We British have an innate sense of fairness, allegedly; fair play is what made Britain great …and all those other pithy sayings we have which, in general terms, the great British public believe. The British people rarely rise up and protest against the government and ordinarily we place a huge amount of trust in government to do what is right for the country irrespective of which political party is in government.
The bedroom tax needs to be seen in this context.
The government have told us the bedroom tax is ‘fair’ and at least at first and because it was not attracting media attention, this was believed. Why should anyone, let alone a benefit scrounger, have a spare bedroom and especially in the context of austerity and the ‘we-are-all-in-this-together’ invocation of the ‘wartime spirit’ that politicians like to refer to whenever it suits their purposes.
Yet the bedroom tax persists in being high up the media priority list and isn’t going away despite the government, in whom the fair British voter ordinarily would trust if they say something is fair. Day after day new legal challenges emerge. Day after day we see and read stories of how this adversely affects the disabled (a deserving group) and real-life stories of the ‘poverty’ this will place the ‘disabled’ in. It just doesn’t seem right to the British public. Yes, I know we all have to tighten our belts, but something about this is just wrong, they are increasingly saying in every pub, on every train and bus and in every living room, it doesn’t seem fair at all, and the great British public is in a quandary. The government says its fair, which we usually believe, but something about this isn’t quite right and it is unfair.
It is very rare that one policy attracts so much attention and continued attention at that, the bedroom tax is on the national TV news daily and refuses to go away. It’s a stubborn mule and all the more surprising is that it only affects social housing (council and housing association tenants) and aren’t they all scroungers off the state in an area or locality I wouldn’t want to live anyway? Social housing is the housing of last choice after all and only where the plebs live isn’t it? It’s riddled with ne’er-do-wells and full of criminality and anti-social behaviour and most of them have a drug or alcohol problem and sign-on and working cash-in-hand in any case!
So why are the great British public distinctly uneasy?
It is because they know the bedroom tax is inherently unfair!
That is why this stubborn mule of a policy is continually on the TV news screens and why it is continually in the papers. It is also why the opposition political parties have now (very late in the day) got involved with it. Here’s a chance to score some political points and maybe get some new members which turns into income or these parties.
I am full of scorn, and I maintain rightly, that the Labour Party, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and the rest have suddenly had a road to Damascus moment. We have so many constituents coming in, writing to us, e-mailing us about the bedroom tax. It affects every constituency right across the country and this is not rank opportunism! Yet it is because the same bedroom tax policy, and there are far worse welfare reform policy of this Tory-led coalition still to come, has been known for 18 months, was discussed by these same politicians at great length as part of the Welfare Reform Bill which received Royal Assent a year ago. The issues haven’t changed at all and the only difference is that the general public has become aware of what these issues and especially the impacts of them are!
That is not only political opportunism it is much worse than that. It means the bedroom tax becomes viewed as a political policy and ONLY in that dimension and that is why any protests against the bedroom tax is doomed to fail!
The battle for the electorates ‘heart and mind’ or the fairness question has seen the general public dislike this policy as they know it is not fair. However, still lurking in the hearts and minds of the public is that it will save money and we all need to tighten our belts. Yet the bedroom tax will actually cost money to the public purse and won’t save a penny.
It is this economic/financial/monetary rationale that is getting lost while the politicians grab the issue as a political one. Convince the electorate that it won’t save money at all and will cost more and their ‘hearts and minds will be won.
Yet that will never happen. The upsurge in ‘left-wing’ activism such as protest marches and direct action is leading many to think and to say the bedroom tax is “Cameron’s Poll Tax Moment.” That is naivety writ large and ask yourself was the poll tax stopped in its tracks or was it implemented and only after a few years taken away? That is precisely what happened to the Poll Tax. It was implemented and it was indeed ‘hated’ too, yet it was still implemented. We were told that the Poll Tax was fair, that a family of five should pay more for local services as they accessed them more, that this policy was ‘fair!’ Yet nobody believes that now and the Poll Tax was not ‘fair’ and so fighting social policy on fairness grounds we know is not enough.
The challenge to the bedroom tax needs more than the fairness argument and the ‘hearts and minds’ to succeed. The general public need more than these two aspects if they are to bring their pressure to bear on the government and stop this pernicious policy.
So far we see part-arguments that the bedroom tax is unfair on the disabled but not that it is unfair generally. We do not see correct arguments of unfairness that:
- It can’t work as there are a chronic lack of smaller properties AND the government knew this before enacting the policy
- Tenants have put in 30 years of love into their ‘homes’ and the kids have grown and flown the coop
- Social housing tenants are NOT just being treated the same as private tenants and in fact they are being treated much more harshly than them
- And many other examples of general unfairness
More importantly, we are not seeing economic argument. That the bedroom tax will cost more than it says it will save and that is why along with the issue being hijacked by the Johnny-come-lately politicians that the challenge to the bedroom tax will fail.
Scratch ever so slightly under the surface and the true costs of the bedroom tax become a stark reality. This is not a policy imposed in isolation. It is being introduced with a whole raft of other cuts and caps and radical changes yet no cumulative assessment of the impacts of all of these policies has ever been released by the government. The reason why MUST be that the government knows to release such a cumulative assessment which includes the taking away of council tax benefit, paying rent directly to the tenant and not the landlord, the payment of all benefits monthly and not weekly and most of all the overall benefit cap of £500 per week will directly cause huge additional costs to the public purse.
