Bedroom Tax Tories: What they said and why they were wrong

Demonstrating for justice: Campaigners against the Bedroom Tax gathered outside Parliament while MPs debated it inside.

Demonstrating for justice: Campaigners against the Bedroom Tax gathered outside Parliament while MPs debated it inside.

“I’m amazed Labour have chosen to spend their allotted day in Parliament arguing for more unfunded spending on housing benefit.” That’s what Matt Hancock, Conservative MP for West Sussex, had to say about the Opposition Day debate on the Bedroom Tax in the House of Commons on November 12.

Hancock is, it seems, author of a book entitled Masters of Nothing, which sums up his understanding of the situation rather well. He clearly has not mastered the fact that the State Under-Occupation Charge will not save money. He has not mastered the fact that emptying dwellings of their current owners will not make them available to new familes as these people are afraid they will themselves be tipped onto the street when their circumstances change – instead the premises will be left empty, at huge cost to social landlords; and he has not mastered the fact that anyone evicted because of the tax will become a burden on local authorities, who have a duty to rehouse them in bed and breakfast accommodation, even though the money provided to them for this purpose by the government is ludicrously inadequate to the task.

Hancock is not alone in having misconceptions about the Bedroom Tax. Most, if not all, of the Conservatives who spoke during the debate uttered howlers – and the purpose of this article is to name them and explain why they should be ashamed of their words.

Please take the opportunity, Dear Reader, to look for your own MP in the catalogue of calamity that follows, then use it to attack them in their own consituency. Let’s make them realise that actions have consequences.

If you don’t have a Tory MP, feel free to use what follows in order to make sure you never have to put up with one.

We begin with Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) who asked of Rachel Reeves: “What does she say to the almost 400,000 families who are living in overcrowded situations when they look over their shoulders at the almost one million spare bedrooms in Britain?”

The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary responded without hesitation: “I say that instead of presiding over the lowest rate of house building since the 1920s, this Government should get on and build some houses.”

This is the fact of the matter. Conservatives throughout the debate berated Labour for building too little social housing, while ignoring their own abysmal record. In the 2012-13 financial year, only 135, 117 new homes were completed – the lowest number on the books.

The Minister of State, Steve Webb, came back to this point later, saying: “Who was doing the house building for 13 years?” Well, we all know who hasn’t been doing it for the last three.

Mr Ellwood said the Tax was brought in because the cost of housing benefit was rising alarmingly: “After 13 years of Labour the cost of housing benefit doubled to £21 billion. That is unacceptable. The cost to taxpayers was £900 per household. The system was getting out of control.” His failure is that he refused to accept the explanation offered by Labour’s Katy Clark – that this was due to the rising cost of rent in the private sector (private rents have indeed been rising massively and the government refuses to take action because this would interfere with the market. Bizarrely, the Conservative-led Coalition seems to believe it is acceptable to pay huge gobs of housing benefit to private landlords – who make unreasonable demands – and then blame social renting tenants for it). He also, by inference, rejected the evidence that the Bedroom Tax will not save any money.

Mr Ellwood also referred to the deficit run by the Labour government of 1997-2010. He said: “Labour lived beyond its means. In 2002-03, it spent £26 billion beyond its means. Four years later that rose to £33 billion. In its final year of office, the deficit rose to £156 billion. That always accumulates.”

This is disingenuous. As he must know, not only did Labour run a lower deficit than the Conservative governments of both Thatcher and Major (average 41 per cent of gross domestic product) from 1997 to 2007, it also made a surplus in the 2000-2001 financial year – something that the previous Conservative governments never did. This means Labour actually paid off some of the debts that had been accumulating. With that pedigree, even the 43 per cent deficit of 2008 looks respectable. The higher deficits of 2009 and 2010 were entirely caused by the bankster-instigated financial crisis, when the actions taken by Labour were entirely supported by the Conservative Party.

He went on to condemn Labour for voting against £83 billion of welfare savings; if the reasoning for them was as shaky as that for the Bedroom Tax (and it was; see previous VP articles) then Labour was quite right to do so!

It should be noted that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, was not present at the debate. RTU (as we like to call him) was woofing it up in Paris, rather than accounting for his misbehaviour to the taxpayer.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) echoed a comment by Mr Webb, but did it in such an inept way that we’ll look at her words rather than his. Following Labour’s Stephen Twigg, she referred to the too-low allocation of Discretionary Housing Payment to families having to cope with the Bedroom Tax: “Perhaps he would like to speak to his Labour-run Liverpool council and ask why, when it received £892,000 in discretionary housing payments last year, it actually sent back £337,000.”

