The Tories seem to be suffering from cognitive dissonance – an attempt to believe two opposing ideas at once.
Not only have they forced people to pay an unwarranted and crippling ‘bedroom tax’ for living in social housing with more bedrooms than they have decided – arbitrarily – are necessary (and let’s not forget that these were the only homes available for most tenants, due to the appalling shortage of social housing created by Margaret Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’ policy)…
Not only that, but they are planning to make the situation worse for social housing tenants in the future, by extending ‘right to buy’ into housing association properties!
Let’s make something perfectly clear: Housing association properties are not government assets. They belong to private companies whose commercial well-being depends on rental income.
Many housing associations – if not all – have been hit hard by the Bedroom Tax, which makes it more difficult for tenants to meet their rent-paying obligations.
This means that the proposed sale of housing association properties – at discounts of between £77,000 and £102,000 would cripple those organisations’ ability to replace the stock they would lose.
This is a policy designed to deny cheaply-rentable housing to people who need it in the future. It is also designed to boost the more expensive private rental market; according to Tax Research UK, half of all former council properties sold by right-to-buy tenants are now in that sector.
It would also lead to a rise in house prices, as people taking advantage of the offer move to sell their homes on, at a profit. This will make housing less accessible to the poor, and the buildings more available to private landlords, who can then charge higher rents – possibly to the very people who just sold the properties.
Meanwhile, the Labour Party Manifesto, launched yesterday (Monday), includes a whole section on “Building new homes”. On page 46, it refers to “getting the public sector building again. We will build more affordable homes by prioritising capital investment for housing and by reforming the council house financing system.”
Does this mean Labour will be encouraging the building of more council houses again?
That would be terrific.
Especially for the hundreds of thousands who have been pushed towards poverty by the Bedroom Tax.
A few months ago, Mrs Mike – who is the named tenant of VP Towers – received a communication from our landlord (a housing association).
It was notification that the HA had applied to the Welsh Assembly to set a ‘fair rent’ at about £9 per week more than the then-current level.
Depending on your own circumstances, £9 per week may not seem altogether high but for Mrs Mike, who considers herself to have suffered undue neglect from her landlord (remember the flood last year?), it was the last straw. The notification letter stated that she could appeal against the increase, so she did.
You may be surprised, dear reader, to find that I was reluctant to support her. I feared the possibility of a revenge attack by our landlords, resulting in us ending up on the street.
I was wrong – but the issue took a few months to resolve. At first, the Assembly agreed with the housing association that our rent should be increased and, following representations by Mrs Mike, by more than the HA had originally requested. The landlord promised that it would stick to the original figure but Mrs Mike wasn’t having any of it and took the case to a tribunal, pointing out that our landlord wasn’t comparing our rent with similar houses in the local area (as is necessary) and that calls for repairs were habitually ignored or dismissed by servicers who are based almost 100 miles away.
Now our rent is cheaper – yes, cheaper – than it was before, and it seems our landlord is going to abide by the decision.
But this is a rare case, according to homelessness charity Shelter – and it seems we are safe only because we rent from a social landlord.
Current laws mean it is entirely legal for any private landlord to evict tenants, Shelter says, simply for speaking up about bad conditions going unacknowledged and unrepaired, as Mrs Mike has.
The situation affects no less than nine million UK citizens – and last year, 200,000 of them were thrown out of their homes in what the charity has described as ‘revenge’ evictions.
It seems some landlords don’t like to be embarrassed when their neglect comes out into the public domain.
This means that, according to Shelter, one in 12 private renters have avoided asking for repairs in case they are evicted.
But on November 28 MPs have the chance to end revenge eviction, the charity says.
“They’ll be debating a small change to the law: to stop landlords issuing an eviction notice when the tenant has made a legitimate complaint about conditions.
“You can tell your MP to save the date – to attend Parliament on 28 November and vote to end revenge evictions.
“Normally, MPs go back home on a Thursday to do constituency work on a Friday. This time, we need them to stay in Westminster until Friday morning, so they can vote to change the lives of the thousands of renters they represent.”
