The Liberal Democrats imposed the Bedroom Tax on local authorities and their social housing tenants – so why are they trying to blame Labour for a mess that they created?
Something has just happened that Vox Political predicted more than two years ago. The shock is the identity of the perpetrators.
According to the Welfare News Service, the Liberal Democrats are blaming Labour-controlled councils for inflicting the Bedroom Tax on their residents. That’s right – the Liberal Democrats who, in their entirety as a Parliamentary party, voted to support the Conservative Party in forcing local councils to administrate the hated charge.
“In a blog posted on their national website, the Lib Dems claim that “Labour councils chose to punish their residents to score political points” in a deliberate attempt to scupper the housing policy,” states the WNS blog post.
“What, exactly, the party means when it accuses Labour councils of punishing its own residents is unclear. But the sheer audacity and ignorance shown by the Lib Dems will anger all of those who have experienced financial hardship, lost loved-ones, or who have been forced out of their family home as a result of vicious cuts to vital housing support.”
It continues: “Not a single Lib Dem MP voted against the ‘bedroom tax’ in February .”
The fact is, the Bedroom Tax – like the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (otherwise known as Eric Pickles’ revival of the Poll Tax) – the intention was to force local authorities held by other parties, which were statistically likely to have more voters on social security benefits than the more affluent councils held by the Tories, to enforce these unfair rules on these most vulnerable of citizens. The Conservative – Liberal Democrat government could then blame the party running the authority for bringing it in, diverting any adverse reaction away from themselves – the true instigators.
So who, exactly was trying to score political points, again? Here at Vox Political, the assumption was always that the Conservatives would be the ones pointing the finger.
Instead it’s the Liberal Democrats, and – as is now fairly typical for the Yellow Turncoats – they’ve made a mistake. It would have been better to attack Labour over the previously-mentioned Pickles Poll Tax, about which Vox Political stated on August 23, 2012: “Councils could choose to reduce spending in other areas or increase their revenue through council tax but, as these will affect groups other than current benefit recipients, I think we all know which way our councillors will be pushed. Either way, the local authority will take the blame – or at least, that’s what the Coalition hopes.”
Let’s leave the last words to the WNS: “If the Liberal Democrats had just an ounce of respect for the people whose lives they have thrown into turmoil, they would admit the Bedroom Tax is wrong and work with Labour, and other political parties, to end this disgraceful policy once and for all. Unfortunately it appears as if they are more worried about losing face than the shocking impact of the Bedroom Tax on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society.
“Is it any wonder that so many Scots want out of the UK?”
This week I heard about two cases in my Mid Wales town. You may think that isn’t many, but this is a town with a population of less than 5,000 – and I haven’t heard about every case.
The first involves a family that has been living in the same council house for more than 30 years. Sadly the head of the household recently had a stroke and has been forced to move into a care home. In the past, the tenancy would have been handed down to the next generation of the family – two sons, one of whom has a family of his own. The other is a friend of mine, of excellent character. By day he works very hard at his job; after hours, he is a member of a popular local band (along with his brother, as it happens). They are what this government would call “strivers”.
But they are being penalised because they have been told to vacate the only home they have had. Not only that, they are being asked to stump up a small fortune in backdated rent (as their father has been paying for his care, not the house) and another small fortune to dispose of carpets they cannot take with them, which the council does not want.
When I spoke to my friend yesterday, he told me that the council simply does not want him or his brother as tenants because “it is easier to process a large family who are on benefits”. I queried this, and it seems likely that this is to do with the forthcoming Universal Credit system, and with the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (also known as the Pickles Poll Tax); it is easier to handle Universal Credit and council tax claims if the authorities have foreknowledge of a household’s income.
We both agreed that there is a serious drawback to this thinking.
Large families do not want to move into vacant social accommodation because they fear what the government – national and local – will do to them if their circumstances change. Children grow up; adults move out – and that will make them vulnerable to the Bedroom Tax. Suddenly their benefits won’t be enough to pay the rent and they, in turn, will be turfed out onto the streets. They know it is a trap; they will try to avoid it.
