Sunday, 27 January 2013

The new Poll Tax

The urn containing Becky Bell's ashes lays in her empty bedroom in Hartlepool, County Durham. It remains immaculately preserved and cared for, following Becky's death from cancer at the age of seven. We can imagine that room to be a symbolical shrine for Becky's parents and brother: of inexpressible sentimentality and unfathomable grief in Becky's loss, and providing priceless psychological consolation in their bereavement.  But due to new Department of Work and Pensions rules, charging social housing tenants for "under-occupied" spare rooms through cuts in their Housing Benefit—a policy termed the Bedroom Tax—Becky's family will be charged £672 a year for Becky's empty bedroom, deemed to be "surplus" by the local council under these guidelines. It is a policy dictated by DWP minister Lord David Freud (who almost certainly be diagnosed with sociopathy by his great-grandfather Sigmund), who resides in an eight-bedroom country mansion in Kent, when not residing at his £1.9 million property in North London. (Incidentally, the Conservative Party refused to consider the idea of a Mansion Tax on properties worth over £2 million). The Bedroom Tax will begin in April 2013; coinciding with the coalition government's 5% income tax cut for the rich. If the Bells refused to pay Bedroom Tax, they would be forced to leave their and Becky's home (aggressively via bailiffs). To cover the expense, they will have been advised in an unsubtly vindictive letter to occupy Becky's bedroom with a lodger.

The monkier "Bedroom Tax" is in itself, however, misleading. The government has given council landlords permission to define a "bedroom" in whatever manner they seek fit to tax the poor with. So therefore, contrary to taxing tenancy in luxurious suites, which politicians such as George Osborne is keen to portray, the charge will be applied to the most tiny and inhospitable of spare rooms. It will have a particularly adverse affect on disabled persons (additionally being affected by the DWP's damaging disability benefit cuts), including disabled children, and their families and carers. 

Angel Cooper, a 5-year-old girl in Hull cared for full-time by her parents, developed septicemia due to contracting meningitis as a baby, leaving her severely disabled. The National Health Service built Angel an extended room for her specialist needs under the orders of her therapists. But because this is deemed to be a "spare room" by the council, and due to a Dickensian rule of the Bedroom Tax dictated by Lord Freud expecting young children to share rooms, the Cooper family will be charged £20 a week for their disabled daughter's requirements.

The Cameron coalition's Bedroom Tax is easily the most arbitrary and vindictive attack on the poor since Margaret Thatcher's Poll Tax. It will in many cases irreparably destroy thousands of lives, and swathes of the social fabric (in a sickening irony for a Conservative Party which claims to stand for family values and localism). Of course, the real solution to the UK's housing crisis is to invest in the construction of homes, and counteract the extortion of private sector landlords, to reduce the Housing Benefit bill. The sheer barbarism and wickedness being perpetrated against families like the Bells and Coopers is out of pure ideological choice.

Thatcher's Poll Tax was defeated with mass resistance and non-compliance, and also majorly contributed to bringing down her government. The Cameron government's Bedroom Tax ought to be deservedly met with the same sort of reception.

Combat the Bedroom Tax

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