Leaders: Bedroom tax laid bare in practice

A demonstration in George Square, Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry
A demonstration in George Square, Glasgow. Picture: Robert Perry
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IT IS extraordinary how fast an idea that looks perfectly reasonable in theory turns out to have terrible consequences when put into practice.

So it is with the so-called bedroom tax – the cap on housing benefits that reduces the amount paid to any recipient who happens to be living in a home with a room deemed surplus to their bare requirements.

The idea was that the reduction on benefit – 14 per cent where there is one extra bedroom and 25 per cent if there are two or more rooms spare – would encourage those people to move to smaller accommodation, freeing up the larger house for those who need it, of whom there are lots.

But there are also those who need the extra room, not for another family member resident in the home, but because they have other requirements, such as disabled people. They, who are among the most vulnerable in society, may need another room to store special equipment, or for a carer to stay in, or for visiting family members and friends who may also help to care for them while staying.

On any measure, this is not scrounging or taking liberties with taxpayer-funded housing, but is a straightforward need for something that makes difficult circumstances just a little bit better. But no, apparently it isn’t, and any such person will have their benefit cut as a result.

Society, we believe, does not expect any such disabled person to move to a smaller house where they cannot have the special equipment they need such as a hoist because there is no room to store it. Nor does society expect a couple, where one spouse is disabled and needs a hospital bed which in turn necessitates the partner sleeping in another room, to move to a house where the partner has to sleep in the living room.

Yet the courts have decided that such people, already deeply disadvantaged, must become even more so by either moving to a house which is inadequate for their needs or having their benefits cut. To be fair to the judges, they have no freedom to bend rules, but can only interpret what the law, as initiated by ministers and approved by parliament, means.

This particular law was conceived as a means of cutting public spending on apparently unnecessary matters, something most people approve of. There is no doubt that to follow the policey of reducing public spending, cuts have to be made. But when it results in the most vulnerable in society, most of whom are in a difficult plight through no fault of their own, being penalised in this way, the law is surely wrong.

It is also clearly a Conservative law. Now that its impact and effects are becoming horribly clear, it is a law which brings back memories of Lady Thatcher’s infamous dictum, that there is no such thing as society. Yes, there is. Society does not want these inhumanities. So ditch the law, Mr Cameron.

Reasons to be cheerful

Happiness, as the Ken Dodd song goes, is the greatest gift anyone can possess. So we are very happy to note that everybody in Britain is generally happier than they were a year ago.

This finding comes from the Office of National Statistics no less, a body usually associated with grim tidings of unemployment and a troubled economy.

Its survey of the population found that over the last year, people reported higher levels of satisfaction with their lives and the feeling that the things they do in life are worthwhile. Anxiety levels were down too. Of course, over the year, the economy has improved, unemployment has fallen and prospects generally look better. But even with that background, it seems remarkable that when asked to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of one to ten, no fewer than 77 per cent of people rated it at seven or higher. Britain also ranks well for happiness compared to other European countries.

The statisticians think that the success of the London Olympics and the British athletes taking part, plus the extra holiday that came with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, had something to do with raising the sense of wellbeing. If so, that’s an interesting comment on how enjoyment of a relatively brief event and some festivities can endure for rather longer in people’s minds than might be expected.

It suggests that spending of public money on spectacles and circuses, which some criticise when there are pressing needs such as repairing schools and hospitals, is well worth it. As Ken Dodd crooned, when it comes to measuring success, don’t count the money, count the happiness. Maybe up to a point.