In my opinion the so called ‘bedroom tax’ is the most pernicious and terrible idea that has come about in the last 15 years. I read some time ago that Ian Duncan-Smith, who is undoubtedly a well meaning, decent and highly intelligent and accomplished individual, had been researching and doing in-depth studies into the welfare system with a view of overhauling it for the good of everyone. I respect his abilities and ideas.
Which is why it’s so astonishing that he’s brought in this new tax that has been rolled out in several boroughs, and will presumably become ubiquitous very soon.
A friend, who is currently unemployed, lives alone in a flat that has two bedrooms. She is at rock bottom financially and has been told that her housing benefit is being reduced (effectively charging her a tax) by £17 a week. £17 a week, when you have literally no money to spare, is, frankly, impossible to find. With thousands of people in the same impossible situation it wouldn’t surprise me if many of them chuck morals out of the window and embark on any kind of illegal activity they can to bridge the gap. And I wouldn’t blame them. What else can they do?
Okay, the idea in principle: that people in council accommodation that have more space than they actually need, should move into somewhere smaller, is one point of view, albeit a cruel one. That, presumably, was the original intention of the legislation. Even allowing for the fact that it is surely cruel and wicked to expect someone to give up the home they’ve lived in for years, the cold hard and relevant reality is that in many areas (perhaps most) there simply is not the option to move into somewhere smaller. So local authorities tell a council house tenant that they have to find extra money every week if they stay where they are – their other option, presumably, to sleep in the street.
I have heard otherwise apparently highly plausible radio presenters on LBC saying, quite seriously, to callers to their programme “What are you worrying about? All you have to do is let a room!” For heaven’s sake, no one wants to let a room in their own home, unless it’s of their own free choice. Most people value their privacy, and why shouldn’t they? To be railroaded into taking a stranger into your home, your only refuge in times of trouble, is the ultimate indignity. And if you are unemployed, having to go through the indignity of declaring every penny you earn to the authorities, you would have to declare this ‘rent’ anyway, and presumably your income would be reduced accordingly.
It makes me angry when I hear fatuous rich people in lovely rewarding jobs, mouthing on about how good working is for you, and that if you are unemployed it would ‘do you good’ to get into the habit of employment. I have had long periods of unemployment in my life, and I can tell you that going into the job centre to sign on is the most horrible, miserable, ghastly experience you can have. I loathe the kind of people who say that ‘I have never been unemployed. If I was I would be parking meter attendant, do cleaning, do anything at all rather than sign on.’ I bet. Perhaps they have never faced the indignity of having to do a ‘restart course’ (as it was called years ago), when you are told how to go to a library and find a book, how to prepare e a CV, and how to be ‘motivated’. Most people want to work in order not to have financial worries and to have the lifestyle they enjoy, and they want to do a job that suits their intellect, their interests and also so as to have the company of like-minded people. Above all to have the things they want in life, and to have a measure of freedom.
More to the point, I would also guess that the majority of people in council accommodation are in employment anyway. Perhaps doing hard, low paid jobs that they heartily dislike, for long long hours. Or part-time work in reasonably paid jobs, because there simply is no full time work in their field. I met a man in Staples who told me that because the branch of Staples where he worked full time had closed he was taking any work he could: in his case part-time work in another branch of the retail store. He was being hit with having to pay an extra £20 a week. I am sure this is the kind of situation replicated all over the country, to people with families, who are doing the utmost to get by.
Kicking people when they are down is degrading and disgusting, and anyone who has hardly any money needs help, encouragement and support, not to have a splinter of terror inserted underneath their fingernails. Your home is your home, whether it’s owned by the council, a private landlord or your great-great-great grandfather in 1700. It’s the place where you ought to be able to feel safe.
It’s time for the government to have some compassion and to face the reality of their mistake. If Mr Cameron does not see sense soon the ‘bedroom tax’ will be for him what the council tax was for Mrs Thatcher. His downfall.
Generally I like Mr Cameron, and on the whole I support what he’s doing. Let’s hope he realises that this is possibly the biggest mistake of his coalition government, before the people who have no voice are defended by those that have.
Because the French revolution was not started by those that had nothing. It was begun by the middle classes who cared for those at the bottom who had no bread.