Last nights Channel 4’s flagship current affairs programme Dispatches was on the bedroom tax. The programme had much merit and anyone involved in the bedroom tax, tenant, landlord, council and DWP should watch it…and the link is here.
I was on the programme (most definitely not the reason to watch) and the 4 – 5 hours of filming with C4 only saw a 45 second appearance which led to many messages from ‘friends’ saying I always knew you had a great face for radio Joe!
Dispatches showed in 30 minutes more of a challenge to the pernicious bedroom tax than 1200 or so social landlords have collectively done in the last two years.
What does that say about the social housing ‘sector?’ They are not a sector as they are too disparate and nobody can get a message across for the ‘sector!’
That is a damning indictment and unfortunately a deserved one and even when the Chartered Institute of Housing were spoon fed a question about supply they failed to say we need 200,000 new social housed per year. The chronic shortage of social housing is a huge issue in housing issues not just the bedroom tax.
The programme opened with Karen a pre 1996 exempt tenant who had the bedroom tax unlawfully imposed by the massive incompetence the DWP likes to call a loophole. Karen is a volunteer with ReClaim my local grassroots group and she was interviewed because C4 (just as Sky News a week before) couldn’t find a pre-1996 tenant and highlights that the bedroom tax affects far more in the North than in the South and the London-centric housing ‘sector’ in part explains why they are so far behind the curve on this. “There’s no recession in London” said the Tory council leader in Walsall and the grandees of the Tory party just don’t realise how much of a vote loser this is. The housing sector has similar ‘grandees’ who think the housing world starts and ends within their little bubble too!
Iain Sim, CEO of Coast & Country HA correctly highlighted in the programme that the bedroom tax is largely a Northern issue. Iain is a rarity. A landlord chief executive who has openly challenged the bedroom tax from day on and been an exemplar to all social landlords who have been very reticent to challenge the many vicissitudes of the bedroom tax publicly.
Dispatches failed to mention that Karen has worked part-time in most of the last 21 years she has lived in her property and eligible for Housing Benefit because of part-time earnings. Karen is not the lazy scrounging ne’er-do-well of the type IDS and DWP like to portray and Benefit Street highlights. Karen put in a pre 1996 exemption letter to Liverpool City Council in early December and four weeks before the DWP came out and admitted their cock-up on 8 January 2014. I know that as I helped Karen draft that letter.
The same pre 1996 exempt issue was argued by me colleagues at ReClaim in bedroom tax appeal tribunals in December too and the CPR 2006 regulations were put before the judge and the councils presenting officer on the day. Karen was also the tenant I told you about here who rang Liverpool City Council in what reads like a comedy sketch from Yes Minister.
The DWP estimate of pre 1996 exempt cases is 81 in Liverpool and last week Liverpool City Council admitted on BBC Radio Merseyside that the figure, so far, is 1600 – more than twenty times the DWP estimate!!!
C4 wanted to go ‘big’ on the numbers for the programme and expose the ridiculous DWP estimate of at most 5000 and I had many emails with them over this yet no council could give accurate figures in time for the programme but it is clear that my estimate given in the Guardian that this affects 40,000 households is looking like a low estimate.
That is over 100,000 men women and children at 2.4 persons per household who have had the bedroom tax unlawfully imposed on then by a DWP cock-up of epic proportion, the same that DWP call a loophole and a ‘small’ number!
The government trotted out Harriet Baldwin MP a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the DWP and all I can say is oh dear!! The DWP recently reported spent £75,000 (of taxpayers money) on media training for a programme such as this. They should demand a refund!! She was extremely ill at ease trotting out the vague wishy-washy message she had clearly been told to say.
Her body language screamed “I don’t want to be here” and I assume reader you noticed this and not her fuchsia pink dress worn to present a softer caring image: Though sorry reader that assumes your eyes did not focus on the huge spot on her nose which some have suggested was fake and there to distract your attention from what she said!! Too cutting reader? Watch the programme and you will see I am being kind to her!
She also said her local housing association are implementing the bedroom tax! Really! I see this fuchsia-clad buffoon doesn’t even realise its councils that have to implement this not housing associations!
I was a bit harsh on the PR media firm who got £75k for their work as you can’t make a silk purse out of a sows ear even when she is dressed in that colour!
“I think local councils do a great job implementing Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit…“
says Harriet Baldwin who is unaware her government scrapped Council Tax Benefit in April!
Yet it was her language as well as body language that was distinctly uneasy. When asked about the numbers she said
“I have not heard a definitive figure but I believe it is about 1 per cent and I heard a figure of about 5000″
Such woeful and uneasy language and nothing definitive or assertive in what she attempted to say and I note this former head of Investment at JP Morgan Chase has that well-known disease of merchant bankers (ahem) of not being good with figures!
Her DWP estimate of 81 in Liverpool is 1600 just as her DWP estimate of Birmingham is 95 when it is over 2000 and both over 20 times that estimate. How totally out of character for a merchant banker to be 2000% out eh reader!
