Thursday, 4 April 2013

More thoughts on the Bedroom Tax

Georgie Porgie’s disgusting comments on the horrendous case of the Philpott’s has caused this blogpost to emerge late at night from my addled brain. I’m not going to talk much about the case itself, but from listening to the fantastic PM on radio 4 earlier, I really would recommend reading Justice Thirlwall’s comments in sentencing. 

The reason the case, and the horrendous Daily Hate Mail front cover, have caused me to blog is for me is represents the utter debasement of the political discourse around benefits in the UK at the moment. And with the bedroom tax, this really scares.

As I’ve blogged before, I the bedroom tax will be a policy disaster. It’s really good to see commitments by the likes of Edinburgh Council to no-eviction policies, but realistically this cannot be sustained. It is meant to reduce the housing benefit bill. What will actually, probably happen, is, many under-occupying people will get into arrears. Where it is possible, they will be evicted and the costs of their homelessness will fall back onto the state. Where their tenancies can be sustained it will be, firstly, grossly unfair on those tenants who are not in arrears who will have to pay higher rent for the books to balance. The worst case scenario I can foresee is a large number of heavily indebted social housing landlords going bust in spectacular style – regulators are already aware of the stresses on RSL balance sheets that the reforms will cause.

Ages ago, following a conversation with Stuart Wilks-Heeg and Dave O’Brien on Twitter, I read this fantastic book: Failure in British Government. It tells the fantastic story of the Poll Tax where all the failures in the policy that emerged from the moment it was implemented in Scotland were predicted, but the ideological push for the tax meant it got implemented anyway. This is exactly what I see happening with the bedroom tax. It will be a policy failure. RSLs are already seeing record levels of rent arrears.

And this is where the Philpotts, unfortunately, come in. Everybody was affected by the unfairness of the Poll Tax, apart from the mythical asset-rich cash poor, Tory-voting grannies being hammered by Domestic Rates. Very few people, relatively, will be affected by the bedroom tax and the discourse around the Phillpots makes me think no one will care. I thought, and hope, that the failure of major RSLs will make the Government change tack. 

But I had a horrible thought last night about the cynicism of this government. Maybe they want it to be a failure? If it pans out the way it probably will (and Lord Freud supposedly admitted it will) the housing benefit bill will soar as people are forced into the private rented sector. Even major RSLs going bust will just give the hideous capitalists who fund the chumps in charge of this country some nice rich assets with a reasonably stable income stream to invest in, drive down service to tenants, and shove up rents, a la post-Communist Eastