Well done to the Today programme on Radio 4 for covering the impact of the “bedroom tax” on families on the breadline. And what a disgraceful response from Stephen Webb, Lib Dem architect of the Government’s benefit policy.
The premise that people who have got some spare space should “downsize” is a reasonable one – but why start with those who are struggling to make ends meet? If Council Tax was fair, there would be an incentive for people to move. The graph below shows what “fair” looks like:
The impact of the unfairness is such that even if you ignore the very expensive properties (which should be valued individually and subject to a “mansion tax”), people in a Band E property would pay about the same and everyone in smaller properties would pay less.
But instead of introducing fairness (what the Lib Dems talked about in their manifesto, along with setting higher tax rates instead of discounts for second homes), they are hitting people in social housing. As was explained on the programme, if someone in social housing is forced to move into a smaller property, they will probably have to go into private housing – and therefore their rent will probably be higher for a one-bed flat than it was for the two-bed flat. This will be covered by housing benefit so there is no saving to the state and the individual is going to find it more difficult to make work pay.
And this is an actual deliberate policy? What nonsense.
To make things worse, Stephen Webb is blaming local councils for not allowing exceptions. I don’t know the detail of whether the grant is ring-fenced, but I am sure the amount set aside for “special cases” is utterly inadequate – and the pressure on local councils in England is enormous (It is bad in Wales but not nearly as bad as the Welsh Government has shared the pain across all the services it funds whereas the UK Government is placing the brunt of the cuts on local councils in the hope that someone else will get the blame).
As if we hadn’t heard enough nonsense already, Stephen Webb went on to claim that the extra £14 a week can easily be made up by working an extra shift. As was pointed out by the incredulous journalist, the main problem in the economy at the moment is that lots of people already can’t get the number of shifts they want. Our economic woes are not because of scroungers, but because there’s not enough work for the strivers. This situation is called “underemployment” and it is a direct result of the Government’s austerity programme. You can read a recent analysis of underemployment in the UK here and a summary of the impact of the Government’s bedroom tax here.
This interview begs the question: is the Minister really ignorant of the issues or is he pretending, because he and his party did a deal with the Tories which abandoned their economic policies in return for a sniff of power and he feels unable to say what he really thinks?
In other news, Michael Gove will announce this afternoon to the House of Commons that he is abandoning one of his silly ideas. He will probably be given a hard time, which is unfair because for once he is doing the right thing. But before we feel too sorry for him let’s remember that if he talked to experts before he made his announcements (perhaps commissioned a review of qualifications by experts as happened in Wales – or just used this one and call it “best practice”), then he wouldn’t humiliate himself so often would he?
Before the General Election, Michael Gove gave a memorable interview where he said that if after the general election, two parties cobbled together a programme of Government it would be a disgrace. “If that’s democracy,” he said, “I’m a banana”. Something to remember for this afternoon’s announcement. Maybe he could dress up in a banana costume…