Tuesday, 21 May 2013
The ‘Bedroom Tax’ – Cameron’s Poll Tax?
Here's the full article I wrote on the Bedroom Tax for Your Thurrock, complete with proper formatting.
“WE’RE ALL in this together.” – David Cameron
I would disagree with the Tory mantra, dragged out at every opportunity, and coined by arch-villain David Cameron, as the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ so clearly demonstrates. I am, however, getting a little ahead of myself as first we need to look at the specific facts about what the ‘bedroom tax’ is and who it will affect but as we look at the facts, I would like you to keep in mind that overly-used mantra.
The Facts About The ‘Bedroom Tax’
The truth is that it is not a tax at all but a surcharge on any ‘spare’ bedrooms you may happen to have.
It is not a tax because it does not apply to everyone.
The people affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ are those who claim Housing Benefit and who live in social housing and housing association accommodation and are of working age.
Typical claimants receive between £50 and £100 a week in Housing Benefit.
It does not affect those who rent private sector tenants.
From April 1st, local authorities will look at families to assess their ‘living space’ needs based on the Government’s ‘size criteria’.
Government estimates are that 660,000 households will suffer a cut in their benefit. According to the Government’s own Impact Assessment almost two thirds of the tenants affected are from households that contain someone who is disabled, a total of 420,000 households.
The calculation around how much the cut in Housing Benefit will be – for one ‘spare’ room, the amount of rent eligible for assistance will be reduced by 15%; for two ‘spare’ rooms, the amount is reduced by 25%.
The average reduction in benefit will be £14 a week for council tenants and £16 a week for housing association tenants. DWP figures project that about 7 per cent of Housing Benefit claimants will face a cut of £31.
The ‘living space’ criteria is one room per adult or couple, same gender children under 16 will have to share a room and under-10s will have to share a room regardless of gender. Disabled tenants will be allowed a ‘spare’ room for full-time carers.
The number of bedrooms is not determined by the Government but by the tenancy agreement drawn up by landlords.
Parents who are separated may not keep a ‘spare’ room for a child to visit and foster children are not classed as permanent members of a family.
Families with students who live away from home will be exempted from the ‘bedroom tax’ as long as the student stays at home for at least two weeks a year. However, when Universal Credit is introduced, the student must live at home for six months in the year to avoid the benefit cut.
If claimants have a paying lodger, they will be allowed to keep the first £20 of rent income but then the benefit they receive will be cut pound-for-pound. However, upon the introduction of Universal Credit, Housing Benefit will be cut entirely but the rental income can be kept (with the first £4,250 being exempt from Income Tax).
From April, only one person in a couple needs to be of pensionable age to gain an exemption from ‘bedroom tax’; however, under Universal Credit, both will need to be of pensionable age or one must be in receipt of pension credit to gain the maximum benefit.
If tenants do not wish to lose benefit, the Government is expecting them to move to smaller accommodation.
What People Are Saying About The ‘Bedroom Tax’ And Its Potential Effects
Iain Duncan Smith insisted that there was no ‘bedroom tax’ on The Andrew Marr Show, explaining that: "This is about under-occupancy, let's be very clear about what this is about. We have in social sector housing, a very large number of people in houses where they have many more bedrooms than they actually need.
"Something like a million spare bedrooms are sitting around. Meanwhile, there are a quarter of a million people in overcrowding and a million people on the waiting list trying to get into housing."
"What we're saying to them is you can stay where you are, but if you do you'll have to pay more.”
David Cameron stated during Prime Minister’s Questions on Feb 6th that: “Let me make clear this in not a tax - this is a benefit... All the time Labour was in Government if you were in a private sector rented home and in receipt of housing benefit you did not get any benefit for empty rooms.
So it is only fair we treat people in social housing the same way. And, if anyone is away from home then obviously their earnings aren't counted so therefore the benefits of that person are likely to go up.”
David Cameron also objected to the term ‘bedroom tax’ arguing that: “It’s not a tax unless you’ve earned the money first.”
