The Blog

The Bedroom Tax - Now More Than Ever It Is Them or Us

The bedroom tax, due to come into force up all over the country on 1 April, must be turned into this Tory-led coalition government's poll tax.

The bedroom tax, due to come into force up all over the country on 1 April, must be turned into this Tory-led coalition government's poll tax.

This is not because it has the universal reach of the poll tax, which it does not, nor because it exemplifies more than any of the other Tory cuts how the poor and ordinary working people are effectively being punished for the greed and venality of the rich, which it does. The reason why the bedroom tax has generated the rumblings of a nationwide and mass campaign is because it violates our most cherished understanding of what it is to be human.

A home, whether bought or rented, represents more than just shelter in our lives, and even more so in the case of the poorest and most vulnerable in society, people for whom moving every few years is not possible and, for many, undesirable even if it were. Mobility is a luxury the poor cannot afford. In its place is community, roots, a sense of belonging which the rich, with their multiple houses and ability to move and travel on a whim, could never hope to understand.

For the most vulnerable in society a home is quite literally a sanctuary, the one place they are entitled to feel completely secure and safe in a society in which they are blamed for their plight rather than regarded as victims of it, as justice demands. A home also represents a history, where children are brought up, parents pass away, in which good and bad times are shared. It is essential to a sense of being and self worth, not to mention dignity. These things, without which no decent existence is possible, are precisely the things that are under attack with this bedroom tax.

This is why the sheer and utter cruelty of it transcends words such an iniquitous or unfair. It is nothing short of a violation of the human rights of those impacted, compounded by the fact that it will have a disproportionate impact on the disabled and elderly and sick. The stress being suffered by its victims leading up to its implementation will already have been immeasurable, leaving them feeling even more vulnerable and isolated in the face of decisions being made affecting their lives in which they have no input whatever.

The notion promulgated by the Tories that securing alternative accommodation will be a relatively easy process reveals either extreme ignorance or the sort of callous disregard for the poor which Dickens described in the late 19th century. On the contrary securing rented accommodation in the private sector, which has already seen demand spike in recent years due to the near collapse of the mortgage market as a consequence of the financial crisis and ensuing recession, is a far from simple process. The demand for one bedroom flats in particular far outstrips supply in every major city.

Just last year I was in the position of seeking a one bedroom flat in the private sector and it proved a Herculean task. There were twenty or more applicants for every flat I went to see; and the requirements of letting agencies are almost impossible to meet for anyone who does not have an impeccable credit history and does not earn more than the average salary. Worse, the upfront fees and deposit letting agencies demand means that anyone without savings is toast at the very first hurdle.

For people forced into this position as a consequence of the bedroom tax there is also the ludicrous situation whereby local councils will end up putting even more taxpayers' money into the pockets of private landlords to meet rents on one bedroom accommodation that are on average higher than they are in the social housing sector for two bedroom.

The housing crisis in this country, the responsibility of past Tory and Labour governments alike, is a national disgrace. It has brought us to the point where, according to Shelter, two million households are currently waiting for social housing in England and Scotland, many of them languishing in temporary accommodation with young children. The solution to this crisis is not to force people already in social housing onto the mercy of the private sector, but an emergency national programme of house building in order to meet demand. Attempting to solve one human crisis by precipitating another describes a country governed by sociopaths.

This is a policy that has either been carefully calibrated to punish those impacted - part of the mass experiment in human despair fashioned by the Tories under the rubric of austerity - or has been so ill conceived as to give immediate cause for alarm over the competency of its authors.

In the short term, of course, it makes little difference to the people and families affected.

What it does and must do is instil a determination and commitment the length and breadth of the UK that this is a line that will not be crossed. Not satisfied with coming for our jobs, public services, schools, hospitals, and amenities, now they are coming for our homes. There is nowhere else to go, nowhere left to retreat. Rights taken are rarely returned and the cost of defeat in this struggle could be felt for generations to come. Whatever it takes to defeat this policy - up to and including breaking the law with acts of non-violent civil disobedience - must be on the table.

Now more than ever it is them or us.