Leaders: Bedroom tax | Mission to Mars

Protesters against the Bedroom Tax march by the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Protesters against the Bedroom Tax march by the Scottish Parliament. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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WHEN is a bedroom not a bedroom? When it is less than 50 square feet and barely has room for a single bed and an open door, it seems – at least for the purposes of the bedroom tax.

The success of a Fife man in challenging a decision to cut his benefit because he had an unused box room in his rented home could come to be seen as a landmark victory.

The ruling that the room was not big enough for an adult to sleep in and, therefore, should not be considered as meeting the bedroom tax criteria was last night being hailed as major crack in the foundations of the most disliked piece of government policy since the poll tax.

In many ways, yesterday’s victory is an illustration of how discredited the government’s efforts to cut Britain’s welfare bill have become. Has it really come to this? Have we reached the point when someone has to take a tape measure to a disabled man’s spare room to see if his benefits should be cut? If so, we really need to ask ourselves some serious questions about both the morality and practicality of this tax.

Some politicians were yesterday expressing the hope that this was the beginning of the end for the single occupancy charge, as the bedroom tax is officially known. This newspaper certainly hopes so. This is an abominable and degrading attack on the most vulnerable in society, more suited to the pages of a Dickens novel than life in Britain in 2013.

This newspaper recently called for political unanimity in Scotland over the bedroom tax, asking that the SNP and Scottish Labour work together to ameliorate its effects in Scotland. Between them, the two parties run the vast majority of Scottish local authorities, and so are in a good position to ensure that no tenants are evicted from their homes as a result of not being able to pay the extra cash demanded of them as a result of the bedroom tax.

Unfortunately, both parties seem to be more interested in trying to score political points off each other on this issue than to make common cause against the Tory-led government at Westminster. This reflects poorly on both of them.

It is time Westminster acknowledged its mistake and consigned the bedroom tax to the dustbin of history.

And it is time Labour made an unequivocal declaration that if the coalition is not willing to do this, then an incoming Labour government certainly would.

Ed Miliband’s reluctance to start making policy on spending and taxation so early in the electoral cycle is understandable. But this is surely a policy on which he must make an exception. Mr Miliband must commit to abolishing the bedroom tax. Every month he fails to do so raises more questions about whether he is a political leader with the necessary boldness and clear-sightedness to be prime minister.

As for the SNP and Scottish Labour, there is still time to work together on this.

Mars helps you work, rest and run away

MOST of us, in our less kind moments, could no doubt come up with a list of people who we would gladly “volunteer” for a one-way trip to Mars. It remains to be seen if any of them are among the hundreds of thousands who have signed up to an enterprising Dutch company’s plans for a human colony on the Red Planet.

Under this scheme, earthlings could be living on Mars as soon as 2023. There is, however, the aforementioned catch – the deal is for people to sign up for the duration of their natural lives; there are no return tickets.

Even so, this does not appear to have put people off, with applications coming in from all around the world for a place on the training course that will select those deemed most suitable.

The popularity of this Mars adventure is an indication of the enduring allure of space, and the romance of space travel.

Those of us long enough in the tooth to recall the original Apollo missions to the Moon will never forget the thrill of watching mankind reaching out from the Earth to the skies.

For those too young to remember it, the fact that the Nasa spacecraft contained far less computing power than today’s average smartphone is nothing short of astonishing.

Mars One, the company behind this new project says applicants must be “resilient, adaptable, curious, creative and resourceful”.

Given the prospect of leaving Earth with no prospect of return, one is tempted to add “and desperate to get away from something or someone from their past on the home planet”.

It seems the 21st century now has its hi-tech equivalent of running away to join the Foreign Legion.