Shelter has provided a handy system to help you email your MP and ask them to improve the lives of nine million UK citizens. Here it is:
In the run-up to a general election, voters will be watching their MPs very carefully. Do they really represent you? November 28 will be a test of their good intentions. If they don’t stay and vote, you’ll know what to do with them next May. But they need to know what you want them to do.
Social landlords like to talk the talk about how they put their tenants at the heart of everything they do, few by comparison walk the walk, he writes.
This stacks up financially. If say 500 tenants appeal and just 100 are successful then the costs saved in rent collection, in arrears loss recouped and increased guaranteed income for those 100 will more than pay for the costs of 500 appeals. The average bedroom tax nationally according to official figures is £774 per year and for 600 tenants is £464k. With streamlined processes each appeal has a significant economy of scale and given 20 per cent is a very low appeal success figure then landlords recoup all costs within the first year and more. Then should the Tories not be voted out next May – and that is a distinct possibility however unfortunate it may read for many in housing – and the bedroom tax remains, then those savings continue for the next five years.
Secondly, CCHA are using a tenant’s champion model to support tenants in appealing… This is real, genuine tenant involvement and I need not remind anyone in housing … how beneficial it is for a landlord to have a real partnership with their tenants.
Thirdly, the bedroom tax has created a tension between tenant and landlord… A landlord so visibly and openly supporting its tenants creates huge goodwill … amongst its tenants. Even if two per cent of CCHA tenants win at appeal you will still have 100 per cent of CCHA tenants saying and knowing that their landlord stood four-square behind them.
Fourth, that goodwill … holds very significant financial benefits … with many issues but especially the bete noire of the welfare reforms in direct payments. The direct payment pilots revealed that … the amount of rent going unpaid potentially increases tenfold and if that happens social landlords wither and die.
Coast & Country have just put the social back into social housing and will rightly reap the positive bottom line impact this plan will return as well as the plaudits for the sentiment behind it.
You can read the full article here. If you are a tenant of a social landlord, why not send it to them and ask them to do the same?
The day job: Rebecca Evans AM in the more familiar environment of the Assembly debating chamber [Image: ITV].
I wanted to share this with you because, as a constituent and a member of the Labour Party, I’m quite proud of Mid and West Wales Labour AM Rebecca Evans, who spent a week living on an amount equivalent to Jobseekers’ Allowance and discussing ‘welfare reform’ with people who deal with its effects on a day-to-day basis, to find out what it is like.
She wrote an article about her experience for Wales Onlinewhich I am taking the liberty of excerpting here. Over to you, Rebecca:
With the average household in Wales expected to lose 4.1 per cent of their income due to policy changes, support is vital for those living on the poverty line.
Although people are understandably cynical when politicians attempt to live life on the breadline, I wanted to raise awareness of the challenges facing welfare claimants and gain a better understanding of how well understood the changes are.
Living off £72.40 for one week, I did not expect to truly experience the day-to-day life of people who rely on welfare support. I was aware that when Monday came around I would step back into my normal routine. But I wanted to experience at least some of the challenges and difficult decisions facing many thousands of people every day.
The Your Benefits are Changing money advice team calculated that the average weekly expenditure for someone living off Jobseeker’s Allowance in my home area of Carmarthenshire leaves just £13.58 for food and essentials once transport costs, utilities, the TV licence, phone bills and the bedroom tax have been paid – which equates to less than £2 a day.
On this income, any trip to the supermarket becomes a stressful task as every single penny matters.
When speaking with job seekers, food bank volunteers, YBAC money advisors and housing association staff and tenants during the week, the message was the same: people are struggling and many have had their lives irrevocably damaged by welfare policies.
The Bedroom Tax has had a serious impact on thousands of people across Wales, and the shortage of suitable housing has only enhanced poverty levels. Brought in as part of the Welfare Reform Act… the policy is estimated to have affected 36,000 tenants in the social housing sector, including 3,500 disabled households. As a direct result… housing association tenants accrued £1.1 million in arrears during the first six months.
Housing associations are rightly concerned that a move to monthly payments will prove incredibly challenging for those on low incomes, leading to an increase in the number of people that turn to emergency food supplies.
