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First they came for the Spare Rooms….

One of the most infuriating things if like me you have been campaigning against the bedroom tax is a lie that is trotted out every time a Tory tries to defend it. They begin by claiming this is about equality, that they are only treating social housing tenants the same as private. This is as they would never say on Newsnight, complete bullshit. Imagine you are a family of four looking to rent in the private sector, the local council will have set a level of housing benefit it will pay for a family of your size, which in a series of arcane calculations may be related to the size of a 3 bedroom house in your area. The definition of area will most likely include places you have no connection with and which does not mirror social, or geographic boundaries ( the way that hurts people in rural areas is perhaps for another blog). However should you find a 12 bedroom mansion for the maximum benefit level, you are free to take it. This lie, that the bedroom tax was about tacking unfair treatment of private sector housing has as far as I know never been challenged. The Tories wanted to build on the idea that existed that some people were getting a easy ride, that social housing tennants had an unfair advantage over the hard-working, tax paying, Daily Mail reading masses.

Which brings us to the suggestion by Iain Duncan that some benefit claimants are going to be paid by smart cards.It is apparently because families on benefits spend money on cigarettes and alcohol instead of government approved things like ISAs and duck houses.

Transactions would be automatically stopped if people tried to buy anything on them but essentials.

This would prevent people from purchasing alcohol, cigarettes or spending money on gambling, in a system Mr Duncan Smith claims will help lift families “on the margins” out of poverty because their benefits would not be spent on addictions.

I do think Iain needs to look up the word addiction in the dictionary to see how this is possibly the worst way ever of trying to treat one. Of course this is nothing to do with addiction, or treating it, but about hitting the same notes as the bedroom tax, of feeding into the same beliefs about those in social housing, that some people are getting an easy ride, are playing the system and living a life of luxury on the backs of tax payers.

Lets look at that family of four again, Mum was a SAHM before dad lost his job, so he claims for both of them, they get child benefit, child tax credit and live in privately rented accommodation. The myth that the Tories want to push is that somehow this family have so much spare income that they are partying every night, smoking and drinking whilst watching their HD flat screen TV and using their ipads. It’s a picture, like the one created around the bedroom tax that is intended to make people feel badly done by, that something unfair is going on. It ignores reality in favour of demonizing those who are out of work.

This reality is something the cards are not intended to deal with, which can be shown simply if you think about the day-to-day life of surviving on a low-income, of the demands that are made and ways people survive. To just give a few examples of things that these cards will not, or probably will not cover;

  • Fruit and veg at the local market, often much cheaper, especially if you go at the end of the day
  • Bus fares to and from the job center to sign on, £6;50 or a 20 mile walk in my case
  • Top ups on your phone, vital if you are to call employers
  • Internet access, remember you are sanctioned if you do not use Universal job match, only available online
  • School trips for the children
  • School uniforms with school badges, compulsory in many schools and usually only sold by small suppliers
  • Second hand clothes and charity shops
  • Specialist books for A level, set texts for O levels
  • Bread from the day old bread shop (used to keep me going)
  • Furniture from the second-hand shop
  • Any furniture not sold by Tesco (and remember the social fund no longer exists)
  • Anything from the local shop (although anyone who remembers the trade in milk tokens will be aware of how this one will be got round, to the detriment of the very children IDS claims to care about)
  • Paying the milk man, again live in a rural area this isn’t a luxury, especially since the local shop wont be taking the card)
  • Emergency top ups on gas, electric, indeed any top ups on gas and electric
  • Bus fares to hospital appointments
  • Bus fares to interviews
  • Repayment of any loans, CCJs, or debt you have
  • Repairing the washing machine when it breaks down, do you think tradesmen will take the card?

This is not an exhaustive list, it took me around 20 minutes and a quick look at twitter. But then this is not about helping anyone, it is about increasing the stigma around being unemployed, punishing those who are and shoring up the core vote before the election. Just like the bedroom tax it is based on demonizing one group in order to say to another we are the party you should vote for.


4 comments on “First they came for the Spare Rooms….

  1. sue
    September 30, 2014

    You’re absolutely right, the supposed ‘parity’ with LHA provided by the bedroom tax was nothing of the sort and it’s one of the myths that has been the most difficult to dislodge from the public consciousness. This is partly due to the Labour Party being so slow, or unwilling, to take advice and to recognise when they have the advantage and use it. I work with a campaign group who frequently provided Labour with impeccable research and evidence to use in debates about the bedroom tax etc but opportunities to expose the lies around this policy were often missed. LHA changes affected no disabled tenants at all. Not one. Whereas the bedroom tax disproportionately impacts disabled tenants. In terms of public subsidy the private sector also costs far more due to escalating housing benefit payments and in many areas someone downsizing into a private rent would still be claiming more than for a bigger social rent.
    The bedroom tax has never made sense, it was always designed to appease those who think public spending is out of control and would rather see the poor being punished for the failures of the powerful. That it is still here is an absolute scar on the political process itself as I don’t believe it should have ever got through Parliament.
    The thing is though that because we’ve become resigned to such a brutal level of social policy it makes it easier for all sorts of unthinkable nonsense, like smart cards, to see the light of day. Someone (might have been Sue Marsh) did a blog post where she listed all the changes made by this Governmen including the removal of so many rights and legal safeguards that we’ve taken for granted. It was a bloody long list.
    I find it astonishing that so many people don’t seem aware of how bad things really are but I suppose it was ever thus as far as political engagement is concerned.


    • jemima2013
      September 30, 2014

      Thank you for your comment. I had wondered why something that was obvious to me simply from having claimed in the past was not being challenged. It is infuriating that just as with immigration in the past labour are letting the right set the agenda here, and allowing these ideas to be accepted as fact. The same has been doen with benefits for people with disabilities, the idea that it was all fakers and scroungers was not challenged by either party so now we live with trial by ATOS, no right to judicial review and a culture of disability hate crime that gets worse daily


  2. Wickedjulia
    October 1, 2014

    They always seem to find a way to demonize the poor.


  3. c# tutorial
    October 11, 2014

    Good post. I am dealing with a few of these issues as well..


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