Monday, 18 February 2013

Bin the bedroom tax can’t pay won’t pay!

This year many people across the country will be affected by the bedroom tax. A tax on empty rooms in a house. [Mike Daily is the Principal Solicitor of Glasgow’s Govan Law Centre and is a member of the Financial Services Authority’s Financial Services Consumer Panel. He writes in a personal capacity.] One of the worst aspects of the 2012 Welfare Reform Act is the so called ‘bedroom tax’, although it might equally be called a ‘disability tax’ because two-thirds of the 95,000 households affected in Scotland contain someone with a disability.1 The rationale for housing benefit cuts for ‘under-occupied homes’ in the social rented sector is the UK Government’s desire to reduce the overall cost of housing benefit by £1bn over two years – so the bedroom tax is another tentacle of the austerity agenda. 2 A strategy that almost all respected political economists around the world will tell you is fundamentally flawed.3 If everyone does something at the same time, like implement cuts and reduce spending, the economy will go on a downwards spiral and UK debt will actually grow. This is what has happened in the UK. This is known as a ‘fallacy of composition’.4 The Chancellor has got it wrong, GDP has gone down, and our economic growth is flat lining.5 Besides the obvious human misery and indignity of forcing people out of their homes, there are other powerful reasons why implementing a bedroom tax is wrong and not in the public interest. Two immediate problems are created: first, you create a dynamic to force people to downsize. The DWP estimate that 660,000 people across the UK will be affected by these changes. The changes apply to claimants under the age of 61.6 Some 81% of those affected are ‘under occupying’ by just one bedroom. This means most people affected will be liable to a 14% cut in their existing housing benefit from April 2013 – the equivalent of £624 per annum or £12 per week. The DWP already accept there will be many communities where there is insufficient smaller homes to downsize to. This added to cuts in other benefits and the universal credit coming in in April will have a devastating effect on local communities and some of the poorest in society. This tax must be fought as widely and as tactically as we can. This is not going to be something the trade unions are likely to get involved in although their support for direct action struggles is always welcome. This may take local tenants groups with militant mass non payment to force this tax into the dustbin of history. What is clear though is that non implementation is a option and labour councils should be using all legal powers they have to try and delay disrupt and ultimately make this tax unworkable. Disabled people will of course be hardest hit, along with those on low pay or benefits. The exemption for tenants who need an overnight career is of limited application. ITV News has given some common real life examples of where disabled tenants will be penalized by the bedroom tax.8 The example of a tenant who uses her second bedroom as sterile room to receive nutrition from a machine, made necessary after she had surgery for bowel cancer. Or a couple where the husband had a stroke and cannot share the same bedroom with his wife. Both of these tenants will lose over £48 per month from their housing benefit from April. While the cost to a social landlord in evicting a tenant is on average £6,000. Local councils will not want to be seen to be shelling out thousands in evicting lots of people this could become unworkable if many simply refuse to pay or in many people’s case cannot pay so won’t pay. It’s a disgrace while rich millionaires have spare rooms in their houses are not taxed yet those of us who need a spare room are taxed for the right to have one. It smack’s a little of a nanny state dictating what you can and cannot have now. There are sure to be many legal cases against this unfair tax on the basis of discrimination and I do hope those who are affected search out any route to fight back and are supported when they do so. Occupations must be supported if families are under threat of losing their homes and our solidarity will be needed at all times. People facing this tax are not alone and must not be made to feel so. An attack on one is an attack on us all.

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