POVERTY, according to Mahatma Ghandi “is the worst form of violence”.
When visited on people without the power to effect or change their situation it demeans, debases and humiliates. When public policy creates it all should be offended into action. All.
In homes across our country, hundreds of thousands are agonising about a particularly rancid piece of legislative action that removes their independence from the one safe place they should be able to relax in, their home. The “bedroom tax” is truly the new poll tax.
The Westminster government has identified one million under-used bedrooms in socially rented UK housing and wants them filled, reckoning this could save £500 million a year. That’s a lot of money, in fact it’s nearly a fiftieth of what the same government plans to spend on a Trident system it doesn’t need and can’t use, but why bother with such utterly irrelevant comparisons. It’s also about a thirtieth of what the government borrowed from the markets in December alone, but again I digress.
Let’s be clear what we mean by “spare” and “under-utilised”. If you have two kids of the same gender and under 15 in their own room the Westminster government think that’s a luxury too far for the likes of you, social renter. If you have a boy and a girl under nine in their own rooms that will also have to end.
Your choice to remedy your indolent self-indulgence will be to pay up to an extra £600 a year in rent from income you don’t have, to move to a smaller home wherever that may be available, or to take in a stranger as a lodger. Enter stage left Mr Charles Dickens.
The anomalies for the deceased and disabled are so disgusting I cannot believe they will stand. But a quarter of those households affected do have a disabled member. It is morally corrupt to force social engineering into family homes and tell nine-year-old girls to share with their beastly brothers while a lodger they haven’t met takes their room. Whole communities could be torn by this when you think it through.
It has been dubbed the bedroom tax, which the government doesn’t like. Remember they once tried to insist we call the poll tax the “community charge”?
In the House of Commons last February the relevant vote on this desperate policy was carried by a majority of 55 per cent overall. The Scottish MPs at Westminster however, voted 82 per cent against. The 18 per cent for were the last remaining Scots Tory MP and a clutch of Lib Dems following the government Whip. The likeable Mike Crockart was the notable Scottish Lib Dem “rebel”.
That there, in a nutshell, gets to the heart of the democratic handicap we face as a country. When Margaret Thatcher foisted the poll tax on Scotland before anywhere else it went a very substantial part of the way to making the 1999 Scottish Parliament the “settled will” of the people. What this vote demonstrates to me is that we have some way to travel to complete the powers of that Parliament. When the most offensive of laws damaging the welfare of our most vulnerable can be foisted on us against an 82 per cent vote then what power does the Parliament and devolution really give us?
Of course this new policy offence affects a much smaller minority than the poll tax. And the voices of those who are hurting the most right now aren’t backed by big money, grand connections and bought education. Their cries are a mutter against a wind of pomposity about the need for “reform” of unsustainable inefficiency in the welfare system.
I am certain much in the system needs fixed. But this is the wrong target. The policy genius that dreamed this up has marched into the homes of the hard pressed, striving and worried and declared “this peace is yours no more”. How many parents have reached for Valium, anti-depressants or booze to settle their anxiety on this one I wonder? How many lives will end early as a result?
Incidentally the unelected Tory minister leading the policy charge is Baron Freud of Eastry. David joined the Tories in 2009 and was made a Lord.
I don’t much care for the politics of envy but it is inevitable that we must note Lord Freud himself has 12 bedrooms across two homes in London and Kent. I am sure he worked very hard to earn the privilege he enjoys but I’m not sure what gives him the right to lead legislation when he doesn’t have voters to whom he is answerable. And, once again, this episode presents Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Tories with an opportunity to follow the logic of their own new rhetoric and stand up for themselves and the people they want to reconnect with. Until they take the chance to make a stand their words will ring hollow.
Their opportunity is the same one we all face as a country when we get the chance to vote in just over a year. Don’t take the chance and we will have lost the right to be offended by 82 per cent majorities that get ignored.