We are living through a time when it is very popular to criticise government – of all colours and political persuasions – for failing to live up to its promises. This is very unfair.
Seriously, it is!
So let us pause for a moment and give the praise that is due to a policy of the Thatcher era that may in fact be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year: Care in the Community.
At the time, this policy of emptying out mental hospitals, putting their patients on the streets to fend for themselves in the hope that there would be an increase in local care, was pilloried by all and sundry as an abandonment of the nation’s duty of care.
It certainly seemed a dangerous move at the time – especially for schoolchildren who had to navigate city streets that were suddenly filled with ill-dressed and dirty men and women with a predilection for shouting foul oaths at the empty air ahead of them, presumably in the belief that it was a person.
But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it seems that, not only did these ladies and gentlemen in fact benefit from care in the community, some of them responded so well that they were able to return to normal working life, join political parties and become members of the Coalition government.
This is the only workable explanation for the State Underoccupation Charge, or Bedroom Tax, as it is more correctly known.
The only way it can make sense to anybody is if they have a mentality that is seriously skewed.
The problem, according to the government, is that huge numbers of people are either on the waiting list to get into some form of social housing (council or housing association accommodation), and huge numbers already in such accommodation are overcrowded. This, it is alleged, is because too many people are sitting in homes that are larger than they need.
The solution that has been put forward is to find a way to make these “under-occupiers” vacate their homes and go and live in spaces that are more appropriate to their needs.
The government has decided that the correct way to do this is to apply the stick, rather than the carrot, and deprive people in social housing of set amounts of benefit for every room that is deemed to be more than they need. The definition of such rooms is arbitrary and it is understood that dining rooms are being defined as bedrooms in order to “encourage” people to move out.
Worse than this is the fact that the people who are likely to be dispossessed of their homes actually have nowhere to move to.
One would imagine that a government wanting people in social housing to move to more appropriate accommodation would take the precaution of ensuring that such accommodation was available, in the form of one- or two-bedroom social housing provision, before “encouraging” anybody to move anywhere. This has not happened.
Instead, people are expected to move into privately-rented accommodation, which is known to be both more expensive and less suitable for their needs.
This is madness – and that is why we should consider those who have devised the scheme to have been mentally ill at some previous point in their lives, if not at the present time.
There is, however, a rational explanation for the Bedroom Tax. But it cannot take the official line as its raison d’etre.
No; the reason for the Bedroom Tax is that the Government of Millionaires believes that people in social housing – people who are, by the government’s own definition, among the poorest in the UK – have too much money.
Ministers want these people to be drained of their cash. How to achieve this? Charge them for “extra” bedrooms, or make sure they move into private sector accommodation where they will receive no more Housing Benefit but will have to pay more in rent.
This is a plan for the impoverishment of the very poor.
That is the only sensible explanation of the government’s intransigence in the face of the avalanche of news stories about those who will be disadvantaged by it, including today’s in The Guardian, which states that 150,000 single parents will become poorer as a result of the Bedroom Tax.
And while people on Disability Living Allowance may receive part of a £30 million fund, targeted towards those who have modified their homes, the amount available is £100 million short of what is needed.
The Department for Work and Pensions press office, again called into bat because government ministers are a gang of craven cowards who won’t face up to their shortcomings, said: “We need to ensure a better use of social housing when over a quarter of a million tenants are living in overcrowded homes and two million are on housing waiting lists.”
When the choice is between impoverishment at the hands of the state or impoverishment at the hands of a private landlord (in other words, no choice at all), those words are revealed as what they are.