The semantics of the bedroom tax are not important

Last week, MPs in the Commons grilled Cameron on the Bedroom Tax. His only response was to say the policy was not a tax.

But to people who are having to find an extra £40 or 50 a month to be able to stay in their home, the semantics are not important. They know – and we know – that this is a cruel policy, one that will drive them into poverty. Yet the Prime Minister seems adamant he is going to ignore the plight of the victims of this damaging policy.

Not only is it a poverty-producing policy, but its idiotic and the government are unclear about how exactly they expect it to work. There simply isn’t enough housing for people to be able to move into, and moving from social housing into the rip-off private rent sector will drive up the cost of Housing Benefit, not keep it down.

DWP minister Steve Webb MP says that those affected will only have to work “just two or three extra hours on the minimum wage”. I would suggest it is worrying how little he knows about the benefits system, but this seems to be a common characteristic of this coalition government – people who have no idea what it is like to live in poverty, wondering where your next meal is coming from, deciding to plunge more people, more children, into poverty. He seems to fail to recognise the impact that working more hours has on your receipt of benefits – but then, why would he care?

Steve Webb’s estimation, aside from being catastrophically wrong (but we will address that later) relies on two factors. Firstly, it assumes that somebody within the household is available to work. Considering that two thirds of those affected are disabled, and are therefore very unlikely to be able to work, this immediately causes concern. And secondly, it assumes that there is work available for those who are able to work. With both unemployment and underemployment so high, where is this extra work to come from? Surely Steve Webb’s analysis would have taken this into account? Of course not.

Indeed, if you were one of the households who had someone available to work and you were able to find work, you would only have to work an extra “two or three hours”. Great! That’s not too bad, right? Wrong. You would have to work a lot longer than two or three hours to cover the cost of the reduction.

Affinity Sutton provided some examples that illustrate the fact that Steve Webb’s analysis of the situation just doesn’t stack up. In fact, it suggests that some people will face having to work the equivalent of two full-time jobs just to keep their heads above the water, and keep their homes.

A problem David Cameron and George Osborne will never have to face I am sure, but the stark reality of many of our poorest families in society.

With two thirds of households being affected being disabled, and Housing Futures Network research finding that only 19% of households hit by the bedroom tax included someone who was already in employment, the impact of the Bedroom Tax will be catastrophic.

We are already seeing a higher demand for food banks, and, coupled with changes to welfare, the effects will run a lot deeper than “two or three hours” of extra work. Call it what you like, this policy is just another strand of this coalition government’s highly destructive assault on the poorest in our communities. This policy will literally take food from peoples’ mouths, and roofs from over families’ heads.

It is shameful that David Cameron is unable to answer peoples’ concerns about the Bedroom Tax. It is shameful that he seems happy enough to ignore the damaging consequences this will have on families right across the country, on communities which are unable to speak up for themselves.

But Labour will speak up for these communities. One of the first moves we make under a Labour government should be to reverse this destructive policy, reiterate our commitment to challenging inequalities, and let people know that we are on their side.

And that Labour is with them.


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