Wednesday, July 18, 2012

class war comes round to your house

In the last days of that runaway train of Tory evil before the 1997 general election the man seen as their next leader, Michael Portillo, was still in full twitchy right-armed Thatcherite flow.

He made a speech saying that poor people should not be allowed to live where they choose but instead should be made to live in 'housing befitting their station'.

His choice of phrasing was almost as telling as the idea itself. The vision of robust class boundaries, ensuring the lower orders were punished for their poverty, and his own sense of snobbish entitlement.

But more than a decade into Labour rule - Tory-imitating Labour rule that disavowed its belief in public ownership and hooked itself to the freemarket bandwagon, saddling us with the PFI public finance ticking timebomb - we forgot what real full-throttle Tories were like.


Despite being twice rejected by the House of Lords, the government got its way with the 'spare bedroom tax' in the Welfare Reform Act which got Royal Assent earlier this year.

The new rules for Housing Benefit will take money away from people whose homes are underoccupied. Anyone with a spare bedroom loses 14%, anyone with two spare bedrooms loses 25%.

The rules have been drawn up to make some horrifying exclusions. They are not merely harsh. They will knowingly cause real suffering and - here's the proof that it is ideologically punitive rather than drastically cash-strapped - much if not all of the savings made will be swallowed up by the costs of the knock-on effects.


The majority of those affected by the change - almost half a million people - are disabled.  Someone who has a disability that requires a carer to stay overnight retains their spare room as long as it's used every night. But someone whose medical condition fluctuates - as a great many do - cannot keep a room for a carer, even if it means they will be housebound alone for half their life. This will lead to medical conditions being exacerbated and more hospital treatment.

As Shelter noted, the National Housing Federation estimates that 100,000 tenants set to be affected live in homes specially adapted to their needs. Encouraging these tenants to move would not be cost-effective as new properties would need to be adapted while aids and adaptations would be stripped out of vacated homes.


Foster families cannot keep a room for the children they care for. Just as the Tories want to restrict marrying a foreigner to the rich, so poor people are effectively deemed unworthy to foster. This will lead to more children in care, and more people growing up without the self-esteem and social connections brought about by family life.

Children under 16 of the same gender must share a bedroom. Children under ten must share a bedroom regardless of gender. Children under three get no room at all and are expected to sleep in their parents' room. This means that a couple with three or four young children must live in a two bedroom household, with all the stress on family life and impediment to academic work it will bring.

A separated parent who does not have custody of their child cannot keep a bedroom for them. The government has already changed the rules so that someone under 35 cannot have a self-contained flat, only a room in a shared house. Clearly, a vast proportion of parents with children under 16 are below the age of 35.

So, a separated parent would have to have their child sleep in the parent's room, sharing a toilet, bathroom and kitchen with a house full of un-CRB checked strangers. Many courts will see this as a 'safeguarding' situation and prevent custody or even visits in order to protect the child. This will lead to loss of contact and reliance on sole parents. This, in turn, will lead to more single parents claiming benefits and a further increase in the number of children in care and those needing foster homes, even as the supply diminishes.


Those living in 'underoccupied' households will run up arrears and then be homeless and in debt. This will mean an explosion in the need for debt advice, more people homeless, more vulnerable people in short-stay bed and breakfast accommodation, more mental health treatment required, and more people saddled with long term debt repayments taken out of their benefits, pushing their heads further below the waterline.

The knock-on financial costs of these changes, especially to the penal, health and benefits systems, are obvious to anyone who thinks about them for more than four seconds. It proves that this, like so much of the cuts agenda, is not about reducing spending. It is straightforward cruelty and open class warfare.


Spannered said...

Re: your penultimate paragraph - don't forget that access to debt and housing advice is being massively cut as Legal Aid is withdrawn and local authorities budgets are slashed...

Little Richardjohn said...

Operation Clawback is in full swing. Woe betide anyone on WTC failing to declare a £20 job five years ago as a 'Change of Circumstances', even if you have done your tax return.
You could be presented with a demand for a massive lump sum without the option, and very little chance of appeal.