Tuesday, 5 March 2013

The Bedroom Tax - the ideology behind the rhetoric

The contradictions in the bedroom tax reveal its real intention.

What's in a name?
Apparently, recently, a missive went out, to Tory MPs who are calling the ‘bedroom tax’ a ‘bedroom tax’, that it is not a ‘bedroom tax’ at all; it is ‘the Under-occupation of Social Housing: Housing Benefit Entitlement’.  

They are not doing that because they have a penchant for pedantic nomenclature. The Tories assert that the 'bedroom tax' is not a tax at all, but a measure designed to reduce surplus accommodation in the social housing sector.  They do so because, they realise, there is a great deal of support for such a measure

Waiting lists for social housing are impossibly long and lengthening. And, if you are a young person with a family unable to get into social housing, I think we can all appreciate how you might well be exasperated by single persons occupying – at social housing rents – 3- and 4-bedroom houses. If it were you, you might well be calling for some kind of mechanism to get those people out and you in!

The Tories know this, and it is to that audience they are playing.

My assertion is that the Tory standpoint is irreconcilably self-contradictory.

Contradiction 1: this is clearly NOT designed to reduce under-occupancy
The lie to the Tory lie is clear, firstly, in their decision to omit people aged over 65 from the bedroom tax.

Surely, if the Tories had genuinely intended the measure to reduce under-occupancy, the first people they would have targeted would have been the over-65s. How many people must there be in social housing who took their house when they had a family, and have since seen their children leave and their partner die … and yet, regarding their ‘council house’ as their family ‘home’, have stayed on in their rented property?  Nonetheless – for reasons it is not hard to guess – the Tories have exempted these over-65 accommodation-guzzlers from the bedroom tax.

Further to that, if the Tories had really intended to reduce under-occupancy, why did they not make people in social housing who are NOT on benefits also liable to the charge? There must be many people in work and not on benefits in social housing who have a-bedroom-too-many. Why not charge them £14 a week as well?

Come to think of it, why restrict the measure to social housing? My wife and I rattle around in a 4-bedroom house which we bought when we had three children. It has three toilets – even if we get caught like the queen, we don’t need more than two! So why did the Tories not extend the bedroom tax to private properties? Could it not just as logically be argued that my wife and I are hogging unused accommodation which is needed by young people unable to find or afford a house large enough for their families? There are maybe 6 million under-occupied privately-owned homes in the UK; even if the average were only under-occupied by one bedroom, that would still yield £4.5bn a year. It would also unleash a flood of houses onto the market, and house-prices would fall to affordable levels.

And most of all, as my wife points out, the state-supported pensioner with most unoccupied bedrooms is the Queen. One wouldn’t want to scare her in her current poorly state, but why haven’t the Tories asked her for bedroom tax?

If they REALLY wanted to address under-occupancy, wouldn’t the Tories have done these things? Instead, however, they have opted for a measure which will affect only a tiny corner of the problem and will yield – relatively – peanuts.

Contradiction 2: this is clearly NOT a money-raising measure
When they ‘sell’ their bedroom tax to the public, the other thing the Tories always stress is that it is a ‘money-saving’ measure. A scan of the internet has failed to tell me reliably how much, but I have seen figures between £700m and £1bn (if you’re reading this and you know, tell me and I will give the correct figure).

Practically, of course, it is not working like that. Many people are finding that – moving from social housing with excess capacity to private rentals without – their rents are in fact going up, and the removal of surplus bedrooms is costing MORE for the welfare bill ... but that is not my point.

My point, as my MP points out, is that it is an absolute con-trick. The bedroom tax CANNOT reduce surplus capacity AND raise money. In fact, the more-successfully it reduces under-occupancy, the less money it will yield – if the bedroom tax were to have 100% success in reducing empty-bedrooms, it would yield NOTHING!

The Tories are selling the bedroom tax as a measure which will reduce under-occupancy and raise money. It is a lie. At most, it might be presented as a measure which will reduce under-occupancy OR raise money. At worst – as my MP asserts – it is beginning to look simply like a cynical ploy to take money from vulnerable people who are unable to move to a smaller house.

Class cleansing
Which brings me to my point.

We have here a measure which is useless and ineffectual at reducing under-capacity … which does not even begin to address the problem. At the same time, it is useless and ineffectual at raising money and has the terminal flaw that, the more successful it is, the less it will raise.

So why, you ask, is the government proceeding with this ineffectual, flawed measure?

I think the answer lies in considering who are the victims.  Because the bedroom tax is not a universal tax, it is a directed tax.  It is directed solely at people on benefits.

The bedroom tax is so useless as a measure for either housing or taxing that its REAL function becomes obvious: it is a measure purely and simply to hurt those on benefits. It is ideologically-motivated; we have in power a government which so hates those on benefits – which so hates the idea of giving money to people who have not been slaving away for it within a capitalist workplace – that it is a case of any stick to hit a dog. And their reaction and strategy is simply to harm and damage the benefits class until they disappear. The Tories are loving ‘teaching them a lesson about life’ by making their lives miserable and difficult. They are motivated by a disdainful loathing which does not see real individuals, but only a stereotyped sub-group whom they would ‘cleanse’ from society.

(And, yes, the allusion to ethnic cleansing was intentional.)

It is not just the Bedroom Tax which is an offence to a civilised society, but the people who are implementing it. 

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