Ed Miliband said: "The policy isn't just unfair, it's not going to work either. In Hull for example 4,700 people are going to be hit by the bedroom tax, and there are just 73 council properties for them to move to.”
Stephen Timms said that the plans for the ‘bedroom tax’ were “perverse” and "not been thought out properly" adding: "Take the example of Hull, which as Grant Shapps knows is not untypical.
"4,700 tenants are going to be affected by this penalty, but they've only got 73 one- or two-bed properties available. It is impossible for people to move within the social sector to smaller accommodation.
"We've argued for the last two years that it would be fine to apply the penalty where people have refused to take smaller accommodation, but to penalise people when there's nowhere smaller to move to is perverse."
Grant 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."
(You can read the full story at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21490546.)
Liam Byrne, shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "David Cameron promised to stand up for parents, but his bedroom tax is a £100m tax bombshell for single mums and dads.
"The bedroom tax has now been exposed as a chaotic disaster, but it's not too late for the prime minister to do the decent thing, admit he has got this wrong and think again."
(You can read the full story at http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/04/benefits-housing.)
In response to a letter sent out by One Vision Housing, a housing association in Liverpool, blogger SPeye (Joe Halewood), wrote: "The letter is appalling and it is offensive and it is just plain wrong.
"The letter starts with a very legalistic heading 'Under Occupation Disclaimer' and the word ‘disclaimer’ will be perceived as legalese and a legal requirement by the tenant and something they have to sign, which they do not. But of course OVH don’t say this!
"The legal position has always been that a tenant is responsible for ensuring the rent is paid and in full – even if HB pay the rent in full and direct to the landlord as they sign the tenancy agreement to that effect! So, firstly there is no legal need for this letter yet OVH gives to the tenant the precise opposite perception that the letter is legally needed and tenants need and have to sign it."
(You can read the full story at http://www.24dash.com/news/housing/2013-03-08-One-Visions-bedroom-tax-warning-letter-slammed-by-critics.)
Although there is to be a discretionary fund to help foster carers, not all areas will be covered by the scheme as Vicky Swain of The Foster Network explains: "We've had foster carers who have received letters from their housing departments telling them they will not have access to discretionary fund, and worse still, that they may have to downsize."
"The money available is discretionary, it is up to individual local authorities how they spent that money and on whom. Foster carers are already being told, in some parts of the country, they will not have access to this money, and they will be using it for other, more needy groups of people."
Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers, said: "Children who come into care need their own bedroom, equally, some fosters carers need a spare bedroom with nobody in it, as some children come into care in emergency situations, we need to find homes for them at the last minute."
Tashii from Norfolk tweeted: “@itvnews I've been told I will have to pay council tax also so somehow have to magic £80+ a month! I was PUT in this house WITHOUT CHOICE!”
Heather Simpson tweeted: “@itvnews i have find a extra £100 a month im disabled put in my house only adapted place without no choice might go on rent strike”
@AmyJoanna tweeted: “Disgusted at govs new bedroom tax after seeing how it will effect disabled people with low income. @itvnews story just made me cry :-(“
@WythenshaweBi tweeted: “@itvnews b/room tax targets most vulnerable in society unfairly. Housing lists will go crazy - several house moves necessary in family life”
A family are being denied a room for their severely disabled daughter. Dianne and Tony stated that the changes will mean they will be put under "unbearable" financial pressure.
(You can read the full story at http://www.itv.com/news/story/2013-02-01/bedroom-tax-victims-speak-out/.)
Mencap, in an open letter stated that: “This policy will have a hugely detrimental impact on disabled people and their families. For example, family carers who care full-time, or who juggle work and care, may need to sleep in another room just to get a few hours of uninterrupted sleep."
Lisa Munden, a disabled woman, wrote an open letter to Iain Duncan Smith stating that: “Due to the nature of my disability I am in constant pain and my legs have a lot of spasms. In order for my partner to get some quality sleep in between getting up to help me and so he can care for me the next day, he sleeps in our second bedroom.
