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.
Prove who you are: Theresa May and David Cameron check the credentials of two police officers, to ensure they aren’t illegal immigrants. No, not really – but don’t be surprised if police checkpoints start appearing everywhere with people in peaked caps demanding your papers, just like in Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 40s!
Experts say this will require a system of identity checks for everyone, requiring British citizens or those with permanent residence to prove that their own presence in the UK is legal.
In a move that seems designed to appease the Daily Mail and its readers, she wants banks to check the immigration status of people applying to open accounts, and private landlords to make similar checks on their tenants.
You will notice that this means the government wants other people to carry out its responsibilities.
The Home Secretary also intends to “streamline” the appeals process in immigration cases. Under the current government, this word generally means “make less fair”, and this is borne out by a passage stating the measures aim to “deport foreign criminals first and hear their appeal later”. In such circumstances, how can we be sure they really are criminals?
There will also be a requirement for temporary migrants like overseas students to contribute towards NHS costs. This is not necessarily a bad thing – although it would be unfair if this money found its way to the private companies now infesting the NHS, rather than the public service itself.
But there will be no tightening of border controls, no “streamline” for bureaucratic deportation procedures, and no measures to tackle forced labour or lack of enforcement of the minimum wage.
Immigration Minister Mark Harper was quoted on the BBC website, saying: “The law must be on the side of people who respect it, not those who break it.” Fine words from the man who was unable to say whether flak-jacketed immigration officers had discriminated against people of ethnic minorities when they carried out their spot-checks at railway stations in August.
The BBC article also quotes Don Flynn of Migrants’ Rights Network, who reiterated that evidence contradicts the view that immigrants are attracted to the UK by benefits and free services; and Dr Richard Vautrey of the BMA, who said a system is already in place for hospitals to recover the cost of treating patients who are not eligible for NHS care – and introducing a system for GPs could be a “bureaucratic nightmare”.
The Guardian tells us the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) has warned Theresa May her plan, for millions of private landlords to face “proportionate” fines of up to £3,000 if they fail to conduct checks on the immigration status of new tenants and other adults living in their properties, is unworkable.
“British citizens, European economic area nationals and third country nationals alike would be required to produce identity documents at many turns in a scheme that would be intrusive, bullying, ineffective and expensive and likely racist and unlawful to boot,” said the ILPA response.
And the Residential Landlords Association said landlords would need to know about a potential 404 types of European ID documents, in order to operate the scheme – saying some landlords would refuse to house migrants, for fear of falling foul of the new rules – and isn’t that the point of the exercise?
The Guardian quotes Habib Rahman, of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, who predicted that “these measures will divide society, creating a two-tier Britain, a return to the days of ‘No dogs, no blacks, no Irish’ and of ill people with no access to healthcare walking the streets of Britain. This bill is a travesty and must be stopped,” he said.
BBC home affairs correspondent Dominic Casciani tells us the ultimate goal is increased public confidence in the system.
But if we are doing all the work ourselves, why should this add up to increased confidence in the government?
The Tory Faraway Tree: By the power of very bad image editing, David Cameron, Iain (RTU) Smith and Grant Shapps have replaced the protagonists. Careful, Mr Shapps – your panties are showing! How unusual that they aren’t on fire!
Do any British readers remember what it was like to live in a country where the government respected the law, and accepted facts without making up silly little stories about them?
What an amazing place that must have been.
Sadly, we’re all trapped in Tory-Coalition purgatory for the next 19 months at least, and have to endure the relentless procession of nonsense associated with it.
Yesterday (Friday) we were provided with two glowing examples.
Firstly, the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, was treated with extreme prejudice by the Tories and their poodles in the right-wing press, after she announced she would be filing an unfavourable report after investigating the effect of the bedroom tax on the British people.
Tory chairman and ‘Michael Green’ impersonator Grant Shapps then wrote to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to complain about the Special Rapporteur’s behaviour. A reply has now arrived and, rather than give it the due consideration it deserves, Shapps seems to have handed it straight to The Sun.
That newspaper reported that the UN had “slapped down” Ms Rolnik for her behaviour. Shapps himself told the paper: “People expect the UN to be neutral, yet on this occasion a former Workers Party politician came with a clear agenda” – a bizarre claim, when the letter itself creates a completely different view.
It states: “Ms Raquel Rolnik is one of 72 independent experts appointed by the United nations Human Rights Council – the lead UN body responsible for human rights – on the basis of their expertise and independence, and following a competitive selection process. As in the case of all mandate holders, Ms Rolnik serves in an independent capacity and in accordance with a Code of Conduct adopted by the Council. She is not a staff member of the United Nations, is neither accountable to nor appointed by the Secretary-General, and does not receive any compensation beyond a daily allowance when engaged in mandated activities.
