Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A bit more bedroom tax

In principle, I'm in favour of the bedroom tax. If there is anybody rattling about at public expense in a house that is far too big for them when they could be living somewhere smaller then that is indefensible. I suspect we are all agreed on that.

And, if there ever is a never worked hinging aboot sloth who only ever goes into  his second bedroom to play computer games and who never goes into his third bedroom at all except to smooth down the bed he hopes will one day be occupied by the Russian girlfriend of his dreams, then I certainly don't think anybody's taxes should be subsidising that.

There. I've said it.

Except, how many of these people actually exist?

Pensioners are exempt from the bedroom tax. Quite right too. But the overwhelming examples of over occupancy in social housing are actually pensioners. And few, very few, of them want to be in that position. Trapped, and I use the word trapped advisedly, in large family homes after their large families have departed. More than willing to move to a one bedroom property if such a property was available. Indeed, choking up waiting lists in their desire to do so.

For the central problem with the bedroom tax is that there simply is not the supply of one bedroom flats that those who need only a one bedroomed flat could potentially occupy.

Now at this point, with a bit of research, I could go off on a discourse about how how the British family unit has changed over the decades. But I suspect everybody reading this knows that already. What they also know is that the vast majority of social housing was built at a time, from Wheatley to McMillan, when the priority was for "family" homes, when a family meant several kids and a "family home" the bedrooms to accommodate these kids.  And ideally a garden for them to play in.

And then the world moved on. The "solid family man" acquired a wife who didn't stop work forever, or at least for twenty years, with her first pregnancy. Good. And then their combined income (and Mrs T) allowed them to buy their home and, as the family expanded to sell up and move on, without having to wait for the Cooncil to find them somewhere bigger to stay. (Deep breath) good as well.

But the world also changed in other ways as well. There were fewer solid family men, and fewer still who saw their ambition simply to emulate them. Actually, personally, I'm not sure that is good but I accept it is life. But there were also fewer women (time they got a mention) who resigned themselves to putting up with their "solid family man" no matter how they behaved, And that has to be good.

Except that as that change took place it did not involve the knocking down of the homes built for solid family men, their long suffering women and their families. Or their replacement with property more suited to the new demographic.

So, today, in the social housing sphere, we have an oversupply, or at least a supply, of large family homes and a chronic undersupply of smaller properties.

And, rightly or wrongly, we are also in a situation where a huge proportion of those in social housing are dependent, to some degree, on state support in paying their rent. Because those who didn't need that support have bought in, sold up and moved on.

Now, those of us steeped in the detail of this know that most of the really outrageous examples of the effect of the bedroom tax involve people who would probably, in real life, benefit from discretionary housing payments.

But the real tragedy lies in the mundane. People who would happily move to smaller properties but who have no smaller properties available to them.

What's their choice?

If I am a disabled 54 year old widower presenting at my local housing office to declare that my now adult children have left home and that therefore I no longer require (nor can afford) a three bedroomed "Council" house, what are the chances I'd be welcomed with open arms?

And yet, as someone steeped in this,what is the chance they'd turn me away instead with the offer of a discretionary housing payment?

More likely, no certainly, I'd be sent home to work out how I might find £25 per week rent out of an income probably less than £100 per week to start with, Or end up, literally, on the street. Sleep well against that background.

I'm almost fed up making the point that, giving the devolved settlement, this is as much an SNP tax as a Tory Tax, I almost don't care. I just know that it is indefensible. And that one or other of our governments should stop it,


  1. I'd like to agree, but I can't because you didn't say what could or should be done to fix the problem. "Something must be done" is not the answer to anything.

    Anti-eviction legislation - and similar gestures by councils - is not addressing the problem. Some will go hungry in order to pay their extra rent, some will go without heating, and so on through a whole catalogue of horrors that you will be much more familiar with through your work than I would ever wish to be. Let's just forget Jackie Baillie's stunt. It's no better than the similar gestures from the government side.

    In little words that simple people can understand, what would Holyrood do if you ruled in a perfect world where money was not a problem?

    1. I've already blogged giving chapter and verse on what could be done

  2. Having read your earlier piece, it does indeed seem to make sense. And yet, on one point I can't agree: £35 million is not a lot of money. In round numbers it is 0.5% of the social protection funding in Scotland. Looked at another way, it is 0.3% of local government expenditure in Scotland.

    So, yes, the argument that nothing can be done appears to be wrong. And the argument that the Scottish government and local authorities should not do something, because that would be "subsidizing Tory cuts" seems to be "not even wrong". But your final step seems wrongheaded - and doomed to fail.

    You have shown that the funding concerned here is trivial. Barnett consequentials on this scale do appear, like manna from Heaven, on a regular basis. So local government could easily fund this, and the Scottish government could commit to make up the funding gap the next time Westminster generates some additional cash, and that's a case of when and not if. In short, I am left thinking that there is even less excuse for doing nothing than you suggested.

    Anyway, thanks again for the helpful background. I am slightly - and only slightly - less ignorant than I was before.

  3. As with all these things if done properly would work well and for benefit of country and others but usually tend to catch the wrong people and not those scamming the UK tax paper.

    Just written an article about it here : People Urged to Defy Bedroom Tax