The change could end up costing the local authorities a lot more money than the rent on a second bedroom if they have to provide the overnight care that the people like my partner do out of love.
We would also like to invite you to come and meet us to see first-hand how the 'bedroom tax' is going to affect us and many others in similar situations.”
(You can read the full letter at http://www.papworth.org.uk/news-detail.php?aid=385.)
Grand Union Housing Group conducted a case study on Ann, a disabled resident of South Northants Homes. She stated that, although she may be awarded a discretionary fund pay-out: “I have been told this might be a small payment which won’t go anywhere. But I consider myself luckier than some. What about disabled people who are living in three or four bedroomed family homes? They might have lived there for years.
“I would love to work. I worked before in various jobs, but always sitting. I worked for the Nationwide for five years. Then I moved to a smaller place. But my health suffered. Then I got made redundant. I really hope to be able to work again. It’s just really hard with my disabilities.”
(You can read the full story at http://old.24dash.com/news/housing/2013-02-28-Case-study-considers-effect-of-bedroom-tax-on-disabled-tenants.)
Channel 4’s FactCheck Blog put straight some errors in David Cameron’s statements about the ‘bedroom tax’, or ‘spare room subsidy’ as he likes to call it, during Prime Minister’s Questions on March 6th. Cameron stated that people with severely disabled children were exempt from the penalty. FactCheck disagreed: “No. There’s no automatic exemption for disabled children.
“In fact, not only is the government not making this blanket exception, it is actually fighting a legal challenge on the point from 10 disabled children who argue that the rule changes amount to discrimination.
“Under the new rules, the full benefit will only be paid if under-16s of the same sex share a room, and under-10s will have to share regardless of gender. And the expectation is that this will apply to disabled youngsters too.”
FactCheck mentioned the discretionary fund being set up by the Government but concluded that: “So there is some money available and councils are expected to use some discretion, perhaps mitigating the impact for the most severely disabled, but there is no “exemption” for disabled children overall.”
Cameron stated that people who needed round-the-clock care are exempt as well. FactCheck again disagreed, stating that: “DWP has said that an extra bedroom is allowed if a disabled person has a live-in or overnight carer. But that doesn’t apply if the carer is also your partner or spouse.
“If you are disabled and your wife is also your full-time carer, but needs to sleep in a different room, you will still face a benefit cut.
“Again, you could be eligible for money from the hardship fund, but that doesn’t amount to an exemption to everyone who needs 24-hour care.”
(You can read the full FactCheck blog at http://blogs.channel4.com/factcheck/factcheck-cameron-slips-up-on-bedroom-tax/12962.)
Dr Éoin Clarke (PhD) believes that the ‘bedroom tax’ will cost the Coalition seats at the next election. 19 Government held seats, including Thurrock, have sitting MPs with smaller majorities than the number of households in their constituency affected by the Bedroom Tax. He continued: “In 2010, 6 of these MPs, above, would not have won their seats were it not for voters who are now victims of the Bedroom Tax. None of them would have won their seats were it not for the votes of Social Renters in general. This data means that even if we exclude the political fall out of Bedroom Tax protests, that up to 19 of the MPs above are on the brink of losing their seats in 2015, even if we only consider social renters alone. When we consider just victims of the Bedroom Tax, then 6 MPs are on the verge of losing their seats specifically due to this policy. The truth is that the real picture is much worse than that again, especially when we factor in the wider politics of the Bedroom Tax.”
(You can read the full blog here: http://www.greenbenchesuk.com/2013/03/19-government-mps-have-smaller.html.)
Legal Challenges Against The ‘Bedroom Tax’
The spirit of defiance has not completely been knocked out of the people most at risk of the ‘bedroom tax’ as a disabled couple have taken the Government to the High Court over what they say is a discriminatory policy. You can view the news report here: http://www.itv.com/news/story/2013-03-01/bedroom-tax-legal-challenge-uk-government/.
