Let’s co-operate to fight bedroom tax

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The article about “bedroom tax” (10 April) was a thoughtful, well-written piece and I would urge Alex Salmond and Johann Lamont to give careful consideration to Andrew Burn’s plea for the two main parties to work together to fight what is undoubtedly one of the most blatant examples of social engineering ever to be perpetrated by any UK Government.

It is also apposite, following the death of Margaret Thatcher, to consider the links between her policies and the impact they had on available housing stock which will have further significant pressure put upon it by this iniquitous policy.

The great irony about the bedroom tax is the fact that it is addressing a massive problem created by the policies of a Tory government now held up as a paragon by the British Right.

We now know Thatcher’s flagship “right to buy” policy resulted in a massive increase in the cost of housing benefit, funnelling billions of taxpayers’ money into the private rented sector, while social housing provision remains in a constant state of crisis.

The cost of ploughing billions into the hands of private landlords, many of whom buy-to-let specifically for this purpose, has, perversely, allowed this government the political space to punish those most in need.

In Scotland in particular there is a chronic shortage of one-bedroom flats in the social housing sector – yet the idea is created that these undeserving people are enjoying some kind of luxury status by having an extra room.

The partial U-turn by Iain Duncan Smith shows this is a policy devoid of common sense and is simply a punitive measure to remind thousands of ordinary people that, at least in the eyes of 
our current rulers, poverty remains a sin. The anger and anxiety aroused by the bedroom tax bring to mind the feelings of rage created by the poll tax, and we must hope that, with enough concerted opposition, ultimately this policy will go down the same route to oblivion. It’s hard to imagine it being retained in an independent Scotland.

Some of us might be tempted to ask how much “striving” the current front benches at Westminster have done to get where they are. Almost all of them hail from privileged backgrounds.

Of course this does not apply to Margaret Thatcher, but in many ways, though she did not come from that background, it was where she always aspired to be and, ultimately, like the present government, she became the prisoner of the same kind of far right ideologues like Keith Joseph, and with all the “modulation” and coaching she ended up a caricature.

At the Caledonian Foundation we think that a decent home is the most important building block for creating sustainable futures. We are pioneering a unique method of home ownership which removes the burden of debt from tenants to provide homes for homeless people or people threatened by repossession or eviction due to the kinds of circumstance which will accrue from the bedroom tax.

Douglas Turner

Chairman,

Caledonian Foundation

Derby Street

Edinburgh

Andrew Burns’ call for co-operation on issues of welfare is one I, and I know my colleagues in the SNP, share.

At all points we seek to work in the best interests of Scotland, which is why we have worked with parties of all colours, including Labour, through Cosla to prevent the council tax benefit cut being imposed from Westminster having a detrimental impact on Scottish households – a move which academics from the University of Sheffield this week acknowledged as having helped mitigate the impact of welfare cuts.

It is also why I welcome the agreement of the SNP, Labour and other parties in the council to prevent evictions as a result of the bedroom tax.

The Scottish Government has also introduced mitigation measures against the bedroom tax that will not be available elsewhere in the UK.

However, 90 per cent of Scottish MPs voted to have the bedroom tax scrapped, yet it is still being imposed on Scotland, by a government we didn’t even vote for.

On a fixed budget and with limited powers the Scottish Parliament cannot simply inject the £1.66 billion into the economy that Westminster’s welfare cuts are taking out, nor can we change the rules on housing benefit, restore the link to inflation, protect maternity benefits or block the plans to change pensions that the Institute for Fiscal Studies says will see the majority of people lose out in the long run.

Imaginative solutions are found where they can be, and are backed up with money where it is available. The Scottish Parliament voted against the UK’s welfare reform measures last year and established the welfare reform committee to take forward action where it is within our powers to do so.

However, the Scottish Parliament’s role cannot simply be to put a sticking plaster over someone else’s welfare cuts, without considering how different the situation would be if we were making these decisions for ourselves. Polls show a majority of Scots believe the Scottish Parliament would be best at deciding welfare and pensions for Scotland. With powers over it we would be busy developing the best system for Scotland – not simply mitigating the effects of the Westminster system. If Labour will work with us in achieving that goal I would welcome its support.

Jim Eadie MSP

Edinburgh Southern

Andrew Burns makes a convincing case for breaching the party political divide in Edinburgh but does this set a precedent for similar agreements with other partners in the run up to the 2014 Scottish referendum?

He obviously speaks from the local governmental level but he is correct to highlight that trust between the electorate and politicians has been strained to the limit in recent times, and this has not always served communities well.

If a partnership, coalition, joint agreement – or whatever we wish to call it – can be formed in Edinburgh why can’t this type of consensual politics be used at the wider level in Scotland?

Forming partnerships where mutual areas of respect and interest exist is surely better than the more negative pursuit of finding difference and variation.

It is interesting that when the Scottish Labour and Scottish Conservative manifestos from the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary elections are analysed how much common ground is found.

For Labour’s part, its first priority is growing Scotland’s economy while the Scottish Tories’ is to achieve radical ambitions for growth through working together.

Both want to retain the international development contribution and free galleries and museums, both more action to support the victims of crime, protecting the NHS while making it more efficient and the list goes on.

They will both want to reach agreement on the principles of extending devolution before the 2014 referendum. So, Mr Burns, what better issue with which to begin a respectful and positive partnership?

Brian Pope

Lockerbie

I applaud Andrew Burns in his efforts to create a more co-operative culture in politics. He is surely right that the public hold tribalism in contempt and anyone who knows Andrew knows his efforts stem from a long-standing and sincere belief about how politics should be done.

It is in that spirit that I wanted to make sure readers have the full picture as regards the latest example of co-operation in Edinburgh City Chambers, on the subject of no evictions for bedroom tax.

Back in February, I put forward a motion of behalf of the Green Group with just such a “no evictions” proposal. Edinburgh would have led the country in being the first council to do so. However, for most of the time since then the Labour-SNP administration has been seeking to distance itself from this.

I am relieved that the administration will now back the Green proposal. We are pleased to have added to the cross-party consensus as well as seeking to strengthen the protection to tenants hit hard by the bedroom tax.

Constructive and agenda-setting opposition action has an important role to play as well as coalition co-operation in ensuring that progressive policy is made.

Steve Burgess

Convenor, Green Group

City Chambers

Edinburgh