By Campbell Martin
the3towns.com this week reveals the shocking consequences of the Bedroom Tax in North Ayrshire: in the same week that the local Council had 8 one-bedroom properties available for allocation, there were 1,765 tenants facing higher rent charges because the UK Government deems them to have at least one room more than they need in their home.
In other words, 1,765 tenants are now looking for a one-bedroom property to avoid having to pay increased rent that they can’t afford, but the Council has available just 8 such homes. These are the local victims of an iniquitous tax imposed from London by two political parties – Tories and Lib Dems – who were soundly rejected by the people of Scotland at the last UK Election.
Clearly, there is a massive gulf between demand and available supply, and that is before we include people already on the North Ayrshire Housing List looking for a one-bedroom property: there are currently 3,654 such applicants. That means, in total, there are 5,419 people in North Ayrshire who require a one-bedroom property and have applied to North Ayrshire Council for a house. Given that the Council has available just 8 such homes, there are 675 applicants for every one-bedroom property in the local.
The 1,765 existing Council tenants who now find their Housing Benefit cut because they have more bedrooms than the UK Government says they need, have virtually no chance of ‘ down sizing’ into a one-bedroom property. Their benefit is automatically cut, so they have to find the difference to make up the shortfall in rent, but that is impossible on the low fixed-income they receive from the state. This has led to rent arrears soaring across the country. North Ayrshire Council’s SNP administration has said there will be no evictions resulting from someone getting into arrears because of the Bedroom Tax, so long as tenants work with the local authority to address the arrears. A ‘no evictions’ policy is to be welcomed but how are impoverished tenants supposed to address their arrears caused by the Bedroom Tax when just can’t afford it.
On the other hand, North Ayrshire Council is, itself, a victim of the Bedroom Tax. Any notional saving for the UK Treasury arising from cutting the Housing Benefit of tenants in properties with a bedroom more than they ‘need’, results in a shortfall in income for Councils who also face increased expenditure in dealing with people plunged into arrears and in supplying social care and support services to stressed tenants forced to look for smaller homes that don’t exist.
The other option for people affected by the Bedroom Tax is to look for a one-bedroom property in the private sector. However, rents for private lets are much higher than those charged by local authorities, so that option means an increase in Housing Benefit to pay the rent charged by private landlords.
The Bedroom Tax is a disaster. It was clearly thought-up by some policy-wonk in London who has never experienced the real world. Just like the majority of senior UK politicians, the author of the Bedroom Tax probably went to Eton or another of the expensive, elite private schools in England, before ‘going-up’ to Oxford or Cambridge, an education that delivers little understanding of how women, men and children exist on meagre benefits when there aren’t enough jobs around.
The Bedroom Tax is ideological and is designed to punish so-called ‘workshy skivers’ on benefits, while driving more people to rent from the private sector, which increases profits for landlords who will, so the theory goes, show their gratitude by voting Tory at the next election. Benefit recipients can be punished because they don’t vote Tory anyway, so no damage to electoral prospects there.
In addition to the core unfairness of the Bedroom Tax, the legislation exposes the democratic deficit still faced by Scotland.
The majority of Scottish MPs at Westminster voted against the Bedroom Tax, but Scots have it imposed on us because we remain part of the British Union. We rejected the Tories and the Liberal Democrats at the last UK Election in 2010 – the parties finished third and fourth in Scotland – but we have them imposed on us as a government because we remain part
of the British Union.
The Labour Party, which many Scots still put their faith in, has refused to scrap the Bedroom Tax if it were to be elected by the people of England at the next UK Election in 2015. Of course, opinion polls show a Labour victory in that election is looking increasingly unlikely.
Fortunately, Scots can end both the Bedroom Tax and the democratic deficit simply by retaking our political independence through voting ‘Yes’ in next year’s referendum.
With independence, Scots will always get the government for which we vote: never again will we have Tories imposed on us by the voters of England. A ‘Yes’ vote at next year’s Independence Referendum will lead to the people of Scotland electing our first independent parliament and government in May 2016: at that election we will decide which party governs us, based on the policies they present in their manifestos. Contrary to just one of the British unionist scare-stories, a vote for independence does not mean an SNP Government in an independent Scotland, unless we decide to vote SNP at the Scottish Parliament Election in 2016.
With independence, it will be for us to decide which party governs Scotland: and I would
suggest that no party proposing anything like the Bedroom Tax would ever get elected in an