For many people the Government’s attacks on housing benefit have been something to do with people getting £100,000 a year from the State to live in the posh bits of London. David Cameron repeated the point only last week.
Campaigning against this powerful image, repeated endlessly by the Government’s spin machine, has been an uphill task. But it seems to me that the campaigning is beginning to pay off. The message is gradually getting through that the HB caps, the overall benefit cap, direct payments, and now the 1% cap on benefit increases, are hitting far more than a few people in central London. And as more case studies and examples of extreme impacts on families come to light, it is becoming common to hear people say ‘I thought it was about scroungers not people like them’.
The issue that might become the battering ram for opposition to the reforms is the ‘bedroom tax’ on social tenants. Although causing damage nationally, the impact of the bedroom tax is greatest in the North where ‘having a spare bedroom’ has historically been less of an issue than in the south and London. Now hundreds of thousands of people are being informed by their landlords that their benefits will be cut in April and the huge effect this will have on families is gradually reaching the media, where the Guardian, the Daily Mirror, and Channel 4 have highlighted some truly appalling cases. Callous seems a timid kind of word to describe the collective punishment being visited on people who dare to occupy more space than the Government says is allowed.
The National Housing Federation has campaigned brilliantly on this for some time and their briefings and website reports are excellent. Social landlords up and down the country have been warning their tenants of what is to come and raising the alarm in the media – although some of them could be more vocal on behalf of their tenants than they have been so far.
So I agree with the drift of the argument put forward by Penny Anderson in the Guardian that the bedroom tax could ‘light the touchpaper of protest’. She asks if this issue could become the poll tax of today, but that may be going too far because the poll tax affected everyone whereas the bedroom tax is more targeted. But I do think it could be the issue that forces the Government to retreat as MPs of all parties face constituents in their surgeries that have a very strong case for an additional bedroom above that allowed by the miserable policy, and as tenants realise that they can’t get a transfer to smaller accommodation.
Tories need to be faced with the victims of this policy. How many will dare do what Lord Freud did on radio and tell a woman whose son is joining the armed forces that she should get a lodger while he is away from home?
And if you only have time to read one article about the bedroom tax and its implications, I recommend this from John Harris in the Guardian.
Update: Or if you have time to read 2, then here is Jules Birch’s brilliantly researched piece on the same theme. Not sure how he has time to read all that stuff!!