Bedroom Tax – the “Stubborn Mule” and why the public protest will fail

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 5 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 4 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 3 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 3 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 3 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 3 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 1 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 n 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 “Aunty 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!

UPDATE

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.

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20 thoughts on “Bedroom Tax – the “Stubborn Mule” and why the public protest will fail

  1. We do NOT have to tighten our belts. This is one of the richest countries in the world. The problem is it’s being plundered by rich businessmen, landowners and bankers who between them control the government, in some cases they actually are the goverment. Austerity is a cloak for their activities, it’s demonstrable it’s the reverse of what we actually need.

    1. I don’t disagree with you on this. Rather I was saying what the government is saying (an not commenting on its veracity) to make the bigger point that protest on grounds of unfairness etc is not enough. Joe Public needs to know that the bedroom tax and OBC will cost more and only, and ONLY then, will the weight of public dissent count and the policy is stopped

  2. I want to pull you up on something. The lady in the BBC video may not be receiving the £335 of housing benefit directly but she is receiving the benefit that that money provides, namely housing. People not receiving benefits have to pay for the full cost of housing themselves, they pay for the benefit of housing out of their own pocket, yet the taxpayer is paying for the benefit of her housing. And yes, £600+ pounds a week is the equivalent of a pre-tax salary of £31,000 a year, so she is not poor. I doubt that many single people on £31,000 a year would be able to afford rent of £335 pounds a week (as they would be getting a lot less after tax and NI had been removed) and then they would have to pay to travel to work, for prescriptions, dental treatment which this lady currently gets for free etc. This is a fair cap and it is very generous and the majority of the public support it.

    1. I don’t disagree that £615 per week is a lot of taxpayers money. Yet the same person in a 3 bed social housing property would be getting £360 per week in total if she lived in a low rent area in the North of England. The real waste of taxpayer money is the high cost of rent which in the article amounts to 55% of the total taxpayer funding yet in Hull or Stoke in social housing it would amount to 23% or in figures about £80 per week and not £335 per week.

      The cap is not fair and is unnecessary as we have a cap already in place for every benefit except housing benefit. JSA is £71 per week if you live in London or Hull or Stoke or Land’s End or John O’Groats.

      What needs to be addressed is not benefit levels generally, it is the exhorbitant cost of private renting and especially in London and the South East. It is this high cost of renting privately that is the biggest barrier to seeking work yet the government has chosen not to do anything about it except limit it to £400 per week!!

    2. Let’s not forget someone on pretax of 31k with 3 kids and living in the same area would be getting a whole load of benefits on top of their take-home. You’re trying to compare chalk with cheese. It’s wrong to be looking at how little people are getting on benefits and saying compared to what I’m getting for working, the unemployed are getting too much. Increasingly they are struggling just to survive. The fact is, you aren’t getting paid nearly enough for the work you’re doing, and that’s across most if not all industries.

      1. I take your point yet would say the same household in Liverpool or Hull in social housing would be getting £370 per week and the ONLY difference is the high private rent aspect. I dont know the circumstance of the single parent in this case but the same issues apply to someone who has worked for 20 years and just come out of work and under the OBC the simple equation becomes lose job lose home because of the crudeness of the cap policy and the fact a private landlord can evict quickly without reason.

  3. I just recieved this email and link from the Labour Party.

    Dear Allan,

    Today we are launching a major campaign to highlight the incompetent, unfair and out of touch ‘bedroom tax’ David Cameron’s Government will introduce in April.

    I need you to share the campaign with your friends, family, neighbours and colleagues – you can help spread the word here —

    http://www.labour.org.uk/bedroomtaxshare?utm_source=taomail&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=102275+Bedroom+tax%2C+Mon+4th+Mar+2013&tmtid=102275-3970-3970-3-285-1693099-14764

    The ‘bedroom tax’ tells you everything you need to know about David Cameron and his government.

    While families of soldiers serving our country will have to find extra money for their son or daughter’s bedroom, 13,000 millionaires will get a tax cut worth £100,000 a year on average.

    Two thirds of the households hit are home to someone who is disabled. Foster families will be hit – even if they have foster children in their ‘spare room’. Divorced parents and grandparents will be charged more if they want to keep a spare room for when their children or grandchildren come to stay.

    To add to the chaos, the Department for Work and Pensions has admitted that there are not enough smaller properties for families to move to, yet the ‘bedroom tax’ will still hit households that don’t have the option to move.

    Our campaign will put relentless pressure on David Cameron until he sees sense, admits this policy is totally unfair, and thinks again.

    You can help the campaign here

    Thank you,

    Liam

  4. Joe, I think what you’re saying is absolutely correct; I don’t think for one minute the gov are going to take any notice of the hardship this tax will cause, only if it will cost more.

    Are you able to put together a simple document based on your many posts about how this will cost more that people could send to their M.P.s or local press?

    Thanks.

    sassonx

  5. I am replying to Joe’s first reply to me at 6.49pm (for some reason I can’t reply directly unless I use WordPress but I am with Twitter).

    Anyway, I agree with you completely that rent controls need to be reintroduced in the PRS. However, if you argue for no caps on local housing allowance or tax credits then you are saying that it is fine to continue using taxpayers money to subsidise rich landlords and rich companies. LHA actually pushes rents higher as it is a floor to low rents. It also means that those not getting any benefits have to compete with the spending power of those getting LHA, pushing up rents for everyone whilst using workers own taxes to do this. This is unherently unfair.