A YBAC money advisor told me food poverty levels can be worse for people who live on housing estates because they may only have one shop within walking distance, and that shop may have limited discounts. Food prices have risen by 12 per cent since 2007, so it is no surprise 900,000 people across the UK have turned to food banks in the past year… but the fact that we need food banks in 21st never ceases to be shocking.
The families I met during my week on benefits rely on second hand clothes and goods, and rarely buy anything new – let alone any kind of treats. They try to put aside £20 a week, but unexpected emergencies leave them unable to save.
A YBAC money advisor told me that around a quarter of people seeking advice are actually in work, and that the majority of children in poverty live in a household where one adult works. One mum with a young baby told me that her husband is on a zero-hour contract, meaning that the family can’t plan financially with any certainty.
This smashes the myth that welfare reform is all about supporting the unemployed back to work.
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.
“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!”
Vox Political stands up in public to make its point
… and we need people to stand up for us.
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Ian Lavery launched his ambitious Bill to abolish the Bedroom Tax yesterday. [Image: Daily Mirror]
Make no mistake about it – the purpose of the legislation tabled yesterday (Wednesday) by Labour’s Ian Lavery is to discover how many Liberal Democrat MPs are redeemable and how many have been irreversibly corrupted by their current alliance with the Conservatives.
The Bill to abolish the hated Bedroom Tax is unlikely to gain Royal Assent unless Liberal Democrats who supported the imposition of the Bedroom Tax reverse their point of view. There is even the possibility that some Conservatives may now realise that they, as Mr Lavery put it, “underestimated the real consequences of walking through the Government Lobby to support the introduction”. He also said: “It is an olive branch… I would hope that my Bill would receive support from members in all parties.”
MPs voted almost unanimously for the Bill to be brought in, with 226 votes in favour and only one against – but readers of this blog will be familiar with the fact that this happened with Michael Meacher’s motion for a commission of inquiry into the impact of social security changes on poverty. The House approved; the government did nothing.
So don’t get your hopes up too high.
Mr Lavery was the only person to speak on the subject, and his words are well worth noting here.
“The full and sole intention of this Bill is to sweep away the dreaded bedroom tax,” he said.
“It seeks to restore justice for up to 660,000 people — some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens, two-thirds of whom are disabled. They have been inhumanely let down by the Government’s reforms to housing benefit in the social sector. The tax has caused heartache and devastation to thousands of residents up and down this country. It is a tax whose forced implementation has put extreme pressure on councils, housing associations and social landlords. It is a tax that has put extreme pressure on the ordinary working people who are forced to deal with those unable to move and those unable to pay.
“On the introduction of the tax, Ministers argued that the changes would encourage people to downsize to smaller properties and, in doing so, help to cut the £23 billion annual bill for housing benefit; would free up living space for overcrowded families; and would encourage people to get jobs. Significantly, it has achieved none of those objectives.
“At the same time, the Department for Work and Pensions has trumpeted the measure as ‘returning fairness to housing benefit’. The words ‘fairness’ and ‘bedroom tax’ should not be uttered in the same sentence.”
He said: “This tax is a problem in each and every constituency up and down the country; this is not simply a problem in Labour-dominated authorities. I was contacted only last week by a distraught resident from the Tory shires who is hoping that my Bill will be successful, because he, a disabled man, is living in a three-bedroom property and has just received an eviction notice for bedroom tax arrears. He is not alone. The bedroom tax sufferers in Liberal Democrat and Tory constituencies number around 250,000. Perhaps we should ask them whether they think this abominable tax has restored fairness to housing benefit.”
Mr Lavery said his Bill seeks “to restore fairness and to end the misery that the bedroom tax has caused”. He said there are hundreds, if not thousands, of “appalling” examples of suffering, mentioning (but not naming) mother-of-two Stephanie Bottrill, a woman suffering a crippling illness who committed suicide after realising that she could not pay the bedroom tax. Her family received correspondence later saying that she should have been exempt from the charge.
