THERE may come a day when the bedroom tax joins the window tax, the chimney tax and the poll tax on the list of inglorious attempts by government to raise revenue even though, strictly speaking, the bedroom tax is not really a tax at all.
Rather, it is an attempt to save money by reclaiming housing benefit from those who have spare rooms in their homes. But tax or not, this new initiative has the potential to wreak just as much havoc as the poll tax, and to be just as divisive and socially disastrous.
The Government says the scheme will reduce the multi-billion-pound housing benefit bill and free up all bedrooms across the country lying empty, but we now know what the true consequences will be. Frances Connor, a constituent of the Glasgow Labour MP Margaret Curran, faces losing 14% of her housing benefit because she has an empty room in her house. Yet Mrs Connor, who has a number of health problems, needs the bedroom for her son when he cares for her.
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This is precisely what those worried about the bedroom tax predicted would happen. One estimate is that two-thirds of those affected by the measure are in a similar situation to Mrs Connor with at least one sick or disabled family member in the home. They often need the room for a carer or a family member and yet the only response from the Government is: get a lodger.
This week, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg attempted to paint a caring gloss on the policy when he said it would fix the mis-match between the millions waiting for council housing and the hundreds of thousands of council bedrooms that are empty, thereby helping families stuck on waiting lists. Some honesty is required. Concern for those desperate for a council house is not the motivation of this policy – the motivation is to save money and act against those who are seen as having it easy in homes that are too big for them.
In reality, the policy will make the lives of the poorest more difficult. By definition, it is those in most financial difficulty who receive housing benefit, which means the bedroom tax will reduce the already low incomes of the poor. And even if freeing up bedrooms was the aim, as Mr Clegg says it is, it is unlikely to be achieved because those targeted by the bedroom tax may not be in a position to move, possibly because of the cost of doing so, but also because they are likely to need help from friends and relatives living nearby. In the worst-case scenario, residents suddenly hit by a cut in their housing benefit may be unable to pay their rent and be forced out, and possibly made homeless.
Once again, we have a policy from the Coalition Government that is designed to save taxpayers money but does so by turning the screw on the poor. There may be a problem with spare capacity in council housing, but making the poor poorer is not the solution.