    As someone involved in housing, you should be pushing AGGRESSIVELY for the reintroduction of rent controls in the PRS which would end the need for ever higher LHA, I believe it can be done, especially if Labour are re-elected.

  6. Bill Kruse – People are not getting a “little on benefits”. The woman in the video is currently getting over £31k a year tax free. That is more than the average wage and is not sustainable. Besides, more benefits means more subsidies for rich landlords and big business from the taxpayer. The answer is less benefits and cheaper housing in the form of rent controls.

  7. Cupcakesatdawn is spot on: how we can be expected to pity someone who “only” gets £31k tax-free in welfare (no, I don’t exclude the welfare payments which go on rent, any more than I would ignore the money spent on clothes or electricity) – substantially MORE than the average salary even before tax – is beyond me. As, indeed, is paying over £1,000 a month in rent: like most taxpayers, that would be almost my entire take-home salary, after I get heavily taxed to fund extravagant benefits!

    I can’t afford to live in London – even on a full-time salary – so why should she get part of my salary so that she can, without even earning it?! I particularly hate the “tax” misnomer; tax is what the rest of us pay to fund this woman’s unearned salary-and-a-half so she can live in a house we can’t afford ourselves. The money she’s being asked to pay towards her own accommodation is called rent – and she should really show a bit more gratitude that we will still be paying most of her rent for her, while we struggle to afford our own.

    1. The woman referred to isn’t getting that money, most of it goes to her landlord. The government could easily cap rents to a more affordable level but they choose not to – why? And let’s put it these comparisons with someone’s take-home pay in context; on top of your take-home you’d be eligible for lots of benefits so your actual income would be far more than either you or cupcake are suggesting. You maybe couldn’t live in London if you worked there and all you had was your take-home but you’d very probably be entitled to housing benefit on top of your take-home so you could indeed live in London. I gather you don’t know that employed people can and do receive housing benefit to make up their rent if there’s a sufficient disparity between their pay and a reasonable rent in their area. The proportion of employed persons claiming HB compared to unemployed has absolutely rocketed since the Coalition came in, something they’re very careful never to broadcast. They’re always saying they’ve inherited this problem, it’s nonsense, they’ve hugely exacerbated it. This is what’s so annoying, much of the benefit bill that so outrages people goes straight into private pockets. Do neither of you understand this or are you deliberately misrepresenting the facts?

      1. “The woman referred to isn’t getting that money, most of it goes to her landlord.”

        That is just absurd. Of course the money goes where she spends it: her rent goes to her landlord, just like her groceries bill goes to Tesco and her electricity spending goes to Eon (or whoever). Indeed, ALL our income (minus anything we might put away in savings) goes into either private or government pockets! That doesn’t mean it somehow doesn’t count, or that the beneficiary isn’t benefitting from the spending.

        What are the “lots of benefits” you think I’d be eligible for, and why? Yes, I’m aware housing benefit can be claimed by some people with jobs as well (something I find abhorrent, rent seems ludicrously inflated, and housing benefit makes this worse by pumping money into inflating the worst of the bubble further at the expense of the rest of us).

        I’m no fan of the coalition, there are indeed things they have done which I oppose and have made our situation worse, but the fact welfare money gets spent buying things from private providers (landlords, electricity companies, supermarkets) is utterly irrelevant to that. Why do you seem to think the house being rented from a “private pocket” somehow negates it?

      2. You say “I’m aware housing benefit can be claimed by some people with jobs as well (something I find abhorrent, rent seems ludicrously inflated,….”

        There are currently 960,000 working people who claim housing benefit (and that ignores the many others DWP admits to knowing about who are eligible to claim but dont which was £6.7bn per year unclaimed) That reflects the low wage economy we have which creates a necessity to claim benefit for housing costs. If you wanted to somehow disqualify any person working from receiving housing benefit it would mean you add 960,000 to the unemployment count! Crudely, anyone earning less than £16k per year gross is the limit for HB and so this would mean on a 37 hour working week raising the national minimum wage to £8.32 from its current £6.19 – a 34.4% increase!

        Are you therefore arguing that the NMW should increase by 34% as that would have a far greater impact and much higher impact on welfare benefit spend?

      3. “If you wanted to somehow disqualify any person working from receiving housing benefit it would mean you add 960,000 to the unemployment count!”

        No, losing housing benefit would not guarantee instant unemployment – totally faulty logic there. It would be problematic for those people, certainly, but apart from anything else giving up work should still leave them worse off not better.

        Minimum wage should probably be higher than £12k – it’s particularly galling to have that set at less than half the level of maximum non-disability welfare, as well as having it below the threshold for benefits – but raising it by that 34% right now could be bad for employment levels. A 10% raise, plus a 20% ‘London weighting’ would just about close the gap for London at least (which seems to be the biggest problem here, with insanely high rent) – though there’s a risk of the problem Obamacare has in the US now (by mandating that employers provide anyone working 30+ hours per week with health insurance, it reduced a lot of jobs to 29 hours per week).

  8. this bedroom tax is to force the poor on the streets and to give houses to foreigners
    who come over here i dont see nothing on here about how much these foreigners get in gov hand outs all this sucks is ok for those that work and live in their own homes some people think just because they live in social housing and on benifits that they av all the latest things on the market this might be true for some but for others noway this goverment sucks big time cameron and his arselickers only have one think in mind get rid of the poor by any means possible and that means taking food from their mouths so they starve to death
    no with this gov and down with those who support this wker

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