He also mentioned a case he said was “hard to comprehend; it really is difficult to try to get to grips with”. He said: “The family of the 1999 child of courage, who spent years battling multiple cancers, is suffering at the hands of this horrible reform. These people are not living a life of luxury in palatial properties; they are living in a place in which they feel safe and which they call home. It is time to listen. I am sure that most fair-minded individuals would agree that a bedroom is not spare when carers sleep in it, when couples use it because one of them has health problems and they cannot share a bed, or when it houses vital medical equipment, yet this indiscriminate tax deems it so.
“The reality is that yet another measure introduced by this Government is in total and utter chaos. It lies in tatters, with the victims left to pick up the pieces. As thousands suffer, there is a real risk that the bedroom tax will end up costing more than it saves. The National Housing Federation has said that the savings claimed by the Government are ‘highly questionable’, partly because those who are forced to move to the private rented sector will end up costing more in housing benefit.
“Surely, as politicians and members of the general public, we are entitled to question the motives behind the introduction of the bedroom tax. The tax does not deal with the problem of under-occupation. In fact, the Government’s costings on the yield raised from the bedroom tax explicitly assume that people will not move into smaller properties. There are simply not enough smaller properties for people to move into.
“Some 180,000 households were deemed to be under-occupying two-bedroom homes, yet only 85,000 one-bedroom homes became available during the whole of 2012. The savings projections of the Department for Work and Pensions assume that not one of the 660,000 households affected would respond to the policy by moving to a smaller home. Put simply, this is yet another example of the Government balancing the books on the backs of the disabled and the vulnerable. The tax must be scrapped now.
“Housing associations say that tens of millions of pounds are likely to be lost through the build-up of arrears. Reports this morning estimate that 144,000 people have fallen behind with their rents since the introduction of the bedroom tax and that 14 per cent have received eviction notices [20,160].
“Was that really meant to happen? Was this eviction of the poor really the plan of the Government?
“In October, research by the University of York, which was based on data by the housing associations that have tenants affected by the bedroom tax, suggested that the policy could save up to 39 per cent less than the DWP had predicted. In the past week, it has emerged that more than half of the £500 million that the Government claim will be saved by the hated tax will be spent on re-housing disabled people. These are vulnerable people who already live in properties that have been adapted for their needs and who have built up local support networks with their friends, family and neighbours. The future for them lies in communities that are unknown and foreign to them. They have been cast out like the proverbial dog in the night.”
Interrupted when he mentioned the loophole that exempted Stephanie Bottrill from paying the bedroom tax – another member said that the loophole had been closed – Mr Lavery continued: “As Ministers scramble to mop up the mistakes, another challenge to the hated tax has arisen. A judge has overturned the tax in the case of a Rochdale man who argued that one of his bedrooms was used as a dining room. The appeal was upheld on the basis that the dictionary definition of a bedroom is a room that contains a bed that is used for sleeping in. An avalanche of appeals is on its way.
“I am proud to see that, only last week, the Scottish Labour party shamed the Scottish National party into abolishing the bedroom tax. I must put it on the record that I am also proud that one of the first acts of a future Labour Government will be to end this full frontal attack on the vulnerable. However, we cannot afford to wait until the general election of 2015. I urge the supporters of this tax to think again.
“The question is this: Are they happy to see the misery and social disruption of the vulnerable and disabled? I began this speech by expressing the view that those who voted in favour of introducing this dreaded bedroom tax may have underestimated the human suffering that it would cause. That is no longer in any doubt, so I urge them all to do the honourable thing and support my Bill.”
That really is the question for members of the public to consider, along with MPs. If your MP votes against Mr Lavery’s Bill, then you will know that they are, indeed, happy to inflict misery and disruption on the vulnerable and disabled.
Do you want to live in a country where people like that are allowed to rule?
Make no mistake: This legislation is unlikely to succeed without support from people who previously helped bring the Bedroom Tax into law. As such, it might not work.
But this is also legislation that should help you decide how you will vote in May next year.
We can hope that our MPs – and you yourself, dear reader – choose wisely.
The Bill will have its second reading on February 28.