Mr Twigg put her straight: “Does she accept that the figures that she has given are from before the bedroom tax was introduced? This year, Liverpool city council will certainly spend the entire discretionary housing pot.”

His words echoed fellow Labour MP Lucy Powell, who had previously berated Mr Webb: “The Minister incorrectly gave figures for last year—the bedroom tax was introduced only in April. I was talking about money that will come back this year. I can guarantee that the Minister will not be getting any money back from Manchester this year — the year of the bedroom tax.”

Referring to the 400,000 disabled people affected by the Bedroom Tax, Mrs Reeves said 100,000 disabled people live in properties specially adapted for their disability, but the average grant issued by local authorities for adaptations to homes [when they are forced to move out by the Bedroom Tax] stands at £6,000. The total cost of doing the adaptations all over again could run into tens of millions of pounds.

At this moment, Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire), said while seated: “They’re exempt.”

The response: “The hon. Lady said from a sedentary position that disabled people are exempt, but she would not say it when she was on her feet because she knows it is not true.” In Vox Political‘s home constituency, at least one disabled person has already been evicted because of the Bedroom Tax.

Philip Davies (also known as ‘Stupid of Shipley’) weighed in with a shocking error, in an attempt to attack his local housing association and its director, a Labour MP: “Does the Minister agree that the spare room subsidy is one reason why we do not have the right mix of housing? Social housing providers could build houses as big as they wanted, knowing that the Government would cover the full bill irrespectively. In that respect, does he deplore the social housing provider in my area, of which a Labour MP is a director? It complains on the one hand that it has too many three-bedroom houses—”

That’s as far as he got, and just as well. Let’s go through this one more time: The ‘spare room subsidy’ is a fiction. It never existed and therefore could never have been abolished by the Conservative-led Coalition government. Being entirely make-believe, it could never have affected the decisions of social housing providers. This is just one of the many reasons why Mr Davies is rightly considered to be one of the biggest twits in the Tory Party (among hefty competition). Another might be his claim that disabled people should work for less than the minimum wage.

David TC Davies (Monmouth) complained: “Opposition Members… do not want to talk about the fact that they introduced a measure like this for the private sector.”

He was among many Tories who complained about this apparent double-standard. Labour members reminded them that the Bedroom Tax is retrospective (affecting people currently in social housing) while the private-sector measure was for new tenants only. One may also ask why, if these Conservatives were so disturbed by the apparent discrepancy, they were not calling for this earlier measure to be scrapped as well.

George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) said: “We need to pose ourselves a question: what is dealing with the spare room subsidy about? Is it about reducing the housing benefit bill? Yes, of course it is. The Government propose a £500 million saving, which is important.”

It is important, because Conservatives seemed confused throughout the debate about whether they were trying to sort out overcrowding by putting people into appropriate accommodation, or trying to save money. The two are mutually exclusive. The only way to make money on the policy is for people to remain locked in housing that, thanks to the Bedroom Tax, is now too expensive for them – but this cannot last because they will soon be evicted for non-payment of rent. Moving people around, so that nobody is under-occupying, will result in a higher housing benefit bill because more people will be claiming – the original tenants in their new properties (which, if they are run by private landlords, will be more expensive) and the new tenants who will be occupying to the limit of a property’s capability and therefore may claim the full amount of housing benefit. Either way, Mr Hollingberry’s claim of a £500 million saving is pie-in-the-sky.

Margot James (Stourbridge) made a proper fool of herself. She said: “The Opposition… want to position the end of the subsidy and the creation of a level playing field between all recipients of social housing support as a modern day poll tax.” This is the least of her mistakes as some Labour members may have suggested such a thing; in fact it is Eric Pickles’ Council Tax Reduction Scheme that is the modern-day Poll Tax, because every household must now towards it.

Margot James went on to deny that the Bedroom Tax is a tax, saying: “A tax is a government levy on somebody’s income, whereas we are clearly talking about reducing a subsidy.” This is wrong on two counts. Firstly, there has been no subsidy to reduce – unless she was referring to housing benefit in its entirety. The spare room subsidy is, as already mentioned, as mythical as the “unicorns and fairies” to which Anne Main referred when she tried to dismiss the existence of the under-occupation charge as a tax on bedrooms. Both ladies are wrong, because a tax may also be defined as a government levy on property owned or used by a citizen (such as, say, a bedroom). So – not quite as mythical as unicorns and fairies. One has to wonder why Mrs Main mentioned these, as she has clearly been away with the fairies herself.

Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) breezed in from another committee to provide the benefit of his own ignorance. He asked: “Is it fair that someone on a low income who is in privately rented accommodation should pay taxes in order to subsidise someone else’s spare room? Is it fair to raise taxation from low-paid workers to subsidise other people’s accommodation?”

The answer, of course, is yes. It is fair. In fact, it is a principle of our system of taxation. Everybody pays into the national treasury, in order to allow the state to provide services – such as housing – for those in need. This may be a detail that current Tories have missed, considering the government’s vigorous attempts to write the highest earners out of taxation altogether. If he wanted to help low-waged people in private rented housing, the answer to that is also simple: cap their rents.

And doesn’t he know that the very low-paid have been lifted out of taxation by his own government, as the Coalition has been raising the threshold for payment of income tax every year, aiming to reach a target of £10,000 income per annum by 2015.

At the end of the day, the motion to scrap the Bedroom Tax was lost by 26 votes. Some have already said that Labour could have won it if all members had been present, but that was never really on the cards; the government has the numbers, even if some Liberal Democrats (like VP‘s own MP, Roger Williams) abstained.

So what are we to make of it all? Simply this: The Conservatives do not have a credible narrative to describe what the Bedroom Tax is about. It doesn’t save money; it won’t put people into appropriate accommodation; and it certainly won’t cut homelessness!

Work out what it’s really about, and you will understand why they are so desperate to keep it.

30 thoughts on “Bedroom Tax Tories: What they said and why they were wrong

  1. Janice

    Thank you for the summary and highlights..I couldn’t bear to watch it, brings on nausea and extreme anger.
    I did see David Davies spout off though, absolutely rabid.

  2. Edward Melville

    In my opinion Its about social cleaning of low income white dominated social housing estates and replacement of these dewelling with minority ethnic familys from their dominated areas and housing homeless families from the e u nations and trying to mix them together to make a harmony of social people , where one national ethnic people dont dominated one area , which become gettos of law breakers, national press…plus the eu dominated our life and dictate our lives to a point. That over time our england would be become a dumping ground for all low income people and social housing will be over stocked and people with spare bedrooms will be told to take in further families and there be over may be 4 families in each property and then the rich eu and our rich banker move to the eu and then the berlin wall type wall will be built across the channel borders and england will become a locked off island for all the world poor to survive in. God help us all in the near future

    1. Mike Sivier

      I don’t agree with any of that. You seem to be mixing unfounded ideas about the EU with unfounded ideas about the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition. The Tories just want poor people out of the houses so they can be redeveloped into luxury estates that make more money for the owners. They don’t care about ethnic minorities or the EU.

  3. Maria Muller

    like something out of Alan B’stard – The New Statesman – this is not a documentary – Wonder if they are going to put Boris the Buffoon Boris Johnson or Cecil Parkinson in chains ….fortunately Edwina Currie appeared to use a robust form of contraception …and there were no ” love children ” so much for ” Back to Basics “

  4. Nick

    this so called bedroom tax is a myth

    a small bedroom 8×7 foot has only room for a single bed and small table and chair. most people who sleep in a room like this from a young age get ill regularly as mould is always lurking in this type of small room

    these are well known facts that if your bedrooms are small you and your whole house will have mould in them and that’s a certainty and i have never known of a house that hasen’t on my travels

    the mould spore which is in every bathroom leaks out and only in the largest of typical bedrooms 15×10 foot are likely to escape from the black marks

    most social housing is of a poor build standard and on this point alone there should be no bedroom tax or even in the renting out of this type of room as i have said above it’s very bads for your health

  5. Lou

    About ten Labour MPs, including Gordon Brown, didn’t bother to turn up or to vote in favour of Labour’s motion to repeal the cancerous Bedroom Tax last night.


    1. Paul

      Whips have confirmed it was due to the “pairing” system. Had they broken the “pairing” the opposite number would have turned up and nullified the vote anyway. Made no difference whatsoever.

