Friday 22 February 2013

Three ways in which the "Bedroom tax" exposes Tory hypocrisy

In April 2013 the Tory led Coalition government will introduce a measure called "Bedroom tax", which is an absurd scheme aimed at financially penalising poor people into moving out of their homes. Social housing tenants in receipt of housing benefit will have their housing support payments reduced if they are deemed to be "under occupying" their homes. The measures are supposedly designed to save £480 million, a seemingly large sum until one considers that annual housing benefits payouts amount to £23 billion (48x the amount) and that much like all government estimates, the figure is almost certain to be a grotesquely over-optimistic calculation.

Problems with the "Bedroom tax"

The main thrust of the article will be to explain how "Bedroom tax" demonstrates Tory hypocrisy, however first I'd like to run through some of the reasons that "Bedroom tax" will prove cruel and ineffective for many reasons. This is a long, but by no means exhaustive list of reasons that the "Bedroom tax" is a terrible and malicious idea:
  • A sensible strategy to increase the availability of social housing is to build more social housing. Not only would this increase the supply of decent , affordable family sized housing, it would also stimulate economic demand, since the construction of social housing is a proven high fiscal multiplier. This kind of homebuilding strategy would never happen under a Conservative government, given their burning ideological hatred of the whole concept of social housing. Instead we get bonkers schemes like "Bedroom tax".
  • In many areas (especially the North of England and Scotland) there is a chronic shortage of one and two bedroom social housing. Take Hull for example:4,700 tenants are going to be affected by the "Bedroom tax" charge, but there are only 73 one or two bedroom properties available in the area. It is impossible for the vast majority of those families to find smaller accommodation, so they face no choice but to pay the "Bedroom tax". If there is nowhere available to downsize to, it becomes absolutely obvious that this scheme is simply a method of impoverishing some of society's poorest members.
  • It has been estimated that the vast majority of people who are going to be effected by this tax will be families with disabled members, many of whom have had their homes specially adapted to their needs (wide doors and ramps for wheelchair access, stairlifts, adapted bathrooms and kitchens...). Forcing them out of their home because they are deemed to have a "spare bedroom" means that large amounts of money will have to be spent on making adaptations to their new smaller homes, assuming that there are even any available in their area.
  • Another group of people effected by "Bedroom tax" will be those families with members serving in the armed forces, if they are away on duty for more than 13 weeks, their family members back home will be stung with a tax bill on account of their absence.
  • Only penalising those that are in social housing means that housing benefits recipients "under occupying" private rented accommodation will not be penalised. Given that the private rented sector is now larger than the social housing sector, this exclusion means that increases in the supply of family sized homes and reductions in the housing benefit bill will be severely limited.
  • Owners of empty properties will remain completely unaffected. Tackling the estimated million unoccupied homes with an empty home tax would seem like a much more sensible strategy to tackle the "housing shortage" than financially penalising poor people for the "crime" of having a "spare bedroom" in the home that they occupy.
  • Wealthy owners of council houses will also remain entirely unaffected, since they receive no housing benefits. A scheme that tackles "under occupation" by focusing exclusively on the most needy social housing tenants (the ones in receipt of benefits), looks a lot more like undisguised Tory malice than a scheme that is designed to achieve any specific outcome.
  • Pensioners in social housing are also excluded (because the Tories certainly don't want to be seen to be attacking one of their core demographics), meaning that many really old people will be allowed to keep the 3/4/5 bedroom social houses that they don't need, whist families with disabled children will be financially penalised for the "crime" of having specially adapted bedrooms.
Tory hypocrisy

Okay, now were past some of the many arguments against this harebrained scheme, lets move on to the ways in which it clearly demonstrates Tory party hypocrisy.

Small state libertarianism
The Conservative party, and right-wingers in general, always love to dress themselves up as freedom fighting libertarians. They pretend that their desire to shrink the state is driven by an ideological objection to "state interference" both in an economic sense and in a public sense too. They pretend that they believe that the state mustn't interfere in the economy in order to allow the "invisible hand of the free market" to guide the economy to prosperity and they also pretend that they believe the state mustn't interfere in the personal lives of its citizens. "Bedroom tax" can be seen as an affront to both of these claimed principles, but especially the second one.
The rules of the bedroom tax are very specific about who should be sleeping in which bedrooms. The state dictates that the children of poor social housing tenants must sleep two to a bedroom. The only exception being children of different sexes that are over the age of ten. Thus, the state is dictating to people that their 15 year old son (who perhaps likes to masturbate a lot and suffers from BO, which would hardly be atypical), must share a bedroom with their three year old brother. There are also insisting that severely disabled children share their bedroom with siblings too (here's one example of a severely disabled and often violent 15 year old being expected to share a room with her 3 year old sister).

