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Bedroom tax victim: Stephanie Bottrill, the woman who committed suicide after the Bedroom Tax - imposed on her in error - left her without enough money to make ends meet.

Bedroom tax victim: Stephanie Bottrill, the woman who committed suicide after the Bedroom Tax – imposed on her in error – left her without enough money to make ends meet.

The spin doctors at the Department for Work and Pensions are working hard to make a decision to cut funding for discretionary housing payments, by claiming it “builds on the £180 million funding this year”. What a crock.

A cut is a cut. There will be less money available to people in financial trouble as a result of government decisions to cut housing benefit (the Bedroom Tax) or other state benefits (the one per cent uprating, the benefit cap, local housing allowances… pick a benefit and it will probably have been slashed).

The announcement was made yesterday (Thursday), and councils have until Monday (February 3) to bid for top-up funds if they need to provide extra support. How nice of the Conservative ministers at the DWP to put a weekend in the middle of the time councils must use to work out what they need! Hopefully, councils already have the figures ready but, if not, it’s clear that the government wants to make the process as difficult as possible – for councils and for people who need help.

So councils will get £165 million in place of the £180 million they had last year – an amount that, itself, was attacked as far too little by councillors at the time. It was, as the Council of Europe has described the government’s supply of other benefits including pensions, unemployment benefit and incapacity benefit, “manifestly inadequate”.

But let’s get back to the spin. The DWP press release states that local authorities are getting the money “to provide extra help for claimants as they move through the government’s welfare reforms”. This avoids the fact that people would not need “extra help” if the government had not imposed these regressive changes in the first place. And they’re not “reforms”. Reform takes us forward. These are just cuts.

“The reforms [cuts] are a key part of the government’s long-term economic plans [cuts] to deliver a strong economy [based, as we know, on a debt-fuelled housing bubble centred on the southeast of England alone] that delivers for people who want to work hard [for extremely low pay] and play by the rules [that are made up by Coalition ministers as they go along].

Work and Pensions Minister Esther McVey said: “Capping benefits is returning fairness to the welfare system and reform of the spare room subsidy is absolutely necessary to make a better use of our social housing when over 300,000 are living in overcrowded homes in Britain and around 1.7 million are on social housing waiting lists in England alone.”

The phrase “capping benefits is returning fairness to the welfare system” is inaccurate as the cap is set too low. The government claimed an average family income is £26,000, but in fact it is slightly more than £31,000. The reason the cap was set at the lower figure is that, at the more appropriate amount, hardly anybody would be affected; the system was fair before the Coalition interfered. Also, the UK has social security, not welfare.

The phrase “reform of the spare room subsidy” is redundant, of course. She meant: “Our arbitrary choice to cut housing benefit – illegally, in many thousands of cases“. In fact, let’s edit out “spare room subsidy” from the rest of our analysis and call it what it is.

She continued: “We are ensuring all working age tenants are treated equally – as claimants receiving housing benefit in private sector already receive support for the number of bedrooms they need and not for spare rooms.” Is that so? How many private sector tenants have been hit by their own bedroom tax in the same way? Is there not a difference in income between private renters and those in social housing? Where are the figures to support this claim?

According to the press release, an advertising campaign was launched in the local papers this week, “to ensure claimants affected by the [Bedroom Tax] are fully aware of the support available to them from Discretionary Housing Payments, home swapping services or to get into work”. I just checked my own local papers…. No. Nothing.

The press release ends with a couple of long-demolished assertions. Neither of these are factually accurate:

“The removal of the [Bedroom Tax] means all working age housing benefit claimants in both social and private rental sectors receive support for the number of bedrooms they need – but not spare rooms.” Wrong. It removes support on an entirely arbitrary basis, according to whether an assessor decides a tenant has a spare bedroom – without reference to any definition of the word “bedroom”. Now, a judge in an Upper Tribunal case has determined that a “bedroom” must be one furnished with a bed and/or used for sleep. In addition, the use of the word “all” for affected housing benefit claimants is inaccurate because those who were in their current accommodation and receiving the benefit before 1996 are exempt from the Bedroom Tax. Many thousands were billed in error and at least one person is known to have committed suicide because of that mistake. That unnecessary death is one of many for which the Coalition government, and the DWP in particular, is responsible.

The other false assertion – that “the benefit cap means claimants no longer receive more in benefits than average household earnings” – has already been dismissed elsewhere in this article.

Keep your wits about you.

The government will continue pumping out this kind of disinformation in support of its ever-more repressive policies – remember, this announcement states that it is cutting the money available for discretionary housing payments (DHPs) – and the right-wing-controlled mass media, including the BBC, will keep on mindlessly repeating it until the general election at least.

That is why sites like Vox Political need to keep reinforcing the facts as they become clear – and why you need to spread those facts, any way you can.

Don’t let them win this battle with lies.

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