  6. jed goodright

    A good summary although you have missed the champion of them all – Esther McVey – what a total plank. She wants everyone in social housing to move around so that we can reach the ideal situation where everyone can be happy and live in peace. Honestly, from a Minister of the Crown this is breakfast tv surreal world nonsense. All the tory’s and there was only ever 20 in the Chamber at any one time spoke not of impacts or technicalities – all they did was ridicule, lie and abuse – no evidence for them, no anecdotes – nothing but bluster. By the way, the experience of REAL PEOPLE in the real world highlighted by Labour MPs is not anecdotal it is evidence. The longer labour let these toryboys off the hook about this the more entrenched it becomes. WE are talking real people and real lives!!!!!!!!!!!
    Also, why didn’t one labour MP highlight that the ‘ bedroom subsidy lark is an item of imagination – it is not REAL – nowhere in legislation does it exist. So for toryboys to want to reduce it is absolute b*ll*cks. Why didn’t Rachel Reeves or Kate Green dismiss this apparition of the tory mind once and for all????????????? And where were the labour MPs who didn’t vote – NOT GOOD ENOUGH because the ssame people who are being hit by the bedroom tax are the same ones being hit by ATos and the same ones being sanctioned by the job centres – THIS IS AN ALL OUT ATTACK ON THE POOR AND VULNERABLE – and labour failed to win the debate – NOT F***IN GOOD ENOUGH

    1. Mike Sivier

      According to the Labour whips’ office, they run a system of ‘pairing’ with the Conservatives that meant they could not field enough MPs to win the vote. Personally I do not understand how this works or how it can possibly be worthwhile. Perhaps someone would like to come here and explain?

      1. Mike Sivier

        From the website: “Pairing is an arrangement where an MP of one party agrees with an MP of an opposing party not to vote in a particular division. This gives both MPs the opportunity not to attend. Pairing is an informal arrangement and is not recognised by the House of Commons’ rules. Such arrangements have to be registered with the whips who check that the agreement is stuck to. Pairing is not allowed in divisions of great political importance but pairings can last for months or years.”

        So it would not have made any difference if those other Labour MPs had turned up – the 43 other Cons/LDs would have been there as well.

      2. jed goodright

        sounds like “let’s play for a score draw Mike!” – only parliament wins in that case – the population don’t – why don’t they just kill us all off and stop wasting time – then they we all be even richer??????????

      3. Mike Sivier

        It’s not that; it just eliminates people who aren’t going to be swayed by the arguments, I think. Personally, I think the main question now is who the pairings were – because this would reveal the choices of more MPs that would be hidden otherwise.

      4. jed goodright

        there’s no wonder InDeepS**t was in Paris – he had nothing to worry about – his ‘wisdom’ was not going to be questioned. Gordon Brown didn’t vote either but then he’s declared himself an ex-politiican even though he’s drawing his pay. What is the point anymore???? The politicians have it sewn up and labour conspire with a system that maintains injustice , inequality and oppression

      5. Mike Sivier

        That isn’t what’s happening at all. Labour isn’t conspiring with anyone by being part of the ‘pairing’ system. It turns out that the total majority would not have been changed if the 43 Labour MPs who didn’t vote had done so – because 43 government MPs would also have voted.
        The important fact here is that the government majority was cut down to just 26. It would not have been cut further on this occasion but it bodes well for the future.

  7. Pingback: Of Beds and Bedrooms | elaine4queen

  8. Budgie Bird

    Not at all happy about this pairing system that allows MP’s to avoid important debates such as this. It undermines the whole point of debating an issue before voting. Parliamentary debates should be an opportunity for those speaking to change the minds of those who oppose their views. What is the point in the dozens of Labour MP’s making very valid and impassioned speeches in the House of Commons if large numbers of those that they wish to convert to their way of thinking are not present to hear them?

    There was much Labour criticism of Iain Duncan Smith not being present to be held to account, but now we find that his absence was probably condoned and agreed to in a pairing agreement with a Labour MP.

    How am I supposed to know if my absent LibDem MP was part of a pairing agreement and therefore effectively voting in favour of the bedroom tax, or whether he decided to stay away because he wished to abstain, or whether he just fancied a day off and was not bothered at all? How am I supposed to hold my MP to account if I do not know why he was not there to vote?

    Pairing is a convenient way for MP’S to dodge their responsibilities to the electorate and what those paired MP’s are effectively saying to the electorate is that they do not want to listen to any debate about the issue, because their mind is made up and no matter how forceful and right an argument is, they will refuse to listen to it.

    Is it any wonder, given this mindset of MP’s who agree to pair, that the electorate are so disillusioned with out political system and the attitudes of our MP’s on all sides?

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