On 10 February, Channel 4 screened a ‘Dispatches’ documentary on “bedroom tax”.
Many Labour councillors appeared on the programme denouncing the Government’s measures. Some of them even detailed how they were doing the bare minimum required of them by law to implement them. Our main priority is to protect our tenants, they said.
The Labour Party has pledged to scrap the tax on coming to power.
The pledge has encouraged councils not to evict tenants in arrears because of the bedroom tax. Quite a few councils have said they will try to avoid evicting. Though the pledges have loopholes, in fact there have been few evictions directly linked to the bedroom tax.
If Labour councils are serious about opposing the bedroom tax they should disrupt it more aggressively by reclassifying and opening declaring that they will not evict.
The “tax” cuts housing benefit for a tenant who has a “spare bedroom” by 14% (or 25% for two “spare” rooms).
The documentary was rather pained in its attempts to appear even-handed. Whenever we learnt of some injustice inflicted by the bedroom tax, we were solemnly reminded that, nevertheless, public spending on benefits had to be brought down somehow another.
But the programme effectively demonstrated the cruelty, as well as the futility, of the bedroom tax.
Cruelty in the way that a disabled couple had to leave the house that had been specially adjusted to meet their mobility needs because they needed a second spare room to keep their wheelchairs in.
Cruelty in the way that families from different areas were forced to scramble around trying to swap houses with one another so as to avoid a cut in their benefit.
But also the futility of a situation where, at a time of acute housing shortage, houses now stand empty because their occupants have been forced out by the changes.
And in a grim irony, the documentary pointed out that the bedroom tax barely even saves money — the money saved in reduced benefit is wiped out by the money spent by councils trying to re-home people forced to up sticks.