Labour’s Chris Bryant took the opportunity afforded by Mr Lavery’s motion to bring a point of order – that Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and Lord Freud had been using false statistics. He said: “Earlier this year, when asked how many people had been affected by the loophole in the bedroom tax legislation, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions… said that the number was between 3,000 and 5,000. In a written answer, the Minister of State… (Esther McVey)… said that she did not know how many had been affected. Lord Freud, a Minister in another place, said that it was an insignificant number. Today, however, he told the Work and Pensions Committee of this House that the number was 5,000.
“We have been doing their work for them, and from Freedom of Information requests to local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland, we already know, from just the third that replied, of 16,000 cases.”
Debbie Abrahams, a member of the Work and Pensions committee to whom Lord Freud provided the false figure, said committee members will be pursuing the matter.
Housing associations are finding three-bedroomed properties impossible to maintain. They cannot let them out, sell them or keep up with the costs of keeping them while they are empty.
All of this has serious implications for the Coalition government that voted the Bedroom Tax onto the statute books as part of Mr ‘Returned To Unit’ Smith’s hugely unpopular – and now proving to be unworkable – Welfare Reform Act last year.
Labour’s Rachel Reeves has overcome a shaky start in her role as shadow Work and Pensions Secretary to get right on-message with this. According to The Guardian report, she said: “This incompetent and out of touch government seems oblivious to the perverse and costly consequences of this unjust and unworkable policy.
“Not only is it hitting 660,000 vulnerable households, including 440,000 disabled people; the costs to the taxpayer are mounting as people are pushed into more expensive private rented accommodation while existing social homes are left vacant.”
Surely it makes more sense to have someone living in these properties, rather than losing them altogether? Does the government have an answer for this?
Apparently not. A government spokes-robot trotted out the same tired nonsense we’ve all come to despise: “The removal of the spare room subsidy is a necessary reform that will return fairness to housing benefit. We’ve been clear that hardworking people should not be subsidising tenants living in properties that are too large for their requirements.”
Let’s all remember that there never was a spare room subsidy for the government to remove. It never existed. Therefore its removal is not a necessary reform; it can never be vital to remove something that is fictional. Also, the removal of a fictional thing cannot restore fairness anywhere.
Hard-working people probably shouldn’t be subsidising tenants who are under-occupying, but then hard-working people were never the only ones paying for this to happen. Everybody in the UK pays taxes one way or another – even children.
And while we’re on the subject of what hard-working people subsidise, why is it bad for them to help people stay in the social housing that was originally allocated to them, but good for them to help massive corporations keep their payroll costs down by paying tax credits, housing benefit and council tax reduction costs for people earning less than the Living Wage? Why is it good for them to pay the cost of MPs’ energy bills as well as their own?
“Consent from the Homes and Communities Agency is required before any social housing provider can dispose of a site on which social housing stood and will ensure that public investment and the needs of tenants are protected,” the robot continued, but we should all know that this will be no obstacle.
Demolition of social housing means land becomes available for private developers to build new, luxury homes for the very rich.
The real cost of the Bedroom Tax: How many people are going to be thrown out of their homes after losing the arbitrary ‘spare-room subsidy’, that was invented by people like Lord David Freud, who lives in an eight-bedroomed mansion?
A report by the Fabian Society has revealed that the majority of the public wants the government to tackle unemployment, low wages and rising rents, rather than make further spending cuts in housing benefit – just as the National Housing Federation said the consequences of April’s bedroom tax (and other measures) have been worse than feared.
Rent arrears have soared, while larger houses are being left empty because people are refusing to move in and pay the arbitrary “spare room subsidy” that the Coalition government dreamed up last year as an excuse to steal housing benefit money from poor families.
Public feeling on the subject has been manipulated by the right-wing media such as the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, according to the Fabian Society report. It showed that people were initially more convinced by arguments against spending on housing benefit, which costs £23 billion per year.
But this changed when astonished poll participants learned that 93 per cent of the increase in housing benefit claims between 2010-11 came from working people.
The survey found that 63 per cent of people felt poverty was “caused by forces beyond the control of the individual”.
Meanwhile David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, told the BBC the impact of the tax had been “at least as bad as we had anticipated, in many cases even worse”.
