Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Taxing security

The High Court will consider a judicial review challenge to what critics call the “bedroom tax” and supporters call “removing the spare room subsidy”.

The woman who has brought the case, known only as “A” for her own safety, has been raped, assaulted, harassed and stalked by an ex-partner.

As part of a sanctuary scheme, she and her son live in a three-bedroom home in which one room has been specially adapted as a safe and secure space by the police.

Under new rules, the woman and her son receive housing benefit for a two-bedroom property, which means a reduction in income of 14%.

BBC News Website 19 November 2014 : Court challenge to benefit changes for ‘secure’ housing

It is hard to know quite how to react to this story. “You couldn’t make it up” is true but trivialises a story that shows up this government as so totally insensitive.

So what has the government done?

The government says that it is unfair that council tenants should have “spare rooms” subsidised when private tenants don’t. This is in line with their apparent policy of “equality of misery”. Misery because:

  • often people are unable to move to alternative accommodation – it simply is not there,
  • often people are forced to uproot and move to a new area – losing their children’s school places and their informal network of family and social support (and these tend to be people reliant on support and this government would prefer family and informal support to local government support),
  • often people suffering hopefully short-term changes in their circumstances then suffer long-term changes forced on them by government policy.

Under pressure the government has realised some of this misery, whilst apparently acceptable to them, is publicly unacceptable. So they have made some discretionary funds available to local authorities to provide “relief” (shades of the old poor laws).

They also claim to be in favour of families – which you would hope would include protecting this family unit from physical attack. Note that the home adaptation that has caused this benefit change was made under a statutory scheme.

There is something unsavoury about a family living in fear (acknowledged by the courts) then being hit by an unfeeling government policy such as this.

There is something unsavoury about creating a “tax” at national level, but putting “relief” at local level. This is abdication not devolution.

There is something unsavoury about a relief for a statutory adaptation, being discretionary.

There is something unsavoury about a relief for a permanent adaptation, having to be renewed every year.

 

 

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