My friend agreed. “That house is going to stay empty for a very long time,” he said.
This is madness. Here are two people who are perfectly willing and able to pay the council’s rent, on time, for as long as they need the property but, because of the Welfare Reform Act and the Localism Act, the council is treating them abominably and the house will end up providing no income at all.
If you think that’s bad, though, just wait until you learn about my other friend!
He is an older gentleman who has been disabled for many years. He had been living in a small, two-bedroomed house that had been adapted to accommodate his needs. We know precisely how much these adaptations cost to install at current rates: £5,000.
I believe he needed the extra bedroom to accommodate carer needs but I could be mistaken.
Along came the Bedroom Tax and suddenly he did not have enough income to cover the cost of living there. The council (or social landlord, I have to admit I’m not sure) sent him an eviction notice. He appealed.
Guess what? His appeal was set to be decided after the date he was ordered to be out of his home.
So he had to go. He was lucky enough to find another place to live, and all the equipment he needs to accommodate his disability moved along with him – at a cost of £5,000.
Then he received the judgement on his appeal: He was exempt from paying the Bedroom Tax; he should never have been forced to move.
Is this British justice?
This country was once the envy of the world because we were far more enlightened than any other nation in our policies of social justice and inclusion. Not any more! Now we are regressing into a new dark age in which the squalid Shylocks infesting Westminster manipulate local authorities into performing grubby property grabs for them.
Is the ‘Bulldog Spirit’ that made us famous for standing our ground during the Blitz now being turned to hounding the poor out of their homes?
Are you willing to put up with this?
In Iceland, they marched to their Parliament and set up camp outside until the government gave up and agreed to the demands of the people. Here, an unmandated government rides roughshod over democracy while you sit at home watching The X Factor, Coronation Street and the Winter Olympics.
Nothing will change until you change it – but you know this already. The simple fact is that, if you are reading this article, you probably sympathise with the sentiments it is expressing and are already active in opposing the heinous crimes being committed against our people.
There are not enough of you. People who need to read these words are being allowed to live in ignorance, lulled into inactivity by the right-wing mass media.
It’s time to put an end to that. There can be no excuse for ignorance and inaction while people are being made homeless. Think of someone you know who needs to be shown the truth and make them read this article. Ask them what they think of it and explain the facts of what is happening around them.
Then tell them to pass it on to someone they know.
Spread the word – don’t keep it to yourself. And don’t sit on your thumbs and expect somebody else to do your bit for you. If you don’t act, why should anybody else? What’s the point of me writing these articles if you can’t be bothered to do anything about it? Are you going to wait until someone tells you they want your home?
Then it will be too late.
I’ll know if you succeed because it will be reflected in the number of times this article is viewed. I’ll report the results of this experiment next week.
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You may have noticed that yesterday was Christmas – the day when Christians throughout the world celebrate the birth of Jesus, whose teachings in later life form the basis of their faith.
Jesus was born into a world of politics and political machinations – the Roman world was much the same as our own in this respect – and had an effect on it, right from his birth.
According to one of the Gospels, when King Herod learned that a child had been born who had been named ‘King of the Jews’, he sent spies to find out who this possible usurper was; failing in this attempt, he gave orders for the death of all boys aged two or less in Bethlehem and nearby.
Joseph (husband of Mary, Jesus’ mother) was warned in a dream that Herod intended to kill Jesus, so the family fled to Egypt until after the King’s death – then moved to Nazareth in Galilee to avoid living under Herod’s son Archelaus (the Romans had divided the kingdom into three, and Nazareth was ruled by another of Herod’s sons, Herod Antipas).
Regarding the Massacre of the Innocents, doubt has been cast on whether the event ever took place. No other account of the period makes reference to it. Some have said that this may be because the number of male children of the right age might have been less than 20.
