My Bedroom Tax protest speech

Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political's Mike Sivier (front) at 'Cooper Corner', with Caerphilly Castle in the background.

Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political’s Mike Sivier (front) at ‘Cooper Corner’, with Caerphilly Castle in the background.

Vox Political was relatively quiet yesterday; although I reblogged plenty of articles from other sources, there was no new piece from the site itself because I was in Caerphilly, delivering a speech at a Bedroom Tax protest there.

Caerphilly is the birthplace of the late, great comic Tommy Cooper, and it was in the shadow of his statue that the demonstration took place. I instantly (and privately) named the location ‘Cooper Corner’.

I took the opportunity to lighten proceedings at the start by suggesting that Mr Cooper (albeit in petrified effigy) would be providing the jokes. I held the microphone up towards the statue. “Anything? No? No. I didn’t think so.” Turning back to the crowd I added: “The Bedroom Tax is no laughing matter.” Then I got into the body of the speech:

“I write a small blog called Vox Political. I started it a couple of years ago as an attempt to put in writing what a reasonable, thinking person might have to say about government policies in these years of forced austerity, and politics in general.

“As you can probably imagine, this means I knew about the Bedroom Tax, several months before it was actually imposed on us all. I was writing articles warning people against it from October 2012. The trouble was, Vox Political is a small blog that even now has only a few thousand readers a day – and the mainstream media has been almost entirely bought by a political machine with far more funding than I have.

“It is a tax, by the way. You may have heard a lot of nonsense that it isn’t, but consider it this way: a tax is defined as a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government against a citizen’s person, property or activity, to support government policies.

“It is not a ‘spare-room subsidy’. If anyone in authority tries to tell you you’re having your ‘spare-room subsidy’ removed (or more likely, imposed, they’re so confused about this), just tell them to go and find the Act of Parliament that introduced the ‘spare room subsidy’, using those words. Tell them if they can find it, you’ll pay it – but if they can’t, they must not take any money away from you. They won’t be able to find it because it doesn’t exist.

“It is more accurately described as the ‘State Underoccupation Charge’ – SUC! And it really does suck.

“It sucks money that social housing tenants need for food, heat, water and other necessities out of their pockets and forces them to send it to their landlord instead – either the local council or a social landlord like a housing association. The reasoning behind it has always been that this would encourage people to move, but in fact we know that there is no social accommodation for them to move into. When the Bedroom Tax became law, there was only enough smaller housing to accommodate around 15 per cent of the affected households. It is clearly a trap, designed to make poor people poorer.

“This is why the first advice I put on my blog was for anyone affected by the Bedroom Tax to appeal against it – and I was criticised quite harshly for it, because some people decided such action would mark tenants out as troublemakers and create more problems for them. At the time, I thought it was right to give some of the aggravation back to the people who were foisting this additional burden onto lower-income families; make them work for it, if they want it so badly. As it turns out, I was right to do so, because there are so many loopholes in the legislation that it seems almost anybody could avoid paying!

“Do you think Stephanie Bottrill would have died if she had known that she could successfully appeal against her Bedroom Tax, on the grounds that she had been a social housing tenant since before January 1996 and was therefore exempt? The government spitefully closed that particular loophole earlier this month, but that lady is already dead, due to a lie. Had she been properly informed, she could have successfully fought it off and then taken advice on how to cope with it after the government amendment was brought in.

“There is a case for corporate manslaughter against the Department for Work and Pensions, right there. If tested in court, it seems likely that the way its activities have been managed and organised by senior management – the fact that it foisted the Bedroom Tax, wrongly, on this lady – will be found to have led to her death, in gross breach of its duty of care to those who claim state benefits (in this case, Housing Benefit).

“David Cameron has wasted a great deal of oxygen telling us all that disabled people are not affected by the tax. Perhaps he could explain why a disabled gentleman in my home town was forced to move out of his specially-adapted home, incurring not only the cost of moving but an extra £5,000 for removing the adaptations and installing them into new accommodation? He appealed against Bedroom Tax decision but the result came back after the date when he had to be out of his home. Can you guess what it was? That’s right – he won. I have been trying to get him to take legal action against the council and the government about this as it would be an important test case.

“There are other grounds for appealing against the Bedroom Tax. Just because your council wants to claim every room that could be a bedroom is a bedroom, that doesn’t make it so. A fellow blogger, Joe Halewood, has published a list of other room designations that you are allowed to have.

“It includes a study, a utility room, a play room, even an Iain Duncan Smith voodoo doll-making room, if that takes your fancy!

“I was particularly happy to hear that you can have a study as I’ve been writing my blog from the broom cupboard – oh! That’s another room you can have!

“Check the DWP’s online forms. They ask about bedrooms, and then they ask about other rooms. The distinction is clear.”

