Wednesday, 6 February 2013

'No One Size Fits All'

The ConDems really have opened a can of worms with their Bedroom Tax policy.

Whilst I can understand the need to reduce the £21 billion housing benefit paid out, the policy is so disjointed it will be unworkable.

When Margaret Thatcher introduced the sale of council houses she also ensured the death knell of council houses for life, because the council housing stocks reduced radically in the following years.  Few were built to replace those sold and those which were constructed were family homes with three or four bedrooms. Developers don't make much money from building one or two bedroomed homes so why build them when they can have far greater profits from larger properties.

At that time nobody imagined the influx of immigrants who would come to live on these islands 30 years later.

It's all very well for politicians to decide that people should live in homes suited to their family's size - most people do so through the need to keep their living expenses as low as possible.  However, many council house dwellers are claimants of housing benefit, which of course comes from taxpayers.  Since the days are long gone when a council house contract secured a particular house for a lifetime, it does seem sensible that people whose circumstances have changed, get the offer of smaller - or larger - accommodation.

I know several home owners who have downsized in recent years, because they could no longer afford to keep their homes well maintained or felt they were too big for them. In such cases it's expected that there will be some capital left over from the sale of larger property, but that isn't always so. Some years ago far sighted developers started to build 'over 50s properties' or 'retirement properties' with services such as resident wardens and communal lounges.  These services don't come cheap and many people found they had little capital left, but they did have the security of a property which provided social interaction. 

Councils used to provide similar facilities for their tenants, but stopped building properties for the elderly and gradually withdrew the warden services.  This has left many vulnerable people isolated and as many have no savings, they are unable to provide a few of the things which make life slightly more tolerable in older age.

The new Bedroom Tax doesn't affect those beyond the official working age but it does affect another vulnerable group, the disabled. This is the group which will be most affected by these changes, although some say that non-custodial parents whose children visit regularly are also to be denied, or pay extra, for a second bedroom.  Children can sleep on sofa beds, but some disabled do need a room for equipment or carers.  How can government officials decide who is worthy of having a 'spare' bedroom when the outsourced ATOS company has made such a mess of disabled assessments?

My concern about the disabled is personal.  The husband of a good friend of mine has to use an oxygen machine whilst sleeping and because the machine is noisy they agreed a year or so ago that he would sleep in the 'spare' room. Their income would be severely stretched if they had to lose 14% of their housing benefit.

A bigger problem lies with private social landlords who see this new tax as a reason to increase rents or redefine mere cupboards as bedrooms.

No one size fits all but surely the first to be reassured should be those whose disability necessitates the need for a 'spare' room.

Like many other laws passed since the coalition came into being, this one hasn't been thought out thoroughly.  If it had been, it would have been obvious at the initial stages, that the lack of one and two bedroomed council accommodation would make the policy unworkable.


Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

I disagree Rosa, particularly on the point this government hasn't thought these cuts through. They have given considerable thought and effort to these cuts under the political spin of cutting the welfare budget.

However the hypocrisy involved in the bedroom tax lies within the claim it will free up family homes. The hypocrisy extends from the fact it was the Thatcher government which initiated the right to buy and then ring fenced the money created by refusing the LAs the right to use that money to build social homes. By doing so not only did they fill the pockets of the financial shamans they threw housing associations into the mix, who again became easy meat for the same shamans.

And, now that these shamans are struggling, they want the poor and needy to pay the welfare bill they need in order to keep their alchemy brew going.

So we have the same government of ideological bigots, sublime in their spin of righteousness wanting to spin their hyperbole of shirkers and strivers while a) it was them who created the problem in the first place and b) encouraged the shaman problem which, by its failure, created the greater need for welfare.

I'm a great believer in cutting the welfare bill to the minimum. But first you have to create the industry and environment to the point where the need for welfare is at its minimum.

English Pensioner said...