Since the point of this article is to compare what happened then with current events, here in Britain, it seems best to bookmark the disputed event; we’ll come back to it if we must.
The part we are told under no uncertain terms is that Joseph took Mary and Jesus to Egypt until Herod’s rule was over. In modern terms, they were made homeless because of political persecution that was so extreme, they had to flee the country.
The situation in the UK today, as stated by Shelter, is no less than 80,000 times as bad.
The charity told us (in November): “Government figures show that 80,000 children in Britain will be homeless this Christmas.”
Vox Political said then that government policies had caused the dramatic rise: “The bedroom tax; the ‘Pickles Poll Tax’, otherwise known as the Council Tax reduction scheme; the benefit cap that so many people in this country seem to support without understanding any of its implications.” This blog had warned that this would happen, as long ago as January.
In contrast with the Bible story, in which the family fled to safety, most homeless families interviewed by Shelter said they felt more unsafe, witnessing violence, sexual offences, drug use and dealing.
This is more than 2,000 years after the Biblical incident; civilisation is supposed to have improved over that time. Why are we allowing our government to do this to our children on such a massively more widespread scale?
Perhaps we can take some small comfort from Herod’s fate. Modern medicine suggests he had chronic kidney failure, complicated by Fourier’s gangrene – but let us see how it was described at the time. The historian Josephus – in Antiquities, Book 17, Chapter 6, Verse 5 – describes the disease that killed him shortly after he set out to murder Jesus: “a fire glowed in him slowly, which did not so much appear to the touch outwardly, as it augmented his pains inwardly; for it brought upon him a vehement appetite to eating, which he could not avoid to supply with one sort of food or other. His entrails were also ex-ulcerated, and the chief violence of his pain lay on his colon; an aqueous and transparent liquor also had settled itself about his feet, and a like matter afflicted him at the bottom of his belly. Nay, further, his privy-member was putrefied, and produced worms; and when he sat upright, he had a difficulty of breathing, which was very loathsome, on account of the stench of his breath, and the quickness of its returns; he had also convulsions in all parts of his body, which increased his strength to an insufferable degree. It was said by those who pretended to divine, and who were endued with wisdom to foretell such things, that God inflicted this punishment on the king on account of his great impiety.”
Eric Pickles, Iain Duncan Smith, and above all David Cameron, beware.
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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.”
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.
A drop in the ocean: That’s what your taxes are, in comparison to the £30,450,000 owed by Thames Water in corporation tax this year. But Thames Water is paying nothing and, even though you’ve paid up on time and in full, if you have to claim PIP or ESA in the future, nothing is what you’re likely to get.
“Unum Provident is an outlaw company. It is a company that has operated in an illegal fashion for years.” – California Department of Insurance Commissioner, John Garamendi, 2005.
Is there really a connection between the roll-out of the government’s new Personal Independence Payment scam, outlawed (in the US) insurance company Unum, and the fact that Thames Water didn’t pay any taxes for the last financial year, despite profits totalling around £145 million?
Would any of you be surprised to read that the answer is yes?
PIP, the replacement for Disability Living Allowance, entered the second stage of its roll-out yesterday, when new claimants of working age, applying for disability benefit, were told they would be asking for it rather than DLA. New claimants in northern England have been applying for PIP since April.
The new system follows very closely the pattern established by the claim system for Employment and Support Allowance. ESA claim forms ask sick or disabled people to relate their symptoms to a series of ‘descriptors’, using ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers (there is space to describe the individual issues but we have no proof that this receives any consideration at all).
The descriptors are based on a perversion of the so-called ‘biopsychosocial model’, created by American company Unum Provident to provide a defensible excuse for refusing to pay out on disability claims, at a time when the company was finding it hard to come up with the cash. Unfortunately (for Unum) the US legal system decided the excuse was not defensible after all and ordered Unum to reconsider 200,000 claims, back in 2006. Unfortunately (for British disability claimants) by then Unum already had its claws in the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions. For more on Unum, see Mo Stewart’s excellent series of reports, written over a three-year investigative period, here and here.