These aren't just examples of the state gratuitously interfering in the lives of civilians, they are interferences that in many cases have severely detrimental consequences. It is absolutely clear that the "bedroom tax" has been dreamt up by someone without the faintest regard for libertarian or minarchist principles. It looks a hell of a lot more like a vindictive campaign dreamt up by a party with an ideological loathing of social housing tenants, aimed at penalising the poorest and most needy members of society than a policy from a party that like to claim that government shouldn't interfere in our everyday lives.

Next time you hear a Tory talking up the small-state, free-market credentials of their party, just remember the

"All in it together"
"We're all in it together" was one of the coalition government's favourite soundbytes during the first year-or-so of their rule. Well the tax and benefits changes due in April this year drive a few hundred more ring annular nails through the coffin lid of that particular narrative.

Whilst millionaires are handed a whopping great annual tax cut of £50,000+, corporations are coddled with yet another tax cut and tax-dodging British companies are given their wet-dream of a tax break to help them rip off third world economies, millions of ordinary people will face huge tax hikes, through "Bedroom tax" and "Poll Tax 2.0". Not only that, the government's own research admits that 1.7 million working families will lose thousands of pounds a year because of  the introduction of Universal Credit.

The changes in April will hammer home the case that "all in it together" is a contemptible lie and that the Tories are absolutely intent on forcing the burden of austerity onto those that can afford it the least, whilst enriching, and protecting the interests of the already wealthy.

Mansion tax
Do you remember the Tory justification narrative for opposing the Lib-Dem idea of a "Mansion tax" on properties valued at over £2 million? They loved to rely on the story of a hypothetical "little old lady" in her mansion, without the means to pay the "Mansion tax". Oh how unfair it would be, they wailed, to make our hypothetical old lady downsize her home to avoid the tax or to sell off a few acres of her estate to make more than enough money to cover the "Mansion tax" payments for the rest of her life.

Yet, they are intent on forcing tens of thousands of very real people out of their homes with their "Bedroom tax" charges. Those that cannot move due to the abject lack of 1 or 2 bedroom social housing in their area, will just have to pay up, whether they can afford it or not.

This just shows the mentality of the Tories.They vehemently defend the interests of hypothetical "little old ladies" in multi-million pound mansions, whilst imposing policies that are actually designed to drive very real vulnerable people out of their homes. On the Tory scale of priorities, the interests of real poor and vulnerable people with no means to pay come miles behind the interests of hypothetical rich people, with the hypothetical means to pay a bit extra.

I reckon that in the first section I've demonstrated that the "Bedroom tax" is an absolutely rotten idea, in fact, it's so poorly conceived that even the uber-right-wing Daily Telegraph have referred to it as "mean oppressive and a politically daft gift to the left".

In the second section I've shown how the Tory embrace and trenchant defence of the "Bedroom tax" agenda shows them up as the hypocrites they are.

Next time you hear a Tory whining about Labour or the EU insidiously trying to micro-manage our daily lives, remember that the Tories are intent on financially penalising families that believe it is in their best interests that teenage child do not share a bedroom with their three year old siblings, the father that has a spare bedroom for the days when he has custody of his own kids or the couple that need a spare bedroom because one of them is so severely disabled that they need to sleep in a special hospital bed in a room full of medical equipment.

Next time you hear a Tory as much as imply that "we're all in it together", remember that at the same time as they are launching this plan to financially penalise poor and vulnerable people out of their homes, whether alternative accommodation is available or not, they are handing a whopping great £50,000+ annual tax cut to their millionaire mates.

Next time you hear a Tory decry the idea of a "Mansion tax" or the introduction of higher council tax bands for the owners of huge properties because the hypothetical "little old lady" might suffer, remember that they have no such qualms about deliberately driving hundreds of thousands of very real poor and disabled people out of their homes or stuffing them with hundreds of pounds a year in charges for the "crime" of under-occupying their homes.

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