No evictions! Scrap the Tory Bedroom Tax

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By Richie Venton

April Fools Day takes on new significance this year. That is the day when the Tories and Lib Dems must think millions of people are too foolish to notice their vicious wealth transfusion from the neediest to the greediest, whilst the Westminster hypocrites prattle on about us being “all in it together”, in “the Big Society”.

By Richie Venton

April Fools Day takes on new significance this year. That is the day when the Tories and Lib Dems must think millions of people are too foolish to notice their vicious wealth transfusion from the neediest to the greediest, whilst the Westminster hypocrites prattle on about us being “all in it together”, in “the Big Society”.

From April, the pampered minority on incomes over £150,000 a year will enjoy a tax cut from 50p to 45p in the pound. For millionaires, that means a ‘wage’ rise of £107,000 a year!

On the same day the brutal Bedroom Tax clobbers people on the lowest incomes, many of them on £71 a week, others low-paid workers who currently qualify for partial housing benefit. They stand to lose from £12 to £22 a week on average.

How the hell are people supposed to live? Of the 95,000 Scots hammered by this vicious Tory Tax, around 70 per cent have a disabled person in the household.

Homelessness

And their goal? To steal £1billion in Housing Benefit off the poorest in society over the next two years.

Even the government’s own Department for Work and Pensions estimates that across the UK, 95,000 of the total 666,000 facing this slaughter of their meagre incomes will be simply unable to afford to pay it – which ultimately means the threat of evictions and homelessness, a searing condemnation of 21st century capitalism. At the numerous street stalls and public meetings organised by the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) across the country we hear absolutely heartbreaking stories of the effects on people’s lives.

The coyly named Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 declares that a person living on their own, or as a couple, in a social sector house, are only entitled to one bedroom – or face a 14 per cent cut to Housing Benefit for the first spare bedroom, 25 per cent if they have a third bedroom. On the surface, the idea of a single person or couple having just one bedroom might not seem controversial. But at virtually every street stall we talk to people whose partner suffers ill health, such as COPD, making sleeping together impossible. The Tories make no allowance for that.

We have spoken to several people newly bereaved, as they traipse down to the council offices in search of a smaller house, to avoid the Bedroom Tax, immediately after losing the loved one they cared for with the essential extra bedroom during prolonged illness.

The heartless gangsters in Westminster make no allowance for that.

Likewise, hundreds of separated parents have described the horrible prospect come April of not being allowed a second bedroom for their children to stay over by arrangement with the other parent. The Tories, ‘party of the family’, make no allowance for that.

These millionaires living in mansions have the bare-faced cheek to dictate that kids under ten have to share a bedroom, regardless of gender.

And that if they are of the same gender, they are expected to share a bedroom up to the age of 16! So much for children’s rights. So much for aiding the development of independence and maturity.

‘Family values’?

The Coalition of Westminster cut-throats are past masters at the tactics of divide and rule. They demonise the sick, disabled and unemployed, so as to try and split them away from the solidarity of those in jobs. They hope to succeed this way in hammering the disabled, where disabled people needing a second bedroom are faced with the Bedroom Tax, even if they have occasional sleep-over carers – only being exempt if they literally rely on 24/7 live-in care.

The regular adverts appealing for more foster parents clash with the fact such parents face the Bedroom Tax, as the Regulations do not regard foster kids as permanent residents.

So much for the Tory ‘party of the family’. The areas of multiple deprivation are precisely those which the army target to recruit young teenagers to do their dirty work in the killing fields of Afghanistan, or god knows where next. But their parents face the Bedroom Tax on the bedroom which their sons or daughters come back to during their leave from army duties.

Educate yourself to secure a future, they tell us. But students will have to stay in their parents’ home at least 2 weeks a year to dodge the Bedroom Tax; fairly manageable, you might think, but when the separate benefits attack that is Universal Credit eventually comes in, that will increase to students having to live at home a minimum of six months in the year!

One family is more than chuffed at the Bedroom Tax. David and Priscilla have three kids who have grown up and flown the nest. But this couple do not share the worry, distress and pain of not having a spare bedroom for their adult kids, or their grandchildren, to visit and stay in.

David and Priscilla live in a £1.9million townhouse in Highgate, London. With four bedrooms. At least they do during the week. At weekends and holidays they stay in their second home, one of the oldest country mansions in Kent – with eight bedrooms! So they have a total of eleven spare bedrooms!

But they don’t face the Bedroom Tax; in fact David is Lord David Freud, grandson of the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and the Tory Welfare Minister who designed the details of the Bedroom Tax – after he ceased to be a Labour government adviser in 2009!