Official government figures put entitlement for the benefit at 99.6 per cent. Less than half of one per cent of claims have been found to be fraudulent.
So there’s a bit of a credibility gap in the government’s system, isn’t there? A gap spanning 69.6 per cent of claimants at best, and 86.6 per cent at worst.
That is the Unum influence. The government has taken this company’s criminal (in America) scheme to deprive insurance policyholders of their payouts and applied it to the national insurance scheme that is the British benefits system, in order to deprive UK citizens of their benefits and rob them of the rewards due to them for paying their taxes.
Let’s all remember, please, that the majority of people claiming ESA have paid their taxes, on time and in full. How many big businesses operating in this country can say the same?
Not Thames Water, that’s for sure. The BBC reported yesterday that the UK’s biggest water firm, which is privately-owned, paid no corporation tax in the last financial year, despite making £145 million in (it says here) pre-tax profit.
The company says this is because it has offset the interest payments on its debts against its tax liability, and claimed allowances on capital project spending. It has been seeking government support for a £4.1bn project to build a new “super sewer” under the Thames, as reported in Vox Political last year.
The total amount of tax owed but offset in this manner is around £1 billion – but let’s not forget that this amount may drop. Part-time Chancellor George Osborne has already cut corporation tax by a quarter (from 28 per cent in 2010 to 21 per cent now) and there is no evidence that he won’t carry on slashing it, to help out his big business buddies and royally screw up the public finances.
Thames Water increased its bills by 6.7 per cent last year. It has reported an increase in revenues of six per cent. Doesn’t that mean that it only needed to raise its bills by 0.7 per cent in order to maintain profits? Doesn’t that mean that the remainder of that increase is down to the greed of its private shareholders, amounting to nothing less than robbery of the 14 million customers who – in this great era of consumer choice, ushered in by David Cameron – have absolutely no alternative water suppliers at all?
I wouldn’t want to be living in the Thames Water catchment area and applying for PIP right now. Also, what if you’re in that position, but living on social housing that the government decides is too big for you, triggering Bedroom Tax payments? How are you going to pay what you’ll owe on the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (the Pickles Poll Tax)?
If you’re in that position, just remember it’s a Conservative-led government that put you there, in Coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Did you vote for either of them in 2010?
If so, will you do it again in 2015?
If you say yes, you’ll be entitled to PIP on grounds of insanity – but then the government will lose voters, so that won’t be allowed.
Grant Shapps and Iain Duncan Smith (Vox‘s Monster of 2012, let’s not forget) delivered woeful performances on radio and TV respectively, during the weekend – discussing the Bedroom Tax.
That’s right – the Bedroom Tax. Not the “spare-rooms subsidy”, not the “under-occupation subsidy” – the Bedroom Tax. The tax on bedrooms that is being levied on some of the poorest people in the land, who cannot move to smaller premises because a previous Conservative administration stopped them from being built.
Tweedle-Shapps and Tweedle-Smith clearly need a lesson in what taxation actually is. The sad part is that they probably think they delivered good performances.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend, Shapps said: “Labour have very cleverly deemed this to be a tax; of course it’s exactly the opposite to a tax. It’s a spare-rooms subsidy, that’s being paid through the benefits system, on a million empty bedrooms in this country, which makes no sense.
“We’re not using the housing we have in this country in a proper way… What we can’t continue to do, and we can’t afford to do, is pay for a million empty rooms whilst we’ve got a waiting list that doubled under the previous administration and with so many people in desperate need of a house at all.”
Mr Smith, on The Andrew Marr Show said: “We have in social sector housing a very large number of people in houses where they have many more bedrooms than they actually need… Meanwhile we have over a quarter of a million people in overcrowding and a million people on the waiting list, trying to get into housing.