The government’s stated plan – that withdrawing benefit if people are living in a house with a “spare” bedroom, as defined by the Department for Work and Pensions, would encourage them to move to smaller properties – was never going to work as there are 582,000 more families who would need to move than there are suitable properties for them to move into. This is because successive governments have failed to build social accommodation – including the current Coalition.
But Mr Orr said larger homes, vacated by families that had found alternative accommodation, were now going empty because nobody else could afford to move into them.
Of course, this is a disaster for housing associations – the main operators in the social rented sector since Margaret Thatcher started selling council houses in the 1980s; as their homes go empty, they lose money.
“The numbers of empty homes we’ve got to let are increasing significantly,” said Iain Sim, chief executive of Coast and Country Housing, in the BBC website article. “People are now telling us that because of bedroom tax, they can no longer afford to move into the bigger family homes, and as a consequence of that we’re getting fewer lettings and more empty houses.”
You might feel unsympathetic about this – perhaps you think housing associations are part of the problem because they haven’t built smaller accommodation either. But then, they tend to expect to provide homes for families, so this strategy is understandable.
For those who are trapped in larger houses and forced to pay the bedroom tax, rent arrears are on the increase – East Ayrshire Council says its arrears are up by 340 per cent after the tax was introduced.
And those living near newly-empty houses say they expect an increase in crime as a result.
The BBC report also mentions the case of people like Alison Huggan, whose case was mentioned by Ed Miliband in Prime Minister’s Questions in February. The government told her that parents of children in the military who are deployed on operations would be exempt from the bedroom tax – but her local council has imposed it on her because her military sons’ main residences are deemed to be their barracks in Germany and Cyprus.
She said in the report that she felt “cheated, and lied to”.
Considering the situation, the reason for this is clear: She was.
The Department for Work and Pensions is unrepentant but, compared with what is actually happening, the spiel it trotted out for the BBC piece is incredibly ill-advised. A spokesman said the measure was returning fairness to housing: “In England alone there are nearly two million households on the social housing waiting list and over a quarter of a million tenants are living in overcrowded homes”.
… and the bedroom tax means that large homes that could be used to accommodate them are going empty and housing associations are feeling the pinch. How long will it be before they start to collapse?
“This is causing real misery,” Mr Orr told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Well, it would. It seems that was always the intention.
Hugely unpopular: Thousands of people have demonstrated against the bedroom tax on the poor since it was first announced by our government of millionaires – this one was in Glasgow.
Has your council or housing association re-designated any so-called “spare bedrooms” into box rooms, studies or non-specific rooms yet, to help you avoid paying the bedroom tax?
If not, you have to ask yourself, why not?
It’s only around two months since the so-called ‘state under-occupation charge’ became the law of the land, forcing social housing tenants to lose 14 per cent of their housing benefit if they have one ‘spare’ room, and a quarter of their benefit if they have two or more rooms going ‘spare’ – according to the Coalition government’s definitions, which are, of course, unjust.
The report states that 1,120 of New Charter Housing’s 1,600 households affected by the bedroom tax – 70 per cent – are in arrears, with tenants losing up to £88 in benefits every month.
Brighton councillors have chosen not to evict tenants who fall into arrears because of the bedroom tax, although some other councils have said this is unrealistic.
And some district judges have stated they would refuse to grant possession orders, if bedroom tax cases came to their courts, citing the Human Rights Act
The Department for Work and Pensions claims that the tax is far (it would, wouldn’t it?) and will either “encourage” or “persuade” families it claims are “over-occupying” to move out, freeing space for others on the housing waiting list, which the Tory-led Coalition has allowed to become hugely over-subscribed due to its failure to invest in building new social housing stock.
The reality is that these families have nowhere to go – for precisely the same reason (lack of social housing stock). They could move into private rented accommodation, but that is more expensive, even for smaller properties, so they would, again, face going into arrears and eventually losing their homes.
A homeless family is, of course, far more expensive for a local authority, as it must then pay to put them up in temporary accommodation – usually a bed and breakfast establishment – at much greater cost then letting them live in council or housing association homes. This is just one reason why the bedroom tax is a waste of taxpayers’ money.