The Bedroom Tax is a classic case of class war by the rich, hoping to divide and conquer the rest of us. They must not succeed.

Hundreds of people are pouring into public meetings on the Bedroom Tax, seeking answers, pledging to stand together, looking for how best to resist and defeat it.

One such meeting was that called by the SSP in the Vineburgh district of Irvine, in North Ayrshire. About 90 locals were at it. The meeting was red raw with anger and anxiety, with passionate speeches and applause, searching questions, and absolute determination to show solidarity to all those affected, including against the threat of evictions.

And that is a very real and present threat. Since new regulations were passed last August in Scotland, social housing landlords – councils and local housing associations – are legally bound to prevent rent arrears mounting up before taking what’s called ‘Pre-action requirements in rent arrears cases’. This involves repayments being negotiated before moving to notice of eviction (Proceedings for Recovery of Possession).

Eviction notices for arrears of a few hundred pounds are common already. So when people on very low incomes lose £12 to £22 a week, it won’t take long before they face the threat of eviction.

In addition, the Bedroom Tax will immediately impact on thousands of repayment arrangements made for eviction cases already dealt with at the Sheriff Courts. For example, there were 14,601 new eviction cases brought by social sector landlords in Scotland in 2010/11, plus older evictions that have been ‘sisted’ (stayed, or delayed).

The human cost of eviction is beyond words. But they don’t even make financial sense; housing charity Shelter reckon they each cost at least £6,000 – and in fact cost the taxpayer far more, as arrears are written off.

Single-ends

The Tory/Lib Dem architects of this brutal tax on the poorest are telling people to downsize to a smaller house, or get more hours of work, or take in a lodger! They want to drive the working class back to the days of the single-end, of horrendous overcrowding … whilst Lord and Lady Freud rattle round in their eleven spare bedrooms.

This ‘tax’ will not create a single new house, nor a single new job. Quite the opposite.  There are no homes being built for rent. The legacy of the ‘right to buy’ ushered in by Thatcher in the 1980s is a terrible lack of decent social sector housing, including one-bedroom houses. So we face the cruel absurdity of tenants potentially facing evictions, with the council then legally obliged to rehouse them … in a house of the same size, for lack of smaller ones!

In any case, why should people have to leave the family home they’ve been in for years, even decades, just because their kids have grown up or their circumstances changed?

And where do these millionaire dictators propose people get extra hours of work, when their own policies of public sector cuts and mass unemployment, plus their anti-union laws, mean that employers are cutting back on hours available rather than expanding jobs?

On top of all that, the Bedroom Tax is already being used by some councils and housing associations as an excuse for further cuts, due to the prospect of loss of rental income because people simply can’t afford to pay – with some of them already demanding redundancies amongst staff.

The SSP is absolutely clear: we don’t want this tax amended, we want it scrapped. We slso see this as an added reason for an independent Scotland, so we can elect a government with the powers and political commitment to abolish it. But people can’t wait until 2014, or the subsequent 2016 elections. We need action here and now.

At SSP street stalls and public meetings we have appealed for volunteers to mount legal challenges to the multitude of outrageous anomalies and injustices in the Bedroom Tax.

We have helped to build networks of people prepared to defend anyone facing future evictions, in the ways many of us did in the anti-Poll Tax struggle, to block the use of Sheriff Officers to thrown people on the streets.

And we have organised protests at council meetings, to demand that they do two things that are well within their powers: declare there will be no evictions arising from Bedroom Tax arrears, and that they imitate the actions of Knowsley Council on Merseyside, which is ‘re-designating’ all its houses, redefining what is a bedroom, so as to dodge the Bedroom Tax.

Mount pressure

Likewise, we need to mount pressure on the Scottish Government and individual MSPs to demand a ‘No Evictions’ pledge, which would lift a huge fear from thousands of people, and support for the demand to amend Section 16 of the Scotland Housing Act so that Bedroom Tax arrears will not lead to evictions.

The government should also fund councils to ameliorate the impact through Discretionary Housing Payments, and guide councils and housing associations on a definition of ‘bedroom’ that avoids this iniquitous tax. Thousands of people need immediate action from councils, housing association bosses and the Scottish Government. Solidarity and unity in the community is critical to resisting this appalling attack.

The SSP is at the heart of this resistance, whilst also fighting for longer-term, permanent solutions, including the building of decent, affordable housing for all needs, which in itself would generate jobs, and for taxation of the rich to fund jobs and increased benefits for those unable to work. Unite against evictions!

Unite to axe the Bedroom Tax!

Courtesy of the Scottish Socialist Voice