Bedroom Tax

7 Apr

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BEDROOM TAX

** if you are affected by the bedroom tax and fear forced eviction, please send us a private email at: kickingtoryassonwelfare@hotmail.com and, along with other activists we WILL defend your home **

What is it?

The cutting of the “spare room subsidy,”[1] colloquially dubbed the “Bedroom Tax” by Labour (a term that Iain Duncan Smith has complained about to the BBC several times)[2] is directed at working-age housing benefit and unemployment claimants who are deemed to have a ‘spare’ bedroom in social housing. The Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit Circular states that the following will be entitled to one bedroom each: a couple, an adult aged 16 or over, two children of the same sex (aged under 16), two children aged under 10 regardless of sex, any other child under 16, and a non-resident carer providing overnight care. Should certain people fail to fit into these ‘boxes’ they stand to lose 14% of their housing benefit and those with two or more spare bedrooms are forecast to lose 25%.[3]  An estimated 1 million households with extra bedrooms are paid housing benefit,[4] which infers the mass impact it is going to have on the UK population. Critics say it is an inefficient policy; especially in the north of England where families with spare rooms outnumber overcrowded families by three to one, indicating that thousands will be hit with the tax despite no local need for them to move.[5]  Alongside this there is also nowhere to move to. In Hull for example, around 4700 tenants will be taxed, but there are only 73 smaller council homes in the town.[6]  This is a direct consequence of the three decade long continual purge of council housing by both the Tory and Labour governments, for which tenants are now having to pay the price (quite literally).[7] Additionally, two-thirds of the people hit by the bedroom tax are disabled.[8]

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So why is it being imposed? Well, statistically it aims to save £465 million a year; as many as 660,000 people in social housing will lose an average of £728 in benefits annually.[9] Yet, the number of disabled affected is estimated to at 420,000, thus accounting for about 64% of all bedroom tax affected households.[10] Stories and news reports have focused on families where, for example, a lift has been installed which takes up much room downstairs and also renders the upstairs ‘bedroom’ unusable. These ‘bedrooms’ will be counted under the tax and are clearly unfair by any definition; legal or otherwise, and lack any morality,[11] victimising the already vulnerable.

SPeye[12]’s social housing blog raises a pertinent issue within this new system: social housing is the only option for many who live their day-to-day lives with a disability: “when was the last time a private landlord spent thousands on installing disability adaptations in his property? The answer to that is never, as private landlords [in general] just don’t accommodate for disabilities and thus those with a disability either reside in owner occupied properties or the social housing sector.”[13] Hence, either the government has ignored or paid little regard to their Equality Duties in bringing the bedroom tax into social housing,[14] which clearly disproportionately affects the disabled. Through the Coalition’s blatant and wilful ignorance of the major disparities between the private and social rented sectors: simply if the private landlord don’t provide for those disabled and the social landlord does, then imposing a bedroom tax which the government maintain brings the social housing sector in line with those renting privately,[15] fundamentally ignores this binary. Statistically there are 999,058 Housing Benefit claimants with a disability in social housing and 314,233 in privately rented housing meaning 76% of claimants with a disability live in social housing and 24% live in privately rented homes.  Hence, the impact on those disabled is more than 3 times greater in the social rented sector than in private housing.[16] Additionally, the government’s woeful treatment of the disabled in society is further accentuated in that assessments of the bedroom tax’s  impact on them says it has not looked into this but will monitor it after the bedroom tax comes in.

Thus, the government is going to run the bedroom tax for at least two years to see what its impact is without having taken any precautions to assess such an impact beforehand. Page 21 of the Bedroom Tax assessment reads:

“DWP intend to undertake independent monitoring and evaluation to assess the impact of the introduction of size criteria in the social rented sector as outlined during the passage of the Welfare Reform Act. DWP expect the research to be undertaken over a two year period from 2013/14, with preparatory work starting in 2012/13 with initial findings being available in early 2013 [an ad hoc assessment therefore!] … Different types of authorities including a range of urban, rural and county district local authorities will be included and these will be selected to cover a range of different housing market demands, to ensure DWP can explore the effects of the introduction of size criteria effectively, and gain sound insight into the experiences of tenants of various age groups, those with a disability, their gender and ethnicity.”[17]