An e-petition has been launched to get Sheffield Council to re-classify bedrooms as non-specific rooms, and may be signed here.
And what’s to stop councils and housing associations from simply cutting their rents by the 14 or 25 per cent necessary to let people continuing paying the same amount? It’ll be cheaper in the long term!
Some might say that this behaviour is cheating – that it is, in essence, tax avoidance.
Tax avoidance is perfectly legal, of course – and the government has been dragging its heels about changing the law ever since it came into office back in 2010. Could this because they and their rich friends are among the worst tax avoiders, and their money is a major part of the £21 TRILLION currently sitting in offshore bank accounts, helping to ensure the economy stays stagnant and justify the government’s pointless austerity scheme?
Let’s have some uniformity: Rather than have a patchwork of re-classifications across the UK, turning the bedroom tax into a postcode lottery, let’s call on EVERY council to take this step.
When the government complains, the response should be that councils will reverse the step, after the government puts an end to all the income tax avoidance it has been allowing and collects all the money that we, as a nation, are owed.
After that, there won’t be a need for the bedroom tax and so that law can be repealed.
Postscript: There will be naysayers who’ll respond to this by saying it’ll never happen and it can never work. Their principle purpose in doing so is to discourage people from trying.
There is a response to this, as follows: Why not? IF YOU DON’T ASK, YOU DON’T GET!
The public voted him back in: Disgraced former Cornwall councillor Colin Brewer resigned over remarks he made about the disabled – it seems he has suggested disabled children should be treated in the same way as deformed lambs. These comments are beyond the pale but the electorate in his Cornish ward voted him back into office, knowing what he had said! What does that tell us about attitudes in Britain today?
This is a sequel. Last October, Vox Political published Living under the threat of welfare reform, a personal account of the hardships suffered by just one disabled benefit claimant as a result of the Coalition government’s crude and unnecessary attacks on people who are unable to work and must rely on social security. The author expressed fears about her future, after the main changes to benefits that were expected in April this year. Vox Political contacted her earlier this week to find out how she was coping, and this article is the result. Please welcome Sasson Hann:
Definition of ‘welfare’: the good fortune, health, happiness prosperity, etc., of a person, group, or organisation; well-being: to look after a child’s welfare; the physical or moral welfare of society.
When I first read ‘21st Century Welfare‘ published in the summer of 2010, 10 months after I was forced to give up my professional career, I realised that those of us reliant on benefits were facing an almost insurmountable challenge to their well-being: a challenge like nothing before in recent history.
At the time, I spoke to friends about the possible consequences of welfare reform, then subsequently became distraught and angry when hearing that people had died after having benefits reduced or removed; sadly, now a weekly occurrence. So when Vox Political asked me to write a guest blog – an update of my personal circumstances – in all honesty, I felt that my situation was nothing in comparison: it’s challenging nonetheless.
The collective mindset towards people who claim benefits has definitely changed since 2010. ‘Hate crimes’ are in the news; hateful comments under articles in online newspapers. In fact a new term coined by researchers for this change – particularly toward benefit claimants – is ‘infrahumanism‘; people viewed as ‘less’ than human. Colin Brewer, the disgraced former Cornish councillor who was forced to resign after making derogatory comments about disabled children is an extreme example of this. Only yesterday he was reported as saying that society should treat disabled babies like farmers treat deformed lambs: the police are investigating. What concerns me more is why a community recently voted him back into office: what does this indicate?
Attitudes have certainly altered towards me, though not as drastically. Strangers think that they have the right to walk up to me and demand: ”What’s wrong with your legs then?’ People think it’s fair that the government should force me from my home of 27 years. Others cast doubt on my integrity, not believing that I’m too disabled to work. Some repeatedly ask me to explain why I receive certain levels of care and benefits, even why I should need a wheelchair outside: not indicative of ‘infrahumanism’ exactly, but definitely insensitive. Of all the pressures a disabled person faces, frequently having to justify your disability is one of the hardest challenges.