For the avoidance of any doubt an added cost to the public purse means the taxpayer has to pay more. Yet the same taxpayer is Joe Public who believe that a cap on welfare will save money and MUST save money – and the government rely upon this naivety.
At the weekend I saw the first BBC News article on the overall benefit cap of £500 per week. This £500pw cap was supposed to be a national one in April yet instead the government are delaying this and having it operate in four London councils as a pilot. The BBC report used one example – a single parent who wasn’t white so it’s no wonder Joe Public are ignorant of welfare issues when the state broadcaster panders to the Daily Mail view of the stereotypical scrounger! She receives currently the report said £613 in welfare benefits and so will lose £113 per week which of course Joe Public will then assume that all single parents with three children get £613 per week in ‘benefits.’
Only after interviewing this person, and yes you have guessed she was not the most articulate person, so again the state broadcaster pandering to the stereotypical image, was it revealed that £335 per week of that £613 was for rent to a private landlord. So this single parent with three children actually receives just £278 per week in WELFARE benefit.
Far more importantly is how the overall benefit cap of £500 per week will work as this explains why this crude cap will cost the taxpayer so much more.
The £278 per week welfare benefit is deducted from the £500 per week cap leaving £222 per week as the maximum amount left to pay for rent. So this single parent with three children who is currently receiving £335 per week will see this reduce to £222 per week and means she is evicted for arrears very quickly. Because this is not her fault and outside her control and because she has children the local council will have to place her and her children in temporary accommodation which in London will cost at least £800 per week and in some cases London councils are paying over £3000 per week for this.
I discussed this in detail in previous posts and showed this will cost over a billion pounds more per year to the taxpayer and public purse. That is over £1000 million pounds more. Yet the bedroom tax and the overall benefit cap are supposed to save £770m between them and so the country ends up paying MORE in benefit payments.
Also note too that if the same single parent with three children was under-occupying according to the bedroom tax rules (the BBC report didn’t explore this) then there is also a 14% reduction on her now housing payment of £335 – a further £46.90 which reduces her maximum rent payment from £222 down to £175.10 per week and in London a one bed flat typically receives £250 per week in housing benefit.
There can be no doubt the overall benefit cap and the bedroom tax will make tens of thousands of people homeless having been evicted for arrears and not just in London, but nationally.
This is what I mean about placing the bedroom tax in context. The BBC report didn’t say how much council tax this single parent will have to pay from April either and did not mention that if this single parent was in social housing and paying a rent of say £150 per week then nothing would change. The state broadcaster failed to say that such a household would be affected by the cap and lose out ONLY if they rented privately.
This is either shoddy journalism or the BBC pandering to the Tory-led coalition propaganda that their reforms will save money and reduce the public purse bill. As the BBC is like government and TRUSTED by the general public, it is no wonder that they are not out protesting and challenging these reforms. The general public is being fed misinformation by “Auntie Beeb” and that is why challenge to the bedroom tax and other welfare reforms will not stop these policies!
It is time for the economic arguments against the bedroom tax and the overall benefit cap and the removal of council tax benefit begin to surface. Yet the government has shown it can and will outflank any political opposition making these arguments.
The latest and very significant strategy change of the government, who must be pissed off that the ‘stubborn mule’ of the bedroom tax has not gone away emerged at the weekend from Philip Hammond the Secretary of State for Defence.
He said that we will not take any more defence cuts (and nothing unusual in that per se) but went on to say (which is unusual) that if any further government cuts are needed then they should come from welfare benefits and not from the defence budget.
There you have it reader. When the government are running that scared of the stubborn mule that they have to say it is either welfare cuts or cuts to the armed forces, they know the great British public will rally behind welfare cuts as ‘we’ can’t cut the armed forces any more. Ah the ‘patriotism-as-the-last-refuge-of-the-scoundrel’ card being played a clever hand!
Yet if the same great British public were aware that the bedroom tax and the other welfare reforms will cost more, this Machiavellian strategy could not be played out could it?
Until the political and public argument to the bedroom tax focuses upon the cost then any challenge to the bedroom tax on grounds of ‘fairness’ or pandering to the ‘hearts and minds’ of the great, or should that be Great, British public is doomed to fail!
Just to clarify one point. The ‘johnny-come-lately’ comments about political parties and particularly the Labour Party are valid ones and not out of distaste for their tardiness and who is bringing them. If the Labour Party or anyone else brought good challenges to the ‘fight’ then i don’t give a monkeys who they are or how late they have come to the challenge. The problem I have is that the type of challenge such as protests and marches will NOT work and will NOT see the bedroom tax policy withdrawn. Ask yourself why the overall benefit cap has been delayed from April when this has had hardly any public awareness and attention – it can only be the Pickles letters which exposes the OBC as costing MORE than it saves and exposes the government. The same is needed for the bedroom tax in my view – a challenge based on the costs and not the fairness or any other emotive aspect of the policy.
Courtesy of Joe Halewood at SPeye