What all the wise men promised would happen has not happened and what all the damned fools said would happen has come to pass (Lord Melbourne)

The other day the Department for work and pensions (DWP) quietly published a report on the first five months (April-August 2013) of the working of the bedroom tax. There are problems with the report (as discussed excellently by Joe Halewood here) but it found a minimal number of social rent tenants had downsized in the social rent sector, extremely few had moved into the private rented sector, a fifth of tenants had paid not a penny of the shortfall in rent caused for them by the bedroom tax benefit cut, and those tenants who had paid all or some were cutting back on some essentials.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that. No wonder the DWP put out the report as the Cabinet reshuffle filled the news.

What was it supposed to be like?

First, let me remind you that Tories and Libdems (with very few Libdem exceptions) backed the introduction of the bedroom tax to the hilt and in the face of clear monitory advice that the ill-effects that have indeed come to pass would do so. The Tory Libdem government were obdurate about the tax, including the difficulties it would cause to adult disabled people, while shouting it was fair, that fuzziness so loved by Libdems.

The Huffington Post has a scarring record of Nick Clegg’s support for the tax on eight occasions.

The Tories and Libdems said the tax would persuade social rent tenants living in a house deemed too large for their needs would move into a smaller house. Opponents pointed out there were not enough smaller houses; this policy would not happen; it hasn’t, it turns out that there are not enough smaller houses.

Opponents pointed out the difficulties that would be caused to adult disabled tenants; the Tories and Libdems ploughed on; and the difficulties have indeed happened.

Opponents warned of serious financial difficulties with an impact on their everyday lives would be caused to tenants already poor; the Tory Libdems persisted while crying fairness; the adverse impacts have happened.

The numbers affected by the tax are problematic and the promised savings have not come about.

Libdems and the bedroom tax

The Libdem party has said the tax should be radically changed. This is hardly a response to surprise evidence: the DWP report covers only the first five months of the tax and the adverse impacts were well rehearsed before it came into force. No, this is more a Westminster than a Damascus conversion: Libdem policy is now influenced by 6 May 2015, the next general election. Having spent four years up to their elbows in reactionary Tory policies, Libdems now wish us to believe they are not Tories: the Land Registry will not be privatised, nor tuition fee loans, the wisdom of 6 May.

The damaging reorganisation and privatisation of the NHS, free schools, tuition fees, abolition of the farmworkers pay board, hit-the-poor welfare changes … Libdems voted for all these. The Libdems were also at the heart of the sell off of part of Royal Mail for what amounts to a £1 billion loss to the taxpayer.

Cornwall MPs and the bedroom tax

The record is brutal. Andrew George (Libdem St Ives) has consistently opposed the tax and he has a private member’s bill that will repeal it. (He has also opposed several of the other toxic Tory Libdem policies.)

For how Stephen Gilbert and Dan Rogerson (Libdem, St Austell and Newquay; North Cornwall) have voted on the bedroom tax see my post Cornwall Libdem MPs support-oppose-who-knows bedroom tax (14 February 2014). The three Tory MPs have backed it.

I just watch

Well, I think it’s going to be fun reading what the Libdem party says now the election draws close. As Will Rogers very nearly said: I don’t make jokes. I just watch the Liberal Democrats and report the facts.

Notes
Lord Melbourne (William Lamb): 1779-1848, Whig/Liberal prime minister

Will Rogers: 1879-1935, USA political comedian etc


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Having spent three and a half years colluding with the Tories, the Libdems are now running around hither and thither like headless chickens.

Is this a damascus moment when the light has shone on their deeds and they repent? Or have they realised that the general election and day of reckoning is only nineteen months away? Whichever, they are queuing up to refudiate, as Sarah Palin would put it, the policies they have voted for. They are now denouncing their own policies and supporting the very ones they have hitherto denounced.