As for financial matters, my income has dropped drastically since 2010. I receive DLA and I’m in the ESA support group; a half decent income. That was until 2 years ago when my local authority started charging me for my care – some £3,000 per annum – despite me having no assets or savings. Nevertheless, I adjusted, and figured that unlike some, at least I had a ‘personalised’ care package.
Then I had a care reassessment last year. The assessor informed me that most of what my carers do was ‘no longer funded’. Basically, the new packages focus on eating and keeping a person clean: we do more for pets. I fought and gained a hollow victory: whilst I retained 75 per cent of the hours, social services dictated their use; I would also have to pay extra for private care. Ironically, in 2011, the government published a document about personalisation, but implemented the exact opposite. The reassessment commences again in July – another six months of stress compounded by the additional yearly financial and disability reassessments. I tell myself this is the ‘new normal’: I must rise to these challenges; not so easy when chronic illness dominates your life.
Beginning in April, I had the extra cost of a £100 per month bedroom tax (my housing association has nowhere for me to move to); along with the extra care costs, this totals £5,900 per annum. As a result, I can rarely socialise now, and it will take much longer to save to replace things. I reasoned that at least I have a home, enough money to pay bills, buy food, and the occasional treat. It’s unnerving though not having a financial buffer if my benefits are removed: a sobering thought. I have a good network of family and friends to help me, but ultimately, like others, they can’t afford to keep me financially long term; is it any wonder that some feel they cannot carry on, that there is no way out?
Multiply what I’ve lost by thousands of households in my area and country-wide, and imagine just how much money is being taken out of the local/national economy; how damaging this will become. In Wales for instance, due to historical poverty, the cuts to benefits have affected one in three people, such that the Welsh Assembly have recently appointed the first ‘Poverty Minister‘, claiming that austerity will cause hardship not known since the 1930’s.
When the Conservatives were last in power in the 80s, they scrapped housing benefit for the low-paid, water was privatised, and the Poll Tax was introduced. It had a dire affect on my family: we couldn’t afford heating so we suffered painful chilblains and contracted continual chest infections; without heating, the flat developed inch thick black mould on the walls; we couldn’t dry our clothes properly so they smelled of mildew; we were lucky if we could afford one meal a day; after a number of years our clothes and shoes wore out; we regularly had to go without soap, washing powder, loo roll, personal hygiene products and the like. It was a dark and miserable time for us.
I cannot begin to describe what it is like to have your dignity stripped away like this; I never thought I would see such hard times again: I was sadly mistaken. The current cuts to services and benefits go much further than this, leaving people with no safety net and no access to legal services. Incredulously, it isn’t even saving the government much money.
The government say we can’t afford the welfare bill, but regular readers of Vox Political will know there is in fact plenty of money sloshing around. The moving of public money into private hands, and also into the pockets of MPs and Lords:money that should be used to stimulate growth and improve the lives of all. If the post war government had enough money to set up the NHS, the welfare state, and embark on a massive building programme – when they were in a far worse financial situation – then our government can do the same. Yet laughably, MPs were this week lambasting the BBC because of the ‘excessive’ £24,000 average payment made to staff who moved to Salford, when MPs claim far more in expenses every year. On the other end of the scale, the ‘stock’– as the government like to call us – who suffer and die for the sake of a few pounds a week are collateral damage; acceptable losses like deformed lambs. And if those who are left cannot afford a home and food, so what? A nightmarish ‘survival of the fittest’ scenario.
I can’t do much to oppose this; I’m too ill to attend protests. Occasionally I help people claim benefits and appeal, apply to charities, look up information and advise them, write and print a CV, and I’ve even negotiated with bailiffs! I tell everyone I meet about how welfare reform is affecting people, and I write as much as I’m able. This is all some of us can do; facing each challenge and fighting each battle, one by one. Notwithstanding this human catastrophe, I remain sanguine: I love life and I will not despair.
Martin Luther King Jr said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge.” The government’s answer to that ‘challenge’ is to make the poorest destitute, the opposite to the definition of ‘welfare’: in this we perceive their ‘measure’. Consequently, we ‘infrahumans’ are facing a challenge so great that it will be remembered in history: are you up to this challenge? For all of the people who aren’t; for the many families who have lost loved ones: those of us left have to be.
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