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131109doublespeak

The Department for Work and Pensions is heralding the result of a new poll as proof that a large majority of people support its controversial Bedroom Tax policy – in fact the findings prove nothing of the sort.

Headlined (incorrectly) ‘Poll shows support for removal of spare room subsidy’ – there is no such thing as a spare room subsidy so it cannot be removed – yesterday’s press release relies on some not-so-subtle wordplay and the gullibility of the reader to make its case.

If you want to find out how many people supported the government’s policy, you’ll have to look somewhere else because it is not directly identified anywhere in the article.

“New independent research shows there is strong public support for reducing under-occupation and overcrowding in social housing,” it begins – and this is fair enough.

People do indeed want to reduce under-occupation in social housing – but we have seen, time and time again, that people think there must be adequate social housing available for people who want, or need, to move. This is not what the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government are offering.

Instead, people are being told they can either move into smaller, privately-rented accommodation that will create more expense for the government, or if this is unavailable, pay the Bedroom Tax at 14 per cent of their eligible rent for one room and 25 per cent for two or more. Whatever they do, they end up having to pay more. That is not reasonable.

“In a poll [of 2,021 people] conducted by Ipsos MORI, 78% of respondents said they thought it was important to tackle the problem, which has led to nearly one-third of social housing tenants who receive Housing Benefit living in homes that are too big for their needs,” the article continues.

What problem is this, then? The problem of people occupying social rented properties that are too large for them, as the ConDems want you to believe? Or the problem of successive governments failing to build social housing that is adequate for the needs of the population? The latter seems more likely, don’t you think?

None of the information around that 78 per cent figure suggests that 1,576 people support the Bedroom Tax. I happen to believe it is important to tackle the bottleneck, in order to relieve the overcrowding issue. The Bedroom Tax won’t do that, though. It will just take money from poor people.

Was support for the Bedroom Tax indicated anywhere in these results? No. The closest we get is: “The polling also found that 54% agreed that it is fair that people of working age, who live in social housing, should receive less Housing Benefit if they have more bedrooms than they need.” Even this does not suggest that those questioned agreed with the amount the government is taking from hardworking social tenants.

Curiously, the same proportion of those polled – 54 per cent – said they believed “the coalition government’s removal of the spare room subsidy policy will encourage those receiving less housing benefit to improve their personal situation by, for example, finding work.”

There are a couple of points to make here. Firstly – there is no policy to remove the spare room subsidy because, as previously mentioned, the spare room subsidy has never existed. Secondly, the idea that people can find work (or find better-paying work) is a bad joke.

Only yesterday, a staffer at my local Job Centre was heard admitting that their office had received no new job advertisements in several weeks, and there is no evidence that this is a unique case. It is unrealistic to suggest this as a reasonable way out.

The fact that both these questions received 54 per cent support leads one to question how many of the respondents were affected by the Tax. My guess would be 46 per cent or less. The other 46 per cent, of course.

DWP ministerial rentamouth Esther McVey was on hand to provide the commentary (Iain Duncan Smith is still in hiding, one presumes). She said: “This shows that the public agree that action was needed to tackle overcrowding and to make better use of our housing stock.” Except, as already pointed out, it doesn’t show that the public agree with the government.

She added: “We have seen our Housing Benefit bill exceed £24 billion – an increase of 50% in just 10 years – and this had to be brought under control.”

The Bedroom Tax will do nothing in this respect – in fact, the bill may increase (people moving into private rented property would receive more benefit, and people who have been evicted because they can’t pay their bills after the Tax was imposed will be a burden on councils, who will have to put them up in more expensive B&B accommodation).

Also, increasing numbers of working people are being forced to claim housing benefit because companies are making sure their wages are too low to provide a decent living. Almost a million working people were claiming housing benefit in May this year, and that figure seems sure to have been exceeded by the time the next set of statistics is released on November 13 (Wednesday).

Apparently it is bad for unemployed people to claim the benefits they deserve, but perfectly fine for companies to have the lousy wages they pay topped up at the taxpayers’ expense.

That’s government doublespeak for you!