“The Bedroom Tax is David Cameron’s ‘Poll Tax Moment’
History will never forgive us if we do not stand united in defiance of this cruel deed, and defeat it once and for all.”
On 16th March 2013, there will be a national day of protest against the Bedroom Tax. Protests are currently planned in over thirty towns and cities across the UK, in what needs to be the biggest wave of protest since the Poll Tax. It is time to paint those placards, dust off your megaphone and make a stand.
Bedroom Tax? What Bedroom Tax?
In case you have been under a rock, in a cave, or on another planet, you’ll need to know what the Bedroom Tax is.
The Bedroom Tax stipulates that anyone claiming housing benefit faces cuts in their payments relative to the ‘under occupancy’ of their home. If they class you as having one room more than needed, you lose 14% and it rises to a 25% cut if you’re classed as having two.
Why On Earth is this Happening?
The government argues this is not a tax, but the withdrawal of an unfair spare room subsidy enjoyed by benefit scroungers who are wasting tax payer’s money living in large houses they do not need.
The government points out that the Housing Benefit bill has doubled in recent years, and therefore ‘something must be done’.
So the three pillars of their argument is fairness, proper allocation of housing to need, and a reduction in the housing benefit bill to the tax payer. Sound perfectly reasonable does it not? Now let’s bust some myths.
First let us look at capacity. There are five million people on waiting lists for social housing in the UK today.
Currently the UK is building 100,000 homes a year less than it needs to in order to meet requirements. There is not adequate housing of sufficient type (one bed, two bed, three bed, etc) to meet needs.
The great council house sell off, Thatcher’s plan to turn the working class into the new property class, was a manifest failure; more than a third of ex council houses now sit in the property portfolios of wealthy landlords. In fact, the son of Thatcher’s Housing Minister at the time the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme was launched is now the proud owner of no less than forty ex council houses.
The limited remaining council housing rationed out to the poorest of the poor with council housing waiting lists and mortgages ever further out of reach, everyone else is a hostage to the private rental market dominated by these landlords.
Secondly, let’s examine the issue of tackling the cost of Housing Benefit.
The National Housing Federation issued a report last year which showed Housing Benefit has doubled in recent years as a direct result of an astronomical increase in housing costs. The report shows an 86% rise in housing benefit claims by working families, with 10,000 new claims coming in per month. House prices are now 300% higher (in real terms) than in 1959. If the price of a dozen eggs had risen as quickly, they would now cost £19. Rents across the UK have risen by an average of 37% in the UK in just the last three years. The rise in Housing Benefit is coming from escalating private rents outpacing the rise in wages, not the ‘burden’ of the jobless.
Instead of expanding the social house building programme, instead of taking on this cartel of private landlords who are artificially inflating rental prices to increase profits on tenants who have no option but to pay up, the government is walking away from the problem and blaming the victims.
Who Stands To Lose Out?
Inside Housing report that the plan will impact 660,000 social housing tenants, around two thirds of which will contain a person with a disability.
These tenants will lose between £520-1300 a year. For those unfamiliar with being dirt poor, this means choosing between eating three meals a day and having the heating on for an hour in the evening in the winter.
The problem is, these are just numbers and abstract ideas. So here are some stories about the real impacts of the Bedroom Tax:
Vicky Evans, 49, lost both her parents and her brother by her early twenties. Severe anxiety, arthritis and sleep apnoea leave her unable to work. She lives on £101 a week Disability Living Allowance. She has lived in her street for 27 years, everyone knows her and she knows everyone. She feels safe there. She will lose two thirds of her housing benefit, leaving her unable to afford her house as it is classed as having two spare rooms. She was told if she falls into more than £50 arrears she will be taken to court and lose her home. One might argue Vicky should simply move to a one bedroom home nearby. However, there is not a suitable one bedroom residence within ten miles of her current home. “If I have to leave my home and be put away from the places and people I know then I don’t know how I’ll cope,” she says.
Fred Williams, 59, suffers from cerebral palsy. His two bedroom home has been heavily adapted to meet his needs. Over twenty years, a stair lift, council added ramps at the front and rear entrance, an extended and modified kitchen and an accessible shower have all been added to the home. He once shared it with his wife and step son but after the breakup of the family in 1991 he now lives alone. He is now deemed as ‘under occupying’ his home and will face the withdrawal of his housing benefit in April. Fred has been unable to work since 2006, and he is unable to find a home suited to his needs. He is faced with impending poverty. “The whole issue surrounding the Bedroom Tax is a con,” he says. “[This] Government…are hell bent on making disabled people’s lives hell.”
Jayson Lowery, 50, has been the full time carer for his wife Charlotte since a spinal condition left her mostly confined to her bed. In their two-bed flat in Southport, there’s a single bed in one room and a specialist NHS-type bed in the other. Charlotte’s wheelchair sits there too, cramped in with other medical equipment. Her condition means she can’t share a normal bed with her husband and their flat, partly adapted for Charlotte’s needs, is too small to put both beds in one room. From April, the couple will lose £12 a week because of this. Despite the fact that Charlotte sleeps in it every night, due to the fact that she lives with her partner, her room will be classified as ‘spare’. Jayson has looked around for something suitable but there simply are not one bedroom apartments available which would fit both beds and the equipment in one room.