“The last government let house building fall to the lowest level since the 1920s… What we want is those that are under-occupying their properties, we need to help them to be able to move to property that they would occupy-”
Eddie Mair, standing in for Andrew Marr, interjected: “You mean force them?”
Smith plunged on: “What we’re saying is, ‘Look – you can stay where you are, but if you do, you have to pay more.'” (In other words, yes, he means “force them out”).
Mr Mair again: “But cough up. We know you’re very poor, but pay more.”
Smith was determined: “People… who rent in the private sector under housing benefit – they’re not allowed to have extra bedrooms. They’ve never been. So they are only paid, in the private sector, for the number of bedrooms they occupy.”
Mr Mair, an astonished inflection in his voice, spluttered: “But the point of social housing is to help-”
Now Smith fell back on the real reason for the change: Money. “Look, the taxpayer is paying about £900 per household to help people stay in social housing.”
Put these things together and we get a clear picture of what’s going on. First, a bit of history:
Back in the sunlit days before Margaret Thatcher first won an election, local councils were permitted to build and maintain social housing stock. I know this seems an alien concept now, but they were actually allowed to build houses in which poor people could live, for a rent that they could meet.
Then the Thatcher government came into office and she decided to sell off council houses at discounts of up to 70 per cent. Of course, take-up was huge. People believed they would be able to sell the properties on at a later date – for a profit – and go further up the housing ladder, and this appears to be what happened. The houses that were sold on again tended to go to professional private landlords, who then rented them at a higher price than the councils who originally owned them.
The policy raised more than £20 billion for the Conservative government, but it never allowed that money to be ploughed back into council house-building. That money has disappeared; we don’t know what was done with it (in fact, if anybody does know where it is, please write in and let us know)!
My understanding is that councils had expected to be able to use the receipts for a new house-building programme but then, by one of those “coincidences” – and I put that word in quotation marks for a very good reason; I don’t think they are coincidences at all – for which the Tory Party should be infamous, another policy was introduced – the Rate Cap.
Local taxation at the time was done by a method known as the Rates. We’ve had Poll Tax and Council Tax since then (and will soon have the Poll Tax back, thanks to Eric Pickles and his evil, misnamed little ‘Council Tax Reduction Scheme’) so many readers may not remember them.
The idea was to stop councils from spending more than the Tory government thought they should, by limiting the amount of money they could spend every year, and creating a blacklist of councils that transgressed, with associated penalties.
Result: any new council house-building was stopped dead.
It’s a situation that has continued to this day. During the New Labour years, there was a push for new social housing with a condition on planning permission for new estates, that a certain proportion of the new build had to be “affordable” housing.
Result: We now have a huge amount of land with planning permission for estates that have never been built, as developers are reluctant to create housing for which they won’t be able to screw maximum profit from the buyers.
So, successive governments have created a situation where the queue for social housing is very large. Even though the plan during New Labour’s time had the best intentions, my opinion is that it was scuppered by the greed of developers.
Now we have the Nasty Party in office again, and of course they want to screw as much money out of the poor as possible.
They don’t want to build any new social housing; they want people to rent from the private sector, who will try to screw the highest amount out of them.
In order to push them out, they have invented this new term, “spare-rooms subsidy”, or “under-occupation subsidy” – that never existed before. They have declared that people – who are only occupying the houses that were available to them when they went into social occupancy – are now receiving that subsidy for any spare bedrooms they may have (no matter whether there was a reason for having those rooms in the past, or may be one in the future). And in April they will remove an arbitrary amount – nobody knows how they arrived at the figure – from tenants’ housing benefit.
Result: As Eddie Mair said, these people will be forced out – into the arms of private landlords, who will charge more while they will receive less help from the government.
The money saved will, we’re told, be used to help balance the national finances, which is a policy of this government.
So, getting back to the point – the removal of this recently-dreamed-up “subsidy” istaxation, because the money removed from UK citizens will be used to finance government expenditure. That is the definition of tax.
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