Opinion: Embracing Entitlement
Published by Brian Church for 24dash.com in Housing
Government in fresh crackdown on bosses who flout minimum wage laws
Rob Gershon, who tweets under @Simplicitly, gives his views on the latest bedroom tax saga:
In today’s Daily Mirror, there are two articles relating to the Bedroom Tax based on the seemingly welcome news that Liberal Democrats, previously responsible for the implementation and retention of the “Social Sector Size Criteria” legislation, have decided that they aren’t going to support the policy any longer.
Not like that time at the beginning of April 2014 when Tim Farron said the party would withdraw their support for the policy and he didn’t mean it (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/apr/02/lib-dem-president-withdraw-party-support-bedroom-tax) but a move to reconcile the stance of parliamentarians with LibDem party members, the majority of whom realised some time ago that the policy doesn’t work.
Ostensibly, Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg have seen the DWP’s Interim report on the hamfistedly politically titled “Evaluation of the Removal of the Spare Room Subsidy” (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/removal-of-the-spare-room-subsidy-interim-evaluation-report) this week. This report was coincidentally released at the same time as there was a cabinet reshuffle. Somehow Danny and Nick still found time to read it, and realised that with climbing arrears, mounting debt, tenants unaware of discretionary housing payments, the majority of the burden falling on disabled people and carers, nowhere to downsize to, nobody downsizing, some tenants moving to expensive private sector rents, nobody taking on lodgers, hardly anybody being able to find work or more work, people requiring support networks, carers and in most cases not realising their spare rooms were spare, something might, possibly be wrong with the policy.
If only there had been any housing professionals to hand, to have warned these outcomes were likely when the policy was introduced last year. All this could surely have been avoided given how highly regarded the expertise of the sector is in political circles. They even have a Lord who works for the National Housing Federation, you know.
It is wonderful that some actual evidence has surfaced to highlight the teething problems of the policy. It’s possible to have missed Aragon Housing and later Grand Union & associated HA reports, NHF reports, CIH findings, Shelter analysis, JRF, Oxfam and Trussell Trust findings on tenant hardship, concerned charities and disability rights groups, stories in national newspapers based on detailed FOI requests, every housing professional who has ever commented on bedroom tax, alongside every housing writer or website or blogger, and even normally meek and pliable tenants speaking out about it. In the DWP report, finally were some official data on which official decisions could be made.
Headlnes would suggest that the Lib Dems are to step in and protect the tenants who, the report suggests aren’t really in a position to bear having their money taken away and being threatened with eviction, or to change their circumstances so that they can find this meanest of levies.
I don’t “Care” minister Norman Lamb, speaking about who makes a decisions in tricky dignity in dying cases on Newsnight, took time out to proclaim that there aren’t enough smaller homes to downsize to for the majority of people affected who were also predominantly disabled, in need of carers, or carers. He quickly trotted out the oft-repeated lie that the legislation just ‘brings into line’ the way that tenants in the social and private rented sectors are treated. Whether this is genuine ignorance or willful politicking one cannot be truly sure. His nose became increasingly red as Kirsty Wark quoted Nick Clegg as saying the policy has been “a catastrophe that punishes the poor”, but he had the good grace to say the new Lib Dem position was just based on evidence.
In his mirror article, Danny Alexander made the Lib Dem case for bedroomtax thus;
"Our aim was to give people a reason to downsize if they live in a home larger than needed”. Danny adroitly skirted around the finer details, that the “reason” people would be given to downsize was the threat of poverty followed by eviction from their home,
“Second, to end the unfairness of people in social housing getting housing benefit on better terms than private tenants who for years have received it based on the number of rooms they need”. Danny seems completely ignorant not just of how the two policies were implemented differently, but how LHA is calculated locally, and bedroom tax is a blanket deduction applied to the predominantly disabled people affected. He also failed to take the opportunity to highlight how his Coalition has reduced the value of Local Housing Allowance through welfare cuts, with the burden once again falling on tenants and possibly Fergus Wilson.
“Third, to change the system as part of our wider reforms to make sure working pays and we have a welfare bill the country can afford. Our benefit reforms are working, resulting in many more people re-entering work" IDS-speak; this isn’t borne out by the DWP report on bedroom tax, but when did pesky facts get in the way of a good soundbite?
Danny then swiftly moved on to the glowing solutions to the problems he’s created by not understanding what he’s voted for:
“Our revised proposal is that new tenants in the social rented sector would receive housing benefit based on the number of rooms they need." As with LHA, he’s suggesting only new tenancies will be subject to room restrictions
“But those already in the social rented sector would only see a reduction in benefit if they are offered a suitable smaller home and, crucially, turn it down." Oh, not like the LHA after all. In the private sector you only get assessed for a new tenancy. Danny is determined to carry on hounding existing social sector tenants. There’s no detail here about what constitutes a ‘suitable’ smaller home, and it’s hard to see how this will be practiced in legislation.
“Disabled adults should be treated the same as disabled children, by permanently exempting them." In what is probably Mr Alexander’s most grueling error, he seems to suggest disabled children are exempt from the bedroom tax. Perhaps this is what he told himself every time he voted for it previously, but this statement is troubling because it invalidates the promise to make disabled adults exempt, and shows a fundamental ignorance of the basic functions of the policy he repeatedly voted for. Without any detail of what constitutes a disability in the eyes of Nick, Danny and Norman, and given the amazing success of work capability assessments and personal independence payments, it’s currently impossible to guess who will be exempt, and who won’t.
“And we would introduce new measures on social landlords to manage their stock more effectively so more people get put into the right home." Everybody knows how bad social landlords have been at managing their stock more effectively before the bedroom tax came in. Just look at how easy it must be, with such a broad choice of properties available in a country where there’s no shortage of housing and no affordability issues for anyone.
Finally, “I want everyone to have the chance to live securely in a decent home.
That’s why I’ve driven through measures that will deliver record numbers of affordable homes to help tackle the root cause of our housing problem, lack of supply.
And it’s why our manifesto will set out plans to go further and deliver 300,000 new homes a year”.
Yeah, right. “Affordable”
It’s impossible to tell what form this political opposition to bedroom tax will take, as the next likely test of today’s fleeting assertions will be when Andrew George’s Private Members Bill on making similar modifications to the legislation is debated on September 12th 2014, so we’re very much in a situation where we’ll have to wait, and see.