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The Bedroom Tax will kill Coalition claims of fairness

February 8th, 2013

The Henry G. Manson Friday slot

There are some that have likened the ‘bedroom tax’ to the ‘Poll Tax’. It’s not. The bedroom tax won’t apply to the vast majority of people, so its political purchase is limited in that respect. However it is hitting around 600,000 of some of the most vulnerable in society that is significant. The unfairness of the implications of this particular policy will ring out across the country come April.

    The fact that this will be introduced at the precise time income taxes of the richest are being cut will magnify the injustice and awkwardness for a government that once claimed ‘we’re all in this together’.

There are plenty of charities speaking up on behalf of the vulnerable who cannot be casually dismissed. They have the facts and figures on the ground that Ministers have averted their attention from in developing this policy. Housing associations also stand to take a huge hit and are understandably vocal. Some may become bankrupted off the back of the welfare changes and so have little to lose. Ed Miliband is also on the case and if the Prime Minster’s strangely tone deaf response at Prime Minister’s Questions was anything to go by then the Coalition should now be worried. Such opposition may not be able to stop the policy being introduced but it can end any sense that ministers are cutting fairly.

I dare say the principle behind the policy may initially sounds reasonable in the ‘think tank’ laboratories of Conservative policy making. To save money the government will reduce housing benefit for those it believes are under-occupying a house. To avoid losing out tenants will have to find alternative accommodation. The trouble with the policy is that there just aren’t enough houses to move to of the right size.

As Channel 4 News have pointed out ‘according to figures from the Departnment of Work and Pensions around 600,000 one bedroom flats will be needed to accommodate tenants currently under-occupying larger homes, but national housing stocks for this kind of property stand at just 300,000.’ The private sector alternative is often much more expensive meaning that costs will go up not down. Instead those that won’t or can’t move house face reducing housing benefit is to reduce housing benefit. Typical reductions will be 14% or 25%. What is so politically devastating is who stands to lose out.

A staggering two thirds of those of those who will be hurt by the bedroom tax have a disabled person living in the house . Others vulnerable to the bedroom tax include foster parents who need to keep a room free for the arrival of children to be cared for. Parents with children in the armed forces will be hit while serving Queen and country. Divorced dads who have children over every other weekend will be punished. Meanwhile Conservatives have suggested that those affected could take in a lodger or simply work more hours. Just tell that to a carer of a disabled child. Millionaire ministers, some of whom who flipped homes (or in the case of the Chancellor claimed for a paddock) are incapable of selling this policy.

    This policy is so rotten from both a practical and political point of view that the stench will provoke a response from many voters not materially affected by it.

In a week when gay marriage has said to help ‘detoxify the Tories’, a policy such as the bedroom tax will reinforce a sense that don’t know or care how the other half live. Will it be worth it?

Henry G Manson