Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Race to the bottom/bedroom tax. (Eh sorry, the 'spare room subsidy'.)

So, Raquel Rolnik then, here she is:

Rachel Rolnik is a Special Rapporteur with the UN sent to the UK to investigate Westminster's bedroom tax.

One thing at a time though, what is the bedroom tax? Well, first of all, we don't want to further offend poor Grant Shapps' delicate sensibilities - Grant by the way, apart from being a bit petulant, is the Conservative Party Chairman - he prefers to call the bedroom tax the 'Spare Room Subsidy'. A lot of people think the bedroom tax is a Tory invention - it isn't. New Labour under Gordon Brown introduced it for private tenants (people in receipt of housing benefit but not living in council or housing association properties) in 2008, the Tories just extended it to all tenants in receipt of housing benefit.

How does it work? If you have one spare room, your housing benefit will be cut by 14%, if you have two or more it'll be cut by 25%. The aim is to encourage people who only require one bedroom but live in a house with more to relocate to smaller digs thus freeing up the bigger homes for families.

The trouble is, all sorts of unintended consequences are occurring; disabled people who require carers to stay over night, or require the space to store equipment (hoist & wheel chairs etc,) grand parents with familial responsibilities or those with spare rooms which are in fact over-sized cupboards but have been classified incorrectly have all been caught out. They have to fund the short fall from their already over-strained finances.

Of course, on the surface of it, it seems like a reasonable idea, I can't afford a two bedroom property and I work full time (no laughing at the back.) Turns out, its not though. Firstly, its only going to save something like £500 million, they say a 'saving' but the costs involved in rehousing, collecting rent arrears and the usual levels of bureaucracy these things attract - it isn't going to be a saving at all. Secondly, there is a serious shortfall in single bedroom properties - no one builds them any more because multi-bed dwellings are more popular and flexible.

Nick & Margaret: We Pay All Your Benefits - from the BBC.
Two exceedingly well off people judging the poor - how terribly Victorian.

People in receipt of benefits are an easy target, especially with a press only too eager to amplify the kind of faux outrage Westminster parties need to press ahead with their ideologically-driven policies. There are so many reasons why its such a shit idea and as usual, its not straight forward, so many people switch off thinking "well, its not happening to me so..." The thing is, it could happen to you, and even if it never does, you'll pay for the aftermath with your cash and your own standard of living

The Bedroom tax is just another facet of Westminster's race to the bottom, its never about improving people's lot, its about pitting one demographic against another and assuring the lowest common denominator becomes the new normal. I mean, of course it makes sense to remove £500 million from the poorest in the UK instead of, say, actually collecting tax due from large multinational corporations selling their crap in the UK.

But I digress.

Raquel was in the UK in her capacity as a UN Investigator looking at the bedroom tax.
"Ms Rolnik told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she had received "hundreds of testimonies" and said there was a "danger of a retrogression in the right to adequate housing" in the UK.
She cited examples of disabled people, or grandmothers who were carers, and said the measure seemed to have been designed "without the human component in mind".
She said her recommendation was "that it should be suspended" to allow time to better assess the human rights implications, and so it could be redesigned."

Grant Shapps was miffed because Raquel didn't ask him anything, I would say, Grant Shapps probably isn't affected by the bedroom tax - sorry - the spare room subsidy, so why would she? He said:
"It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with government ministers, to fail to meet with the department responsible, to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring, and even to fail to refer to the policy properly throughout the report."
Jeezo Grant, get over yourself. The bedroom tax isn't that complicated, Ms Rolnik met with a senior official from the DWP after which there was...

"...a further meeting "at which the findings were presented by the rapporteur". A spokesman said that at the start Communities Secretary Eric Pickles "popped in - it would be pushing it to call it a meeting".
Eric Pickles no less. The idea of him 'popping in', consider my mind boggled.

Eric Pickles: arguing against a spare chin tax. (Tory SoS for Communities and Local Government.)

It goes with out saying, Shapps is pissed off because the bedroom tax is a shit idea and he didn't get the chance to spin it otherwise. Raquel Rolnik got straight to the job of finding out how it affected real people and discovered that it probably did infringe certain human rights.

The human rights issue isn't the most compelling argument against the bedroom tax, as mentioned, it'll save no money and its backward and unfair. Once again political leaders at Westminster are demanding swathes of the population comply with a certain policy, then promptly arranging things so its almost impossible to do so.

If you can't find a job they tell you to move, never for a moment thinking how much it costs to move. Even if you do find work, with so many new jobs being temporary, part time or having zero hour contracts attached; its not worth it. MP's don't understand any of that mundane crap because for them, for each of life's challenges, there is an expense to cover it.

Take Eric Pickles for example. During the expenses scandal his main home was only 29 miles away from Parliament in his Essex constituency - yet - he claimed £250 a month in mortgage interest payments, £750 a year for services charges for a second home in East London, Pickles also billed the public purse £200 for cleaning and £280 for groceries and other household bills every month, (to be fair, that last one could have been much higher...)

No doubt there is money to be saved in the UK, but taking it off people who are already struggling is wrong and inhumane, that the UK needs the fragrant Raquel Rolnik of the UN to come and tell the incumbent government does not bode well for any of us.

