Brian Monteith: Bedroom tax is a cut, not a tax

When is a tax not a tax? When it is a reduction on money you are in receipt of that you never earned. That’s a cut. A deduction. It’s not a tax.

And yet we have tens of thousands of people marching, across Britain, demanding that what Labour has called the “bedroom tax” be withdrawn. If ever there was an example of political double-think, of mangling perversely the English language to try and win favour it is to call the removal of a subsidy paid out in benefits as a “tax”.

And this from the party that in more than twelve years of government introduced so many real taxes, often hidden in small print, usually through quiet administrative changes, that the phrase “stealth tax” became part of the English language.

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The increases on flight tickets, on petrol, on beer, on tobacco, on spirits, on various financial transactions (the list goes on) were disguised as mere adjustments – but being above the rate of inflation they were real taxes disguised to make it all feel painless.

When a welfare benefit is paid and in its calculation an allowance is made for an extra bedroom, to then remove that allowance is not to introduce a tax – for there are no earnings to tax, no spending to tax – it is plain and simple a reduction of the subsidy provided by one group (the genuine taxpayers) to another (the genuine welfare recipients).

The UK’s welfare budget has grown inexorably over recent years. It now accounts for the largest share of the government’s income tax revenue – and contrary to popular mythology it has always grown under the Tories just like it has grown under Labour.

It increased under Ted Heath who introduced Family Income Support for 315,000 households, the numbers grew under Margaret Thatcher, and grew under John Major to some 734,000 by the time he left office in 1997. Under Gordon Brown, the numbers increased to 4,760,000 families – all funded by government debt yet to be repaid.

Believe it or not, despite this week’s reforms, the welfare budget is still growing under David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith – even at a time when unemployment is falling and the cost of benefits should come down. That’s why we need to reform the welfare budget and bring it under control.

There will of course be injustices and mistakes. No reform, no law will be perfect. But the general principle of changing the welfare payments makes sense or ultimately it will collapse and the worst affected will be the poorest who need help the most, not those who pay taxes with one hand and get a benefit back with another. That way is madness and everyone knows it.

Indeed Labour always said it would reform welfare but did nothing. ­Instead it just increased the bill.

But the hypocrisy of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls does not end there – for in creating a false hysteria about the so-called “bedroom tax” they have forgotten one thing – they introduced the same benefit cut themselves.

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That’s right, it doesn’t get mentioned by the BBC or those keen to put the coalition government on the rack, but it was Labour that first removed the extra bedroom subsidy to welfare recipients – to those receiving the benefit but living in privately rented accommodation. What IDS has done is introduced equality and said that the same rules should apply to those living in public housing.

Frankly, I can’t see what’s wrong with that. Some areas have lots of council houses or housing association properties, some don’t. As a result, some people are housed in private accommodation but are entitled to a smaller benefit. Why should those in public housing get a higher level of benefit than anyone else?

The reason Labour has callously gone down the route of opposing a sensible and equitable reform is to find a pretext to mobilise opposition, to create a myth that will paint the Tories (they never blame the Liberal Democrats) as uncaring. As nasty.

By that measurement those politicians that supported the same reforms being applied to private tenants on welfare are just as uncaring and just as nasty.

It’s not a tax. It’s social ­justice.

A shoe-out

The scandalous saga of Edinburgh’s trams are about to claim another victim. This time it’s Robbie the Cobbler on York place – an Edinburgh institution if ever there was one. I’ve had my heels and soles done there for years. But such has been the complete obliteration of footfall and vehicular access to his end of York Place that he is having to close his doors and call it a day.

It’s a typical tram tragedy that our city councillors will forever be culpable of. But it gets worse, for Robbie has many, many shoes and boots awaiting collection for which he has no address to contact. He has his half of the receipt and is waiting on the match so he can hand over his fine work. Does Robbie have yours? Robbie has them waiting. If you don’t go back soon you may never see them again.