Ten disabled and vulnerable children have also lodged legal challenges in the High Court, claiming that the new legislation does not take into account the needs of vulnerable children and are therefore discriminatory. The children who are taking the legal action have all been assessed as needing their own rooms but under the new rules are going to be forced to share with their siblings.
Rebekah Carrier, the solicitor acting on behalf of the children stated that: “These changes will have a catastrophic impact on our clients and many thousands more vulnerable children and adults. Experts have assessed my clients as being unable to share a room with their siblings.
“The government is advising these families to consider taking in a lodger to make up the financial shortfall, but this is a ludicrous suggestion. None of these families have a spare room available because the rooms are already being used It is also very surprising that the government is advising families with disabled children, and children suffering trauma following serious abuse, to invite a stranger into their home.”
(You can read the full story at http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/tenancies/children-launch-legal-challenge-to-%e2%80%98bedroom-tax%e2%80%99/6525992.article.)
Now It Is My Turn…
I deliberately started out this article with the famous Cameron quote because it demonstrates just how deluded our infamous leader truly is. If we really are in it together, why are most of his Cabinet’s policies biased against the poor, the sick and disabled?
As has been ably shown by the comments above, Cameron shows complete disdain for the people unfortunate enough to have to live in social housing and who have to claim Housing Benefit. Saying that the changes are “not a tax unless you’ve earned the money first” are completely uncalled for considering that many people on Housing Benefit are low-paid workers – low-paid, I may add, because the UK may have a Minimum Wage but it is not, especially in the current climate where the cost of living outstrips the increase in wages, a Living Wage.
And for those who are not in work, the ‘bedroom tax’ is basically saying that the poor have no right to a bit of extra living space. I have to mention here that most people on benefits are claiming them quite legally and necessarily with less than 1% of claims being fraudulent according to the DWP’s own statistics.
Cameron and his cronies would trot out the argument that renters in the private sector have had restrictions imposed upon the amount of living space they are allowed for years. I would counter that argument with the argument that rents in the private sector are much higher than in social housing run by the council or housing associations and are therefore a greater drain on the public purse than the social housing/housing association tenants who are being targeted by this appalling policy.
I have no doubt that there is a lack of social housing but part of that problem can be traced to Thatcher’s Tory Government and their selling off of huge swathes of social housing. It was a great idea as it allowed people to become homeowners, however, it also meant that the housing market boomed and prices sky-rocketed, meaning that first-time buyers coming along afterwards would find it harder to get onto the property ladder. Neither Thatcher’s nor any other successive administration took this into account and failed spectacularly in replacing the sold off properties with new social housing. I would add at this point that most people in social housing would rather not be there but have no choice.
I am not personally going to suffer at the hands of this ‘bedroom tax’ as I was turned down for Housing Benefit despite being within the threshold for eligibility. If I were to be a victim, I would be a victim of circumstance because my wife and I were assigned a two-bedroom flat as we were a couple and that was the proper assignment for couples. How many others are in a position that they were assigned a property that they will now find themselves penalised for?
What really annoys me is that the Government seems to think that they are doing nothing wrong with this legislation and that they are not targeting the poor and most disadvantaged. However, how can they say that with a straight face when the ‘bedroom tax’ is not being applied equally to people rattling around huge homes that they may own but take up much more space than they are allowing the poor and disadvantaged?
If we are truly “all in this together”, everyone should be taxed on the amount of spare rooms they have. Council Tax should be amended to add a surcharge for every spare room a person has in their property.
The ‘bedroom tax’ has been dubbed ‘Cameron’s Poll Tax’ but that is not the case because the ‘bedroom tax’ does not apply to everyone. However, with the amount of ill-feeling and protests it is generating, perhaps it will have the same effect on Cameron as the Poll Tax did on Thatcher. The Poll Tax buried her and, with any luck, the ‘bedroom tax’ will bury Cameron.