Meanwhile, as part of Team GB, we're racing to the bottom. The Civil service's working conditions are better than the private sector's - what to do? How about, instead of pulling the private sector up to the level of the civil service, why not drag the civil service down to private sector conditions. 

Or - there are some in our society who need a wee bit extra help, do we give them that and attempt to raise them up out of the vicious cycle of poverty they find themselves in? No, lets make their situation worse by lowering the pitiful amount of money they're given and further lowering standards for everyone.

Meanwhile, Labour - who brought the bedroom tax in originally - now say they wouldn't have adopted the policy and crucially, won't say they'll scrap it if returned to government in 2015.

In Scotland?

Well, 41 Scottish MP's voted against, whilst 4 MP's voted for.

MP's vote all the time on all sorts of things at Westminster, while the bedroom tax may not affect you directly; there will be policies that do and others that already have.

The people at Better Together love to tell us how uncertain the world is, but uncertainty & risk is inevitable, there's nothing new about that. What we should have but don't - as evidenced by the bedroom tax vote among others - is choice. Scotland has no choice in the United Kingdom, our choices are made for us by others to their own advantage, if that needlessly impoverishes Scotland then so be it.

Turns out, we do have one very special, far-reaching choice to make, one that if taken correctly will empower every other choice we make there-after. The question is, do we have the collective guts to take it?

I hope I'm not alone in saying; I really hope so.


  1. Once again a great piece, full of facts, engagingly communicated.

    The Bedroom Tax (FU Grant) is abominable.

    Firstly there are not enough homes for people who only need one bedroom. There just aren't, so if they can't pay for their extra bedroom out of their £60 a week or whatever, then they are on the street...

    That's the politics of a dictatorship, not a western democracy.

    Then there are all the people you mention...folk with carer needs; fok with equipment needs who'd like to be able to sit in their living room or lie in their bedroom without it looking like a medical storeroom; then there are married couples who for various reasons (usually health and age related) no longer share a bedroom; or students who'd like to continue to live at home during the half of the year when they are not at university and can't afford the monumental rents for the crap property on offer.

    Like everything else in this god forsaken country, no one thought about any of this in advance. Why are there so few single bedroom flats? Did no one look a the reams of paperwork that the statisticians churned out showing more and more people living alone?

    Why does Westminster never produce anyone with vision beyond the next election (and the opportunity to get feet under the table and snouts in the trough).

    I'm so F***ing fed up with their incompetence, for which they seem never to pay.

    Yeah...Chunky would have a problem, even on his salary, if they had an extra chin tax!

  2. Thanks Tris.

    Even I remember (I say 'even' as if its such a stretch of the imagination) when a council house was a house for life.

    Even if you don't have any stuff to store or care needs, one of Thatcher's most damaging legacies was turning homes into houses. Her government took homes and turned them into commodities to be traded.

    Far as I'm concerned, if you brought up a family in a three or four bed home then its yours for as long as you want it.

    For folk living along, as you say, presumably, if there were enough single bed homes then it wouldn't be a problem. That there isn't is hardly the tenant's fault.

    Westminster is just so callous, people in Scotland should be clamouring to vote yes.

    If people do vote no, I think the fall out is going to be very toxic indeed.

  3. And then we have SLAB asking the SG to spend 50m they don't have. Without saying what they would cut to pay for it. Essentially they are asking the SG to chip in 50m from their already stretched budget to top up Westminster's underspend on benefits. More money going from Scotland to pay for the mega rich tax cuts.

  4. Aye.

    I'm not sure what boggles the mind more, that the opposition in Holyrood think this is reasonable or that the people of Scotland do.

    And the bedroom tax is just one example among so many.

    Citizens of other countries - if they knew - would think we're all incredibly stupid.

  5. It's like Lamont is saying. We can't upset the people in the South East of England who want this, so what we have to do is take it out of another budget in Scotland and the old can go without, or kids can (but remember WHATEVER budget you take it from, we will hammer you hard on it).

    Opportunist idiot.

    I'm reminded Pa, of a story I once told on the blog about an old Englishman who had lived all his life in this corner council house. He 'd gone there as a little boy, grew up there, got his first job, gone off to do national service, come back, restarted his job, and as time went on his mother died, then his father, and then his older sister and his younger sister, until there was just him in this three bedroom house.

    He had some mates who lived nearby, His garden was his pride and job.

    They wanted him out and moved cross town to a flat in a block, with no garden, and far away from his friends.

    How long would he last?

    I never found out what happened to him.

  6. This is exactly what I mean, its just so grasping and callous.

    Really don't understand how Labour get away with the double standards on display just now. Lamont says: We disapprove of our own policy yet won't scrap it, but we want the SNP government to do something about it even although they DO disapprove and WOULD bin it.

    Its daft.

  7. Deliciously complex summation...

    Frankly I just think she's a lying bitch.


Thanks for comment as always and I apologise if you have to jump through any hoops to do so. Its just that, I'm still being spammed by organisations who are certain I can't get it up or when it is up its not big enough or that I don't have anyone to get it up for.

Who knew blogging could be so bad for ones self-confidence?