As Michelle and I recently stated, we believe that the mark of any society’s decency is how it treats its most vulnerable members, and that on current evidence, Britain in 2013 is falling very short, as this government continually falls excessively short of their responsibilities. Indeed the favouring of the rich over the poor is evident within the Welfare ‘Reform’ that came into action on  Saturday 6 April, which saw the 50p tax rate scrapped for high earners. [18]  Indeed, Labour claims 13,000 millionaires will get a £100,000 tax cut, which clearly indicates where the Coalition’s loyalties lie. With 62% of the Coalition being deemed millionaires[19] the injustice of these taxes are evident. Indeed, Patrick Wintour of the Guardian writes that the government’s aim is to tackle overcrowding and encourage a more efficient use of social housing,”[20] yet for those affected it seems much more sinister than that doesn’t it?

Furthermore, alongside this preposterous tax being imposed, on Monday 8 April, the Disability Living Allowance will be disposed of and replaced by the Personal Independence Payment (PIP),[21] demonstrating how the vulnerable are suffering disproportionately to the rest of the population under the cuts we Con-Dem. According to the DWP, assessment will not be based on your condition, but on how your condition affects you, so narrowing accessibility to the PIP.[22]  The qualifying period before someone can claim again will also be extended from three to six months,[23] meaning that should you fail to “prove” your disability you will remain destitute for the 6 months until you can be reassessed!  So nice of the government to determine that individuals have to “prove” how disabled they are: only once sufficient points have been scored on the assessment can a claim be made.[24]  The Tory rhetoric of “scroungers”, “skivers” and those committing benefit fraud which ‘justifies’ such schemes is clearly redundant when the harsh facts are looked at: $1.9 billion is lost in benefit fraud overall, in contrast to the $40 billion that is lost through tax avoidance by the rich.[25]

However, Cameron is determined to listen to his non-sensical party and enforce the “spare room subsidy” regardless of the potential consequences (of which he is not aware due to aforementioned failures to analyse this issue!) Ministers say the tax will encourage people to move to smaller properties and save around £480m a year from the spiralling housing benefit bill.[26] Yet this completely ignores the fact that there is a shortage of one-bedroom properties in certain areas and the fact that the upper floors of high rises were universally decreed unsuitable for families several years ago, meaning the Council placed single people in them. Additionally, critics such as the National Housing Federation (NHF) argue that as well as causing social disruption, the move risks increasing costs to taxpayers because a shortage of smaller social housing properties may force many people to downsize into the more expensive private rented sector.[27]  The federation’s warnings came as charities said the combination of benefit cuts and tax rises coming in from this week will amount to a £2.3bn hit on family finances.[28] Such certainly highlights how economically non-sensical this tax is. Indeed, Ministers came under new fire over benefit cuts as the independent body representing 1,200 English housing associations described the controversial bedroom tax as bad policy and bad economics that risks pushing up the £23bn annual housing benefit bill.[29] Channel 4 News recently suggested this too: “the governments controversial new “bedroom tax” will cost rather than save money in parts of the country.”[30]

Furthermore, research by the NHF says that while there are currently 180,000 households that are “under occupying two-bedroom homes”; there are far fewer smaller properties in the social housing sector available to move into. Last year only 85,000 one-bedroom homes became available. The federation has calculated that if all those available places were taken up by people moving as a result of the “bedroom tax”, the remaining 95,000 households would be faced with the choice of staying put and taking a cut in income, or renting a home in the private sector.[31] Indeed, if all 95,000 moved into the private sector, it says the cost of housing benefit would increase by £143 million, and by millions more if others among the remaining 480,000 affected chose to rent privately.[32]

This will only serve to deepen the housing crisis as more people are pushed out of council housing, making it easier for councils to sell the homes off – thus shifting more housing stock to private landlords and into the chaos that is the current market.[33] Indeed, it is private landlords who stand to gain the most out of this tax, because the tenants forced into smaller homes on higher, private rents, will be forced to claim more benefits as a result. Indeed, the rent controls that used to control such rampant capitalism were abolished by Thatcher in 1988 and so without those, there is little that can be done to control the amount of rent families will be forced to pay on their new properties, without spare bedrooms.[34]

So, what the hell is the point when this tax will not even improve the situation?