Iain Sim did well and I hope everyone got his point that voids last year, ie pre bedroom tax, were £374k while this year the first year of the bedroom tax void loss is on course to be £1m – a 267% increase in void loss due to the bedroom tax and in money terms a £625k additional loss.
Alex McGuire a Director at Glasgow HA also stated the Northern issue and was made well as the DWP’s own figure of 22% affected in London by the bedroom tax compares with 43% of working age families in the North West and in Yorks and Humber. A message the London-centric grandees of housing never mention
Alex McGuire also mentioning that GHA have 1600 wanting to downsize to but no smaller properties for them to do that. Yes another message
Still it was left to Councillor Mark MacMillan of Renfrewshire Council to make the most telling point which many may have missed that the bedroom tax there is costing the public purse £250k more than any saving the bedroom tax could make.
Yes reader the bedroom tax doesn’t save any money at all it actually costs the public purse!!
Mark MacMillan also made the correct point that the bedroom tax is simply a transfer of cost from central to local government a point I made over a year ago. Yet the Tory councillor Mike Bird the leader of Walsall Council who spoke the chilling phrase “there is no recession in London, you have to travel up the M1” and then couple that with Councillor Mark MacMillans assertion that the bedroom tax costs the public purse money and we have a reality being painted..a reality the Tories know yet for political reasons refuse to see.
Dispatches in 27 minutes and 21 seconds did more for exposing the realities of the bedroom tax than the combined efforts of the 1200 or so social landlords have done in the last 2 years.
My only real gripe is that Dispatches despite getting a huge number of ‘reality messages’ across failed to credit the work of ReClaim and other grassroots groups that have sprung up to challenge the bedroom tax. Without these groups the bedroom tax would be a typical social housing story, a one day wonder in the press and the next days fish and chip paper.
A story the housing grandees in London give no priority too and have let IDS with his blame game strategy have free rein for 18 months lying to the general public that this is about spare rooms and saving money and a scarce resource that justifies this blatant piece of political skullgduggery.
Without ReClaim Dispatches would not have had a pre 1996 exempt tenant on the programme at all.
Without ReClaim and their like Dispatches would have had no programme.
Without ReClaim and other grassroots groups the bedroom tax would still be favoured by 70% of the general public as it was in April 2013 yet now is seen as a bad policy by 70% of the general public – a remarkable turnaround.
Grassroots anti bedroom tax groups in the UK number over 100,000 members and all in the space of a few months and that’s 5 times the number of members the Chartered Institute of Housing (one of the grandees) have managed in decades.
Grassroots groups like No2 the bedroom tax in Scotland who have driven the bedroom tax agenda in Scotland that now sees no tenant liable to pay this pernicious tax.
Groups like so many across Wales and especially in SE Wales who have helped to make historic legal judgments that will make the bedroom tax a Norwegian Blue parrot pining for the fjords – a Monmouth Rebellion leading to a Glorious Revolution reader?
I could mention so many grassroots groups who are and have amongst them genuine heroes and heroines and are now extremely powerful as they have proven they can rapidly galvanise ordinary people never before active in politics through social media to become very powerful political figures indeed who have changed national policy and will make sure the bedroom tax is dead
So no mention in dispatches but for sure its the grassroots groups that have reclaimed the agenda. It is they who tirelessly work to get rid of this hated policy. It is they who have brought the bedroom tax to its knees by challenging the policy and helping tenants to appeal that has now seen court rulings putting the policy on its last knees and they have done it all with next to no resources.
It is ordinary people many affected by the bedroom tax and a fair number not who have driven the get rid of the bedroom tax agenda not because it is a Tory policy but because it inflicts suffering and pain on their neighbour and friend who face losing their home, THEIR HOME! Yes despite being a ‘mere’ tenant and ‘merely’ renting a property it is THEIR HOME….now that is a message not mentioned in dispatches and one the great and the good in the London-centric world of housing have rarely if ever seen.
And they call it SOCIAL housing too!
I have worked in housing for over 20 years and as most of that has been in supported housing which deals with people, ie the social bit, I thought I knew a bit about tenants in mainstream general needs housing. Yet the last 12 months or so I have been campaigning against the bedroom tax I have met more tenants than ever before and seen the stress and suffering in their faces; I have seen what this bastard of an ill-though through policy has done to people – again something the housing ‘grandees’ have never seen or contemplated and something the Tory grandees wouldn’t give a toss about.
That is why I have spent so much time working with these grassroots campaigners and felt privileged and honoured to be seen as part of them.
They deserve to be mentioned much more than in dispatches reader and when they finally get rid of the bedroom tax and save the social housing model they will move on to challenging the other issue they already challenge such as the benefits cap such as sanctions and some outrageous ATOS and other issues. They do it because it is right and do it because it is needed and do it because there are so few advice centres and because legal aid is no longer available for welfare benefit matters.
They don’t do it to be mentioned in dispatches!