A Cruel Tax of the Worst Kind?

A policy deliberaltly aimed at the poor and vulnerable.
A policy deliberately aimed at the poor and vulnerable.

A Cruel Tax of the Worst Kind?

If ever there was a cruel not to say incompetent piece of legislation it is the Conservative – Lib Dem coalition Governments changes to housing benefit explained in a document with the title HOUSING BENEFIT SIZE CRITERIA RESTRICTIONS FOR WORKING AGE CLAIMANTS IN THE SOCIAL RENTED SECTOR FROM 1 APRIL 2013, or as it has become widely known the “Bedroom Tax”

The legislation is the coalitions method of solving the lack of homes available for rent and in particular the lack of affordable housing for rent which has come about from years of under investment in social housing.

I have consistently argued that part of the solution to overcoming the Government’s economic failure is for them to invest in infrastructure and housing on a scale that whilst it may not solve the whole housing crisis will go a long way towards it.

Major investment in the construction industry would not only provided over a million jobs including apprenticeship opportunities for young people who have been thrown on the scrap heap of unemployment by the Government, but also increase tax revenues for the treasury.

It is a solution which up to now has been rejected by the coalition who instead has decided that they will legislate on what is euphemistically called the “level of home occupancy”.

Put simply the Conservatives have decided that housing benefit will be determined by a combination of how many bedrooms and the number and ages of people who live in a house.

It means that hard pressed hard-working families already facing a lifetime at the best  full-time employment on the national minimum wage of £6.19 an hour and sadly for many increasingly only part-time work and at the worst unemployment another major cut in their household income.

It is a cut of at least £14 a week from April this year.

This comes on top of  inflation that is consistently above the level of pay rises and includes the extortionate increases in utility and fuel charges which have already pushed millions of families below the poverty line.

So what is considered under-occupancy?

According to the Conservative and Liberal Democrat MP’s a family with two children under the age of 16 whom live in a three bedroom house will be classified as under-occupying their home.

The reasoning is that the two children should share a bedroom until they reach 16 which means that in a three bedroom house there is irrespective of their size  a ‘spare bedroom’.

Families who find themselves in this position will face a 14% cut in housing benefit for one ‘spare’ bedroom and if they have two ‘spare’ bedrooms a 25% cut.

The Governments argument is that not only will this cut the ‘welfare bill’ but also free up ‘spare bedrooms’ for people to take in lodgers which means that a family with two children under the age of 16 and a lodger would get the full housing benefit because the home is not under-occupied.

The problems I’m sure are obvious or at least should be to anyone who lives in the real world.

How many people will be happy to invite a stranger to live with them and their families?

It will also mean those social landlords such as Northampton Borough Council, who currently has 12,100 tenants, will have to change the tenancy agreements to allow tenants to take in lodgers?

Will this lead to wholesale sub-letting?

I have asked the Borough Council if taking in a lodger is against the current tenant’s agreement, how many families in Northampton this legislation effects and whether those effected have been contacted and had the changes explained to them.

I’m still waiting for the answer.

An unintended, (or perhaps it isn’t), outcome of the legislation is that a couple with one child living in a three bedroom house with a lodger may well be discouraged from having further children.

It is an outcome, the “we will decide who are the Deserving and Undeserving Poor, stop the undeserving poor from breeding lobby” will no doubt welcome and even if after changes to the tenancy agreement, why would a family take in a lodger and what impact would it have on other support they may receive?

"We're All In This Together"?
“We’re All In This Together”?

The Conservatives argue that not only could the families affected take in a lodger but they should also work more hours, (providing of course there are the hours available) and/or  members of the household should contribute more, ( which presumably means they aren’t doing all they can already).

The facts are that this ill thought out legislation impacts on the poorest most vulnerable of hard-working families and will drive out aspiration to be replaced by the desperation of families having to exist below the poverty line.

It is the policy of a cruel and uncaring Conservative led Government who supported by the Liberal Democrats have convinced themselves that by their systematic demonization of everyone who receives benefits the public won’t damage them at the ballot box.

I have news for them,

It will.

and it will because all of the families affected have friends and relations who won’t accept the ‘nasty party’ tactics that the Conservatives are using against them whilst lining their own pockets at the taxpayer’s expense.

Ever the optimist I believe the people of Northampton along with millions throughout the UK will send the message loud and clear to the Government in this year’s local elections.