As Chief executive Leslie Morphy stated: “our poorest households face a bleak April as they struggle to budget for all these cuts coming at once. People are already cutting back on the essentials of food and heating but there is only so much they can do.

“The result will be misery – cold rooms, longer queues at food banks, broken families, missed rent payments and yet more people facing homelessness – devastating for those directly affected, but bad for us all.”

However, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesman stood by the policy, stating that: “our welfare reforms will improve the lives of some of the poorest families in our communities, with universal credit simplifying the complex myriad of benefits and making three million people better off. And by next year, we will have taken two million of the lowest earners out of paying tax altogether.” And sadly it appears that the media in general support such rhetoric, as the recent Bedroom Tax protests were largely under reported, despite activists turning out in their thousands.

Conversely, shadow chancellor Ed Balls surmised what we believe to be the truth: “this is the week when the whole country will see whose side David Cameron and George Osborne are really on and who is paying the price for their economic failure.” And sadly, it is not our side, but we will be footing the bill regardless.

How can we help? Are there any loopholes?

Loopholes in this new ‘reform’ are pretty hard to come by; however, there are a few:

  • People avoided the window tax which began in 1698 and ran until 1851 by blocking up their windows, so rise up and take off your bedroom doors that’ll make your house open plan – without a door a room is not separate.  Alternatively, take Labour MP Mr Field’s advice that land lords should “brick up” doors and “knock down the walls” in defiance,[35] thus removing tax commitments
  • If you have a spare room in your house under 70sq ft. then it cannot be classed as a bedroom under Housing Act 1985 Section 326,[36] instead it’s a box room and you cannot be charged for it

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  • Approach housing trusts and ask them to reclassify your spare rooms as studies or box-rooms so the tax cannot be placed upon them. In action: Knowsley housing trust in Merseyside has said it will do this to help tenants avoid the tax[37]
  • Put pressure on “social landlords” to take a stand against the tax and refuse to evict people from their homes who cannot afford the rent anymore. In action: Dundee council,[38] run by the Scottish National Party, has promised not to evict people for the first eight months Brighton and Hove, under the Green Party have since followed this action[39]
  • Get trade unions on side so that those of you who oppose the payment are stood by when legal action is taken against you. In action: unions in Glasgow housing associations and Tower Hamlets  council in East London have voted to stand by those housing workers who are disciplined for opposing evictions[40]
  • Join an anti-cuts group and let people in your area know that you are willing to collectively and physically prepared to defend people from being evicted. In action: this is exactly what people are doing in Sheffield on Firth Park council estate, as well as the Burngreave which is the next estate along[41]
  • Unite with other activists across the country to bring back the rent controls abolished by the Thatcher era
  • Join UK Uncut’s “Who wants to evict a millionaire?” protest. More information on this can be found on: http://www.ukuncut.org.uk/blog/updated-call-out-who-wants-to-evict-a-millionaire-saturday-13th-april
  • For more information on local groups or how else you can take action, just go to http://benefitjustice.wordpress.com/
  • There are many bedroom tax focused groups on Facebook and many have template letters and useful information in their files so it’s worth joining one; also there is our template letter below, which you could send in its entirety or copy and paste the part about the bedroom tax
  • Here’s a link to an excellent blog for some more ideas: http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/03/30/thousands-turn-out-for-bedroom-tax-protests-but-what-happens-next/

 

Inspiration from Spain: unions of locksmiths and firefighters voted to refuse to evict those who couldn’t pay mortgages. The firefighters’ worked under the slogan of “we rescue people, not banks.”[42] Let’s unite and build this kind of movement against the bedroom tax and benefits cap, and kick some Tory ass!

IN SOLIDARITY, WE CAN DEFEAT THE WAR ON THE POOR!

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[6] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 10

[7] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 10

[12] Ibid

[19] ‘The New Internationalist,’ NI 459 January/ February 2013, p 

[25] UK Government, DWP and HMRC, 2011

[30] Channel 4 News, February 4, 2013

[33] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 11

[34] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 11

[37] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 7

[39] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 7

[40] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 7

[41] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 9

[42] ‘Socialist Worker’, 23rd March 2013, p 11

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