that is: there aren’t any. This means people who no longer have the funds to stay where they are will have no choice but to continue doing so anyway, getting into a debt that they may not be able to repay.
Housing associations have already stated that they cannot afford to fund the deficit that is likely to build up, meaning they will throw people out onto the streets.
But don’t take my word for it. Many Vox readers are affected by this. Let’s see what they have to say.
“I’d bet money that most social housing countrywide is (or was – before the great sell-off of the 1980s and 1990s) three-bedroomed,” according to my blogging colleague Smiling Carcass. “Almost all were built as homes for families; three and four bedrooms, gardens, and flats generally had two or more bedrooms. There just isn’t, and never was, enough single accommodation to displace all the ‘under-occupied’ people from three- and four-bedroomed houses because they were conceived as family homes for life.”
How about this from Joanna Terry: “Not only is there an issue with the amount of one-bed properties available, (none where I live) but what about those just below pension age that need to sleep in separate bedrooms because of their health (I have a friend like this)? You can’t force people like this, not without causing phenomenal stress.”
“This will massively impact, mostly on the women now in their 50s who are divorced,” wrote Victoria Brown. “Chances are they are the same women who have struggled and raised children alone on either benefits or very low income jobs and because that child has flown the nest that is the reason they now have a spare room. We are alone and childless with no purpose and soon no home too. Many will kill themselves rather than live on the streets or commit a crime to at least get prison accommodation because there are no one-bedroom properties for us to downsize in to and there is no spare cash if you are on benefits to pay the Bedroom Tax with.”
Tony Bennet wrote: “There are times I feel like giving up. The more I read about these changes, the more I see it will affect us and we will be lucky to keep our home. With the changes to DLA and the UC I can’t see how I will be able to pay our bills and feed us.”
Morry: “I am going to be taxed on a box room that you might – if you’re lucky – fit a single bed in, and that would be it. I can barely manage to survive as it is and that means wearing as much clothing as possible and keeping the heat off as long as possible and living on salad and sandwiches. I have also been trying to get out of this house for the last five years.”
Graham: “We have asked for a bungalow/ground floor flat – one-bedroomed, so no stairs to climb. Guess what? There are none – not enough to go around. The Government know this, but they are intoducing a law to tax us knowing that there are not enough houses.”
There are not enough houses.
Back in 1974, the then-simply-Margaret Thatcher MP outlined her plans: “Our new policies are designed for the needs of today. A nation of home owners, who will be self-reliant, independent and able to do what they want with their own lives in their own homes.”
That was her self-professed dream. It seems modern Conservatives, propped up by the Liberal Democrats, are determined to turn it into a nightmare.