The problem is that officialdom can't use common sense, and needs a set of rigid rules to govern their actions. Thus the attempt to limit the amount of accommodation for which the state is willing to pay can never take into account the various individual circumstances, simply because rules don't allow discretion.
You cite one set of circumstances I will set out the opposite case.
A friend of my wife's was brought up in a three bedroom council flat with her parents and brother. She married many years ago, leaving her brother with her parents. Her brother has never done a day's honest work in his life having dropped out from university and lived on the state. Her father died some while ago and her mother last year, leaving her brother in a three-bedroomed flat. He is protesting, "I was born here, have lived all my life here and want to die here" attitude and the council seems reluctant to take matters further because of his "human rights". There are families in the block who need a bigger flat, so neither I, or his sister can see any reason that he should remain there when there is greater need.

Demetrius said...

There is a great deal going badly wrong across the various property sectors. The reasons are not just financial and economic but chunks of legislation that simply do not fit realities. A lot is now becoming a racket. The failure to manage sensible and fair taxation and the distortions all add to the problems arising. One effect of this is the scramble for some way to balance books that are already seriously unbalanced. The "bedroom tax" just adds to the complications as it stands. It is the whole housing benefit business that is the big problem and that is because the whole sector is going bad.

Crinkly & Ragged Arsed Philosophers said...

EP - then the fault lies with the Council.

They have plenty tools in their armoury - the Mother and Father were probably joint tenants and, unless the council awarded a new joint tenancy which included the brother on the occasion of the fathers death he has no right of succession.

And Article 6 or 8 nor the 1st protocol will help him evade an eviction notice issued by the court.

So your black sheep is either fiddling the books (ie claiming his mother is still breathing) or we have a classic example of LA incompetence. But Hey! What do most people take to work other than the nurture of routine.

JimS said...

The whole benefit system is far too complex with bits added or removed in response to perceived need or abuse.

On the one hand we want to provide a safety net but on the other we don't want to create a 'wage for life' for those that could but don't.

I think there has to be a relationship between those who provide for themselves and those in need. For the later there has to be a difference between short and long term aid. We would probably all help out a pal with a tenner if they found themselves short but not if it became a habit.

Seems sensible and caring to me to provide short term aid to someone whose circumstances change suddenly to avoid increasing the crisis by forcing them to move home, (which is not cheap). Longer term, if we are to provide some sort of benefit for housing then it should be at a flat rate, possibly with regional variations, possibly not. The claimant is then in a similar position to those in work, i.e. they find a house that they can afford. Logically that argument would go down the path towards a single benefit, those in work don't get a wage for food, a wage for children or a wage for housing, the split is a matter of personal choice.

Is everyone capable of making these budgeting decisions? Maybe not but I think we assume too many people aren't capable.

As for suitable housing, well at the end of the day a builder might potentially get more money for a large house but only if he can sell it. Personally I know of many old houses that have been demolished to make way for solo apartments and quite a few new builds that cover the smaller end of the market. If anything I would say these homes are relatively a lot more expensive than larger houses.

subrosa said...

Crinkly, I bow to your superior knowledge on this particular subject and completely agree with your last paragraph.

subrosa said...

I suppose that's why I wrote that title EP. I too know of someone rather like that and although the council have made some pathetic attempts to move him, he's still there. However, he says his neighbours are on his side because they don't want the house filled with immigrants who don't understand their culture.

subrosa said...

Absolutely Demetrius. Westminster tried to hide problems by introducing housing associations etc but now even they can't hide the problems.

subrosa said...

I suppose the size of houses depends upon the developer Jim. Round and about here there are several developers on the go and none build anything less than 3 bedroomed houses. They sell - eventually but it can take years. Over time the price is reduced to the cost of a 'second hand' two bed property so buyers think they're getting a bargain.

Perhaps they are when their neighbours, who have been there for 3 years, paid 20% more.

Elby the Beserk said...

IDS makes his case - and boots Miliband E up the arse at the same time.

subrosa said...

I think I a clip recently which conveyed that to me too Elby.

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