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The Bedroom Tax – fair or unfair?

Today’s the day the British Welfare State started to be dismantled in earnest by the Conservative government, aided by their coalition partners the Liberal Democrats – the party that those of us who voted for them did so knowing they would go into coalition with the Tories if they got the largest number of seats in the election, but expecting that if they did they’d reign in the worst of the Tory nastiness rather encourage it.

One of the changes introduced is the Bedroom Tax, or the Single Room Subsidy as it’s officially known, meaning people who live in social housing receiving housing benefit will get a proportion of that benefit cut according to how many extra rooms their accomodation has in relation to the number of people living there. So a single person living in a two or three bedroom house will get a reduction of their benefit, or be expected to move to accomodation with just one bedroom.

The argument the government makes is that there are too many people living in social housing which is bigger than they need, whilst at the same time there are also too many people living in overcrowded properties, with children sharing bedrooms etc. I can actually sympathise with this as an argument, from personal experience – when the two of us were tenants of Bournville Village Trust living in a single room flat it took us much work to get them to accept that two people living in a bedsit should be considered overcrowding, and then when they did finally accept that the only place they offered us – again after a long wait – was a shithole in Weoley Castle, and although it was a one bedroom flat rather than a single room flat, it was still on the small size; so small, in fact, that after just a year of living there we decided to move to living on a boat (or rather, a pair of boats).

So the stated aim of the tax has reasonable foundations – to encourage people living in places with extra rooms to enter into mutual exchanges with tenants who need more space.

What makes it unfair is the blunt instrument way it is applied, and the suddenness of its introduction. Whilst some last minute concessions were introduced, for the most part individual circumstances are not taken into account – for example, fathers who are separated from their children’s mothers who need to keep a spare room or two for when their children visit will be subject to the cut in their benefit. And whilst it has been trailed for the last few months, there has barely been any time for people to prepare for it and make arrangements to move (because even mutual exchanges don’t appear at the drop of a hat) – plus there appears to be no assistance with the costs of moving itself, which doesn’t come cheap even when one does it on the cheap.

If this was genuinely being introduced to improve fairness in the system, it would be better constructed to take individual circumstances into account. And rather than being introduced quickly and universally, it would have been introduced in phases – first of all it would have applied only to new tenants, and then existing tenants would have been given one or two years to find somewhere else to live. It wouldn’t have been coupled with other benefit cuts (such as the reduction in council tax benefit), and, of course, it also wouldn’t have been coupled with the reduction in funding for councils and other agencies resulting in a reduction in the amount of staff available to actually help and advise people who are affected.

But then very little this government has done has been anything about fairness.

This arrest has been brought to you courtesy of Persil

police

It has come out in today’s Guardian that our local police force is putting out to private sector tender a significant number of its core services – an effective privatisation of the police. “Private companies could take responsibility for investigating crimes, patrolling neighbourhoods and even detaining suspects under a radical privatisation plan being put forward by two [...]

Why I refuse to participate in Remembrance Day

White poppies from the Peace Pledge Union

There’s been a hot new craze gradually sweeping over our nation over the last few years – the craze of poppy fascism. The craze started when people suddenly started to notice that everybody on television started wearing a poppy almost on the same date, and then the controversies surrounding the odd person on telly who [...]

Guns for children

James Purdey shotgun, by eschulz

It appears that gun-totting children has reached epidemic proportions in the UK: “Thirteen children under the age of 10 have been issued with shotgun certificates in the UK over the past three years. The youngest child to be granted a licence was seven years old, figures obtained by BBC News show. Last year, the Association [...]

Debate on Political Reform, 4 February, 2011, Birmingham

yes

I went to a public debate on political reform organised by the Yes to Fairer Votes campaign, and took detailed notes of what was said. On the panel were: Dominic Fisher, Chair of the Ladywood constituency Conservative Party, Councillor Paul Tilsley, LibDem Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council, Jonathan Bartley, Co-Director of the liberal Christian [...]

Political irregular verbs

House of Lords

We all know about irregular verbs from when we learned French at school – I debate sensibly, you argue pointless, he/she rants aggressively. In politics now we have We scrutinise legislation carefully, They filibuster; We protect the Primacy of the Commons, They Ride Roughshod Over The Constitution. So whilst Labour peers have spent the last [...]

Unacceptable train overcrowding to get worse, MPs say

Overcrowding on trains in England and Wales will get substantially worse over the next four years despite rises in ticket prices, a report by MPs says. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the Department for Transport’s own plans suggested targets for increasing passenger places would be missed. It’s good that MPs have finally realised there’s a [...]

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