Linda Taylor, 43, and her husband share their three bedroom home with their severely disabled son Adam. They have become Adam’s full time carers as he has heart, kidney and spinal problems which leave him without mobility. He is incontinent and must be bottle fed pureed food. The box room is crammed with adult size nappies, a pressure mattress, Adam’s physio equipment and a small bed which the paid carer sometimes sleeps on when overnight care in required. However, this box room is now classed as a ‘spare’ room and they will lose 14% of their council benefit from April. “I feel so frustrated,” she says. “The only solution I can see is to go and find a job which I would be willing to do if the council is willing to provide the full care needed for my son . . . When you can only get eleven hours care a week we’ve got no chance of changing life for the better. We’re left in a no win situation.”
Jimmy Daly, 50, has a nine year old son with severe learning difficulties and spastic quadriplegia. He lives between his mum’s house and Jimmy’s two bed maisonette. Jimmy will have his housing benefit cut because his son does not live permanently in the home. He currently lives on just £71 a week job seekers allowance, and will lose £10 a week in housing benefit. Jimmy and other parents sharing the custody of a severely disabled child are facing the real possibility of being unable to share a home with their child as a result of the Bedroom Tax. “If this goes ahead I’ll have to move into a one-bedroom flat,” he says. “How do you sleep in the same bedroom as a disabled boy?”
The government’s response to these stories is to tell people to take in a lodger or work extra hours to cover the short fall in their Housing Benefit. Fred Williams and all those impacted by the Bedroom Tax received the following letter from the Government.
Can you imagine anything more offensive to these families than this? They are being asked to do the impossible, whilst their concerns and fears are brushed aside with irrelevant platitudes.
But Surely the Government Will Support Them?
The government says its £25m hardship fund will support all those impacted by the changes. However, according to government impact assessments, 420,000 of the 660,000 people affected by the changes are disabled, and they will lose an average of £14 a week. That’s just under £306m a year. Therefore £25m is not even one tenth of the true cost to compensate the impact on disabled people. Worse, it is not only disabled people who will require access to the hardship fund but other impacted groups such as Foster Carers too.
David Cameron has claimed that parents of severely disabled children will be exempt from the Bedroom Tax. This is not true. There is no automatic exemption for disabled children. Not only that, but the government is actively engaged in a legal battle against ten disabled children who argue the new rules amount to discrimination.
David Cameron has claimed that people requiring 24 hour care will be exempt from the Bedroom Tax. This is not true. Whilst the DWP have made an exemption for people who have a paid live in or overnight carer, this does not apply if the carer is your partner or spouse. If such a couple share a home with more than one bedroom, they will be charged for under occupancy from April this year.
Whatever the government says, this tax is going to hit on April 1st and it is going to hit hard. It is also landing at the same time as a raft of other cuts to social security which strike at the exact same groups. Vicky Evans probably speaks for many people with disabilities, or caring for them when she says:
“I lay awake at night and go through all the things I pay for and how much I have left and come to the same conclusion every time. I just cry about it.”
Enough is Enough
I don’t know about you, but I am simply unwilling to tolerate these attacks on the most vulnerable in our land. If we cannot muster outrage at this, exactly what will it take for sleeping Britannia to wake up and start defending themselves?
The seemingly unstoppable rampage of the Thatcher government was stopped in its tracks by the Poll Tax Riots in March of 1990. Not only did it stop the tax, but it all but killed off Thatcher’s premiership.
Now, one might argue we should keep calm and carry on, out of some misplaced fears about disorder and violence. To those people, I say this: we are witnessing ordered violence. This Bedroom Tax and these cruel cuts amount to violence by bureaucracy. Martin Luther King used his Letter from Birmingham City jail to advise against this view. Whilst seemingly innocuous and moderate, it is in fact a dangerous attitude which sees people:
“more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefer(s) a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”
It is time to hit the streets. It is time for the roar of public dissent to ring through the streets; to bounce from the hallowed walls of parliament; in harmony, unified, in determined antipathy to this rotten government. Young and old; Disabled and able; gay and straight; whatever your colour, race or religion; whether you were born here or you came here; whatever party you voted for or even if you never cast a vote in your life; this is it. This is it. This. Is. It!
You’ve been waiting for someone to rise up, well the good news is: it’s you. You are going to turn up on March 16th, and you are going to make damn sure as many people as you know turn up too. You are going to find out if there is a protest in your town. If there is one, you are going to join it. If there isn’t one, you are going to set up a Facebook event and start one up. It is on you. It is on all of you. It is on all of us. Complaining amongst ourselves is not enough. Complaining is not enough. It is time for non compliance. It is time for resistance. It is time to say enough is enough.
Say No To The Bedroom Tax – this group are coordinating the protests of March 16th. You can go on the website, take a look at where protests are happening and join in. You can also set up your own events on Facebook and post them on the website to promote the event.