“Among other activities, Special Rapporteurs are mandated to undertake country visits to assess human rights enjoyment on the ground. The United Kingdom is one of 94 Member States which has extended a standing invitation to mandate holders thus indicating that it is open to the visit of any Special Rapporteur. Country visits are governed by rules and procedures set out in the Code of Conduct referred to above and the Manual of Operations adopted by Special Procedures. Ms Rolnik’s visit was planned and organised over many months in consultation with the Government in compliance with these rules and procedures.
“As in the case of all country visits, Ms Rolnik’s visit concluded with a press conference and a press statement, provided to the Government in advance, which indicate preliminary findings and recommendations. The final report on the visit will be submitted to the Council’s twenty-fifth session which will take place in March 2014 in Geneva.”
Reading between the lines, we can piece together the gist of Shapps’ correspondence – and it’s clear that he made a lot of mistaken assumptions. Firstly, it seems likely he wrote to Ban Ki-moon demanding that Ms Rolnik be fired from her position, in the belief that she is a hired hand and that the Secretary-General can hire and fire her as he pleases, the way Tories would like to run the UK. She’s just ‘the help’ in Shapps’s eyes. He must also have made a claim about her remuneration – possibly that she receives too much money from the UN or that, as a Socialist, she must be pulling pennies out of the public purse like there’s no tomorrow. Both claims get short shrift.
Next, Shapps is likely to have reasserted his claim that “It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with government ministers, to fail to meet with the department responsible.” The UN response is the same as Ms Rolnik’s own statement in her preliminary report.
And the final paragraph seems to be a response to his further claim that it was out of line “to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring.”
Taken at face value, then, this is a letter that entirely supports Ms Rolnik, both in her position within the United Nations and the way she carried out her role in the UK.
But that wasn’t enough for the United Nations, whose higher echelons clearly wanted to ensure there can be no doubt about the way this – let’s face it – international incident is being viewed.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Huffington Post: “The Sun‘s take on it – that ‘The United Nations has slapped down’ Ms Rolnik – is pure spin. There was no such intention whatsoever.
“In the face of a blizzard of misinformation and personal abuse of Ms Rolnik, published in one or two other UK tabloids during and immediately after her visit, the letter to Mr Shapps simply corrects the factual errors that have been asserted about her status and her role as an independent UN expert, or ‘Special Rapporteur.’
“Ms Rolnik’s visit was planned and organized over many months in consultation with the UK Government in compliance with these rules and procedures.
“As in the case of all country visits, Ms Rolnik’s visit concluded with a press conference and a press statement, provided to the Government in advance, which indicate preliminary findings and recommendations.
“The final report on the visit will be submitted to the Human Rights Council’s session next March in Geneva.
“In short, there was nothing unusual or untoward about Ms Rolnik’s visit – apart from some of the reactions to it.”
No doubt Mr Colville will have drawn his own conclusions about the current UK administration from that Sun article – conclusions that, one hopes, will be included in that final report next March.
The New Statesman reckons the Tories have an “antipathy for evidence” and presents a theory regarding why this should be so: “If all the facts are against you, your best tactic is to make stuff up and hope you can shout the other person down (changing your mind obviously not being an option).”
Alternatively, we return to V for Vendetta territory. The graphic novel’s writer, Alan Moore, referenced Enid Blyton’s novel The Magic Faraway Tree several times. For an anarchist like the story’s protagonist, the Land of Do-as-you-please would be very attractive – but here in reality, it seems the Tories think they’ve taken the ladder to that land and can do and say whatever they want – and facts don’t matter.
For more evidence of this, let’s turn to our second example: The Department for Work and Pensions and its reaction to a benefit tribunal in Scotland, who ruled against Fife Council, saying that a room of less than 70 square feet should not be considered a bedroom for the purpose of the bedroom tax. This led the council to call the tax “unworkable” and demand its reversal. Since then, a disabled gentleman has won a ruling against Westminster Council, after he claimed that a room used to store equipment that helps him manage his disability was not, and never has been, a bedroom.
In his decision notice, the judge wrote: “The term ‘bedroom’ is nowhere defined [in the relevant regulations]. I apply the ordinary English meaning. The room in question cannot be so defined.”
Perhaps we are to assume Iain Returned-To-Unit Smith believes that, having achieved one retrospective law via the normal legislative route, he can now ordain such rulings willy-nilly. He’s wrong.
His Department’s demand that “when applying the size criteria and determining whether or not a property is under-occupied, the only consideration should be the composition of the household and the number of bedrooms as designated by the landlord, but not by measuring rooms” is worthless.
If he wanted that to be the case, he should have written it into his silly little Bedroom Tax Bill (or whatever it was called).
For the moment, Shapps and RTU can get away with their bizarre pronouncements – although they can’t expect to be believed – because the Conservatives are in office.
But they won’t be in office forever.
In the meantime, let’s all keep supporting the opposers, wherever they turn up. If you are being subjected to the Bedroom Tax – appeal. And write to the UN, supporting Ms Rolnik and her findings against the tax.
You have a chance to prove that the Land of Do-as-you-please is a very small place.
And, as in the book, the return to normality involves a very, very long descent.
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