Bedroom tax
In Parliament the Libdems supported the bedroom tax for social rented houses and justified it and disregarded the warnings of where it would lead. Now, as people fall into rent arrears and face eviction caused by the tax, the difficulties faced by disabled people because of the tax become better known, and the absence of sufficient houses to downsize to becomes obvious, many Libdems want to review it though some have always rejected it.

Free school meals
In a time of foodbanks and approaching general election the Libdems promote universal free school meals for infant schoolchildren, saying rightly it is a progressive policy with real following benefits in achievement. Hmm, they went along with the 2010 coalition axing of the planned modest extension of free school meals planned by the ousted Labour government. Left foot forward and its commenters have pointed out that some Libdems have robustly opposed programs of free school meals introduced or supported by Labour councillors.

Poor and vulnerable
They shout their pupil premium and tax threshold policies. Yes, but their policies have seen an increase in child poverty, an increase in VAT, which hits the poor most, and a large tax cut for the very rich. They have overseen the degrading of employment with short hours and the zero-hours uncertainty of pay with the certainty of bills for groceries and fuel and housing. The Libdems supported the abolition of the agricultural wages board that protected farm workers. I have recorded and discussed some of their reactionary votes in the post Libdem watch, especially the attacks on support for the vulnerable.

Their centre ground is a swamp and they have made life more difficult for very many. In a grotesquerie they have willingly imposed sacrifices on the poor and vulnerable not demanded from the well-heeled. The Libdem party is up to its elbows in the social and economic immiseration of people.

Note
For the relation of poverty, free school meals, and school achievement see my blog post of 2009 here.

For an evaluation by the Institute for fiscal studies (IFS) of the effect of free school meals on attainment see here and here.

Labour introduced a bedroom criteria – in effect a ‘bedroom tax’ – for benefit for houses rented in the private sector but not for social rented houses. The party has now promised to abolish the bedroom tax in social rented houses introduced by the Tory Libdem government.


UNRAVELLING BEDROOM TAX

6 August 2013

When they were justifying the bedroom tax the Tories and Libdems said that it was not fair that some people lived in a social-rented house with rooms – bedrooms – they did not need and they should and could downsize a bedroom or even two to free up the house for people on the waiting list. As an incentive and penalty they would lose some of their housing benefit if they did not downsize. The country would save £1 billion over the first two years of the policy.

The Libdems and Tories did not listen to those who said there were not enough smaller houses and that the bedroom tax was inherently flawed and unfair because of that lack even if one accepted the rightness and sense of downsizing in many instances. Additionally, making people downsize into the private sector because of that lack in social-rented housing would probably meant higher rents to be paid and consequently higher housing benefit to be paid and more cost to the country.

Now there is evidence that the policy is unravelling. The Independent has published figures gathered by the Labour party that suggest that 96 percent of people affected by the bedroom tax cannot move because there are not enough smaller homes for them.

In Cornwall, it suggests, 3300 households are affected by the bedroom tax but there are only 65 one and two bedroom homes available for them.

It is difficult to avoid the tax if there not enough homes to downsize to. The bedroom tax turns out to be not a spare room or unoccupation subsidy, as the Tory Libdem government called it, but just a tax on poorer people. Someone helpfully asked Cornwall Council about the likely loss in benefit. In Cornwall people underoccupying by one bedroom are expected to lose an average of £11.52 a week and those underoccupying by two or more bedrooms an average of £21.38 a week (FOI 101000 335837 February 2013).

The House of Commons voted on the Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations 2012 on 24 October 2012. These effected the bedroom tax from 1 April 2013. The three Libdem MPs from Cornwall split: Stephen Gilbert voted for the regulations, Andrew George against, and no vote is recorded for Dan Rogerson. The three Tory MPs from Cornwall voted for. (Hansard 24 October 2012 , division 84, column 1047).

Earlier posts

Cornwall Council and the bedroom tax 23 April 2013
Taxing the poor in Cornwall 29 March 2013
Libdems cross the Rubicon 10 February 2012