Then I closed the speech. In retrospect, I should have finished with a few words about the fact that this was the first bit of public speaking I had ever done. I could have given them something along these lines: “I am aware that speech-making is a lucrative sideline for many people, including comedians (although I’m not aware that Mr Cooper ever made any) and also politicians. Perhaps I should use this platform to suggest that, if you know anybody who is considering booking a speaker for a special occasion – society dinner, rugby club social, wedding or party, why not ask them to get in touch with me – instead of Iain Duncan Smith!”

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  1. sdbast March 30, 2014 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  2. Joanna March 30, 2014 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Wow you are quite cool and good looking Mike, added to your writing, quite a remarkable person. Good luck with it all Mike and Thank You!!!

    • Mike Sivier March 30, 2014 at 1:03 pm - Reply

      I shall have to keep this comment away from Mrs Mike.

      • Joanna March 30, 2014 at 4:22 pm - Reply

        No offence intended!
        That aside, I know someone who is a staunch tory supporter and he works with vulnerable people, although he has witnessed all the troubles they have gone through, when I have challenged him on the bedroom tax and the other welfare reforms, he remains resolute, how can someone who cares about vulnerable clients (he really does care)!! possibly continue to agree with these hateful policies. He even makes me feel like I don’t know what I am talking about whenever I bring them up. All the while his clients are continuing to suffer, how can anyone as intelligent as he is, be so Blind!?!

  3. jaypot2012 March 30, 2014 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    Great speech Mike. You put as much into it as you could and although its the first time for public speaking, I bet it went down a treat.

  4. jaypot2012 March 30, 2014 at 12:55 pm - Reply

    Reblogged this on Jay's Journal and commented:
    Mike Sivier’s first public speech.

  5. beastrabban March 30, 2014 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    MIke here presents his speech at Caerphilly attacking the notorious bedroom tax, showing that it is actually a tax under the meaning of the act, and presenting a couple of cases that clearly demonstrate how iniquitous it actually is. And all under the watchful eye of the late, great, Tommy Cooper. Just like that. Just like that … Not like that, just like that. As the man in the fez used to say.

  6. sonya lippold (@LippoldS) March 30, 2014 at 6:04 pm - Reply

    Yes, well done Mike, I was trying to make a donation, but I always shy away from Paypal. Why? I don`t know, cause I use Amazon without using Paypal. Can you solve my dilemma?

    • Mike Sivier March 31, 2014 at 10:21 pm - Reply

      I’m afraid not – not really. PayPal is the only avenue available right now. VP isn’t big enough to be run as a business, so opening a business bank account would be expensive and pointless, and I’m not willing to publicise my home address to the entire Internet for obvious reasons.

  7. Florence March 30, 2014 at 6:40 pm - Reply

    First-time public speaking is a big deal! Thank you for having the strength to put yourself in this position, altruistically, and perhaps you’ll get a taste for it. On the basis of your maiden speech, which was really great, I hope you have more in the pipeline.

  8. The Swans New Party March 31, 2014 at 2:35 am - Reply

    We await what the Left Unity Party have to say for themselves now that they have had their first national conference in Manchester last Saturday March 29?

    This is my blog just written:

    2015 is the best chance in UK history for a new party to get into government that can save the lives of the millions under threat by welfare and pension reform by all the current political class.

    Because even a small right wing party has said that the economic truth is that Austerity destroys the economy in a recession, and it is the role of government to spend in a recession, especially on capital works. The IMF too late has realised that Austerity in southern and eastern Europe just imploded those nations into not just 3rd world but 4th world poverty.

    This is England’s fate with Austerity and Welfare Reform, by politicians who have made themselves immune from the consequences, by such as women MPs keeping state pension payout at 60 if within 10 years of that age, whilst removing the state pension from millions of women forever, as well as millions of men, which include the disabled / chronic sick age 60-66 losing benefits:

  9. Sasson Hann March 31, 2014 at 8:05 am - Reply

    Good to put a face to the name!

    Well done on your first public-speaking engagement.

    I’ve just put a bedroom tax appeal in on the grounds of room usage. I’m hoping that I’m not marked out as a trouble maker and I’m feeling rather stressed about the whole thing in case that I am viewed that way.

    Thanks as always for this really informative blog!

    Sasson Hann

    • amnesiaclinic March 31, 2014 at 11:07 am - Reply

      Good luck with this and well done for appealing. There are many ways to deal with stress as I’m sure you know. Tapping is very effective and simple. If you havn’t come across it look up Tapping Solutions with Nick Ortner. Excellent and cheap, simple and very effective.

  10. amnesiaclinic March 31, 2014 at 11:09 am - Reply

    Brilliant, Mike! Congratulations – a fantastic speech! Not easy to launch into public speaking but here’s to lots more!!


  11. amnesiaclinic March 31, 2014 at 11:11 am - Reply

    Reblogged this on amnesiaclinic and commented:
    Yes, Stephanie Bottrill would still be alive. A very nasty move by a very nasty party to close that loophole. Let’s hope the end of the bedroom tax is near – please support the national day of protest on 5th April being organised by The People’s assembly. Lovexx

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