Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The bedroom tax

Karen, commenting on my last post, asked if I'd write about the bedroom tax.

So - taking a deep breath - here I go. Those of you in the UK with probably know all this - I'll be interested to see what you think. I shall try to be impartial - well, I'll try to present the reasoning that underpins the wretched tax, and then its unintended (but predictable) consequences. All this without using the word 'ludicrous.'

Here in the UK we have, since 1945, tried to provide social housing for those who, for whatever reason (generally poverty) are unable to buy their own homes nor afford rents in the private sector. This is meant to ensure that everyone is adequately housed, has access to clean water and sanitation - that sort of thing.

Then along came Margaret Thatcher who decided it would be a good idea if people who lived in social housing had the opportunity to buy their own homes, at reduced rates, thus allowing them to join the property market - founded on a belief that private ownership is good and social housing is inferior. Significant numbers took up her offer - thus reducing the number of houses available for those who need them.

Our current government, anxious to reduce public spending, noticed that some people living in social housing have a spare room. Sometimes this is because children have grown up and left home; sometimes it is because they are disabled and need space for specialised equipment; sometimes they are foster carers leaving a room free for emergency placements.

Not good enough, said the government - there are people who need these houses. They are right - the waiting list for social housing grows and grows. Families linger in unsanitary conditions waiting for houses to become available. So surely, if people with rooms to spare could move somewhere smaller - then this would free bigger homes for bigger families? But no one is asked politely to move, for the general good. No - everyone with a spare room MUST move to somewhere smaller (no, there can be No Excuses), or lose some of their benefits that help towards housing costs - effectively taxing them for having a spare room.

Which might be fine if there were flexibility - for the elderly who have lived in their homes for decades, for grandparents needing a spare room for children to return home, for those with offspring in their twenties who come and go for years before finally setting up their own homes, for the disabled ... On top of that, even if people agree to move, there aren't enough  smaller properties for people to move into. Because Margaret Thatcher thought it was such a good idea to sell them.

So how are people managing:

Some are turning to food banks, or payday loan companies, or going without meals or heating, and trying to pay the tax.

Some are simply unable to pay, and are evicted. But the Council have a responsibility to help them, so they are moved into Bed and Breakfast accommodation - which is more expensive than any tax that was saved - until smaller properties become available.

Which, to me, looks totally bonkers. But what do I know? (Karen - I'll be interested to hear what you think?)

20 comments:

  1. I didn't know about this. I have no words to respond politely to what is happening.

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  2. Thank you, Val - I think I did rather well to write this without blasphemy!

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  3. I feel very blessed to have bought my house a decade or so ago, just before it doubled in value...before that we rented. Our neighbours are a young couple with one child, and the house is three bed. They plan to have another child at some point, and thought about not moving again whilst they have small children, then came the bedroom tax... They now have to find extra money on low income to cover the one extra room. Their rent is already double our mortgage...and this government thinks it supports the family???
    I'm all for voluntary moving to offer your 'big' house to a family if you want, but when I'm a grandparent, I want my extra rooms, for family to come visit. I'm lucky I don't need to worry, but sickened for those who want to have normal lives with extended family and are paying the price for having a functional normal family!
    And that's not mentioning all the other reasons you've put here!

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    1. Thank you for this, Lisa - the human side of all this ridiculousness.

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  4. It is totally bonkers. That is the simple answer. A slightly longer answer is that it is both totally heartless and totally bonkers. the question is to me, WHY? when it clearly, clearly cannot work and has such bad effects. Which useless squirt is (a) getting rich on it or (b) covering their backside by it? Grrr!

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    1. Bonkers - just about sums it up!

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  5. Interesting but I'm still confused! So the bedroom tax is on homeowners? Or renters? Maybe I don't understand the term "social housing." Is it government-subsidized housing for renters? Or for homeowners?

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    1. I'll try to explain:

      Social housing - homes that are owned by the state, or by private companies on behalf of the state, and rented by families who cannot (for whatever reason) own their homes. It was seen as essential in a modern, rich economy to provide shelter for everyone - part of the post-war ideals underpinning the Welfare State.

      These are the families, still renting, who now risk being evicted - some from homes they've lived in for decades - or having rents increased so they are much higher than anyone on a limited income can afford.

      Does that help? (If you think the tax doesn't make sense, that's because it doesn't).

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  6. The strangest idea is that by failing to pay rent for this accommodation, eventually being evicted, one is deemed making themselves homeless, ineligible for housing help/assistance
    !

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  7. And the irony? Councils are STILL selling of precious husing stock under Thantcher's Right to Buy scheme. And the double irony? Some Housing Groups cannot find tenants to fill the bigger houses - coz they can't afford the rent and, as they can't afford to have empty properties on their books, are planning to demolish them. I have never, in my 63 years, known such wickedness as this government is perpetrating upon the poor - who are demonized every day in rags like The daily Mail as ''benefit scroungers and shirkers.' I am a firm believer in Hell. I hope every politician of whatever political party who raised their evil hands and agreed to pass this law, ends up there. Rant over.

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    1. Likewise, Carol - I dream of the day we turn the same spotlight on the tax dodgers ...

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  8. This tax definitely causes ire, similar to what Obamacare is doing in the US. But I figure Obamacare will be repealed before too long, is there a chance the bedroom tax can be repealed?

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    1. It will get repealed - though who knows when. But it so patently doesn't work that it will sink without trace at some point. Except there will be traces of families who have suffered under it.

      (I'm not going to comment on Obamacare - those of us who love our Health Service can't see what the fuss is about!)

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  9. It is nothing like Obamacare and sadly will not get repealed soon enough.

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    1. Agreed Mark - roll on repeal-day!

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  10. Now I know a bit more about it, I am even more horrified, Jo. The fact that it is a tax on tenants of social housing who cannot afford to buy their own homes, or who have lived in their houses for a lifetime and may now be forced to move, makes it even worse. It is hard to credit that any parliament of a supposedly civilised, caring and socially minded country could even countenance such an unfair tax.

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    1. So do we assume that those who devised the tax don't care about the poor, or are too stupid to think through the obvious consequences ... maybe both ...

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  11. How long has this bedroom tax been in effect? It seems wrong on all counts, especially when the poor are already beaten-down and in no position to fight back. Very sad, indeed.

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    1. It came into effect last April and the real impact will come this winter when families have to choose between paying higher rents, higher heating bills, or higher food bills.

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    2. And the weather pundits are forecasting an exceptionally cold winter. I shudder (and not only from cold) to think what the outcome is going to be.

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