The Blog

No Fat-Cat Whinging, Please, Over Labour's Removal of the 'Spare Bentley Subsidy'

Oh, I'm sorry - you Tories out there still refer to it as the "top rate of Income Tax", don't you? That's very, you know - and more than a little misleading, also. After all, the country's in a mess - substantially more of a mess than it was in when our benign Coalition government assumed unelected power in 2010, actually.

Oh, I'm sorry - you Tories out there still refer to it as the "top rate of Income Tax", don't you? That's very passé, you know - and more than a little misleading, also. After all, the country's in a mess - substantially more of a mess than it was in when our benign Coalition government assumed unelected power in 2010, actually. Just look at the borrowing that's gone on - more in this administration so far than in all of the New Labour terms put together. Shocking stuff, I'm sure you'd agree. So the fact is - we just can't afford to continue subsidising second and third cars, holiday homes, stables, swimming pools, foreign holidays and so on and so forth, through our over-stretched tax system. It might seem harsh, but there it is. Sorry.

There is a slight irony here, you know. When the "great unwashed" start bleating on about "the iniquity of the Bedroom Tax", you well-heeled types are quick enough to correct them on their terminology. I've seen it happen. You tend to wince, and a pained expression creeps across your jowls. "No, no, no", you protest. "It's not a Bedroom Tax. It's a "Spare Room Subsidy", and we've acted to remove it, in the interests of fairness." Politics is all about presentation, after all - and from that embarrassingly unfortunate starting point of "We're all in it together", it's understandable if David and Iain and Gideon and the rest of the chaps in the Cabinet Room have to perform a few semantic gymnastics in order to get their message across. But, you see - you have to be seen to be practising what you preach. Or - if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors - what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

So we can have the top rate of Income Tax and the Bedroom Tax, and the subsequent debate on even-handedness. Or we could have the removal of the Spare Bentley Subsidy and the removal of the spare bedroom subsidy - and argue that one out. Swings and roundabouts. But you can't pick and choose - that wouldn't be fair (except as provided below for reasons of the restoration of some measure of equality). And you do want to be fair - don't you?

To be perfectly frank, the economic argument isn't doing much for you either. There was some persuasive chap on the wireless the other day, waxing indignant about the pointlessness of the 50% Income Tax rate (for want of a less divisive term). What a petty measure, was the gist of it, for such a paltry return - and meanwhile it "disincentivises inward investment". The figures, apparently, were damning. The 50% rate had been intended to rake in some £2.5 billion per year - but in the event it realised a mere £1 billion or so. Chickenfeed, really. But there's obviously another side to this.

How much, after all, will the Bedroom Tax (sorry!) raise? About 600,000 people were estimated to be affected, including those who have recently been found to have had the Tax (sorry!!) wrongly levied upon them. Say the average impact was as much as £25 a week (it's not, but let's allow for some margin here). That's £15 million a week - some £780 million a year. If a billion pounds isn't enough to justify the removal of the Spare Bentley Subsidy, then how does a little over three quarters of that make the Bedroom Tax right? Oh, look - you've got me mixing up my terminology now! But I've stopped apologising. It's getting too serious for all that.

You see, there are the associated consequences of the Bedroom Tax to be considered, too. People incurring removal expenses who can't afford to pay them. That money has to come from somewhere. People driven into private sector housing where rents are higher and the market is driving those rents ever upwards - so the burden on the Housing Benefit budget increases. Some landlords are even refusing to take "social tenants", and there's a shortage of one-bedroom properties in both sectors - so people are snookered, aren't they?

And that brings us on to the sadly inevitable human costs of the Bedroom Tax - increased personal debt and rent arrears. Anxiety, stress and depression when people are chucked out of homes they've lived in for years. Family break-ups. Job losses through enforced relocation. Misery. Conflict. Malnutrition. Rickets. Crime. Suicide. Yes, suicide - people actually driven to snuff out their own existences due to the despair of twenty quid or so cut from subsistence-level income. Tragic Stephanie Bottrill was one of the suicide statistics - and now it turns out that, due to the infamous Bedroom Tax loophole, she shouldn't have had it levied on her anyway. Poor Stephanie died for nothing then - didn't she? That's not just unfair - it's evil. Not to worry though - those busy little beavers in unelected government are going to close that loophole. There's nothing like a bit of law out-weighing a lot of justice, is there?

So - has any of this made you any less inclined to complain about the removal of the Spare Bentley Subsidy? I hope so. We're in a battle for hearts and minds here, as the politicians frequently say. Dyed-in-the-wool Tory voters aren't exactly fertile ground for either commodity - but we must at least try. The fact of the matter is that the Tory inclination to talk about "spare bedroom subsidies" on the one hand, but "top rate tax" on the other, is symptomatic of their essential duplicity towards the end of helping the rich at the expense of the poor. That's why we hear about "incentives" for the top people, and "vocation" for the low-paid in essential services. That's why Gideon charges off to Europe to fight for a 200% of annual salary bonus for bankers - as opposed to the proposed cap of a measly 100% - while his colleagues impose real-terms cuts in salary year on year for the lower strata of workers, with wage freezes common and wage cuts by no means unknown. It's all so hideously unfair, and the preferred terminology of the Coalition government seeks to conceal this unfairness.

Say a resounding "NO!" to unfair "Spare Bentley Subsidies"! And say an equally resounding "NO!" to the Bedroom Tax! That's the kind of volte-face we need if there's to be any restoration of some balance and fairness in the way we're tackling this country's problems. Unfair? It's been going on the other way around for long enough. Some of the obscene penalties we've already paid for that, in terms of people's health and people's lives, can never be put right. But that doesn't absolve us of a duty to try to put things right here and now - or at least in 2015, when Labour will repeal the Bedroom Tax and withdraw the Spare Bentley Subsidy. The sooner that happens, the better - over a year is too long to wait. But, in the meantime, the least you can do is refrain from whinging about it. Sauce for the goose...

No Spare Bentley Subsidy. No Bedroom Tax. That's the way forward. And who knows? Maybe, with that kind of thinking, that kind of fairness, the phrase "We're all in it together" might not seem quite so abysmally hollow and ridiculous?