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Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Standing in solidarity with those affected by the bedroom tax

I have a confession. I am not directly affected by the bedroom tax which will from this month affect those in social housing and housing association housing who have a spare room. But I do stand in full solidarity and will defend anyone affected by this wicked and spiteful attack on the poorest in society. It’s not enough to oppose this in words this most likely will take the form of direct action to stop and eventually scrap all together. We need the spirit of the poll tax to make this tax simply unworkable. From April the 'bedroom tax' will mean that social housing tenants with spare rooms will have their benefits cut. This will hit 660,000 households including many disabled people and low-paid workers. Tenants are faced with an impossible choice of moving from their family homes or being left with a much smaller income. Many will simply be unable to find smaller homes in the social sector because they don't exist. For example, in Newcastle 6,637 families are hit but there are only 50 one-bed homes available. Some will be forced to move to privately rented flats which, because they are more expensive, will actually mean they need more in benefits. There has been a wave of opposition from working class communities. On Merseyside 'One Vision Housing' provoked protests by trying to force tenants to sign a disclaimer accepting that they would face legal action if they didn't pay rent as a result of the bedroom tax. The resistance has already had an effect with the government saying it will introduce exceptions for families with severely disabled children and adult children in the armed forces as well as counting foster children in room allowances. Unworkable Some councils and landlords have seen how unworkable the tax is and have made concessions and come out publicly against the tax. Faced with a growing protest movement, Dundee council has passed a motion agreeing not to evict as a result of arrears caused by the tax for a "transitional period of one year." The policy has been justified as a means to use the social housing stock more efficiently - given the shortage, why should people have a 'spare' room? But the shortage is a result of government policy. This government came into office claiming it was committed to "get Britain building". In fact, house-building figures released in February show an 11% decrease in the number of new homes started in the last year, down to just 98,280. In 2010, the government cut spending on social housing and promised that de-regulation and freeing up the market would increase house building: it didn't! Even the CBI, the 'bosses union', has called on the government to spend £1.25 billion on building 50,000 new homes. Writing in the Guardian, Zoe Williams recently highlighted the fact that as government support for building social housing has fallen the benefit bill has increased, and house building has collapsed. As she put it: "Let's build more homes - who wouldn't vote for that?" Build TUSC But it is hard to vote for it when none of the major parties stand for it. Some Labour politicians have spoken out against the hardship caused by the bedroom tax but they accept the idea of both a bedroom tax and a benefit cap - they just say they oppose this one. That is the importance of building the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition as an alternative, arguing for homes not profit. Nationalising the banks and using them to support a programme of house building would put building workers back in work and offer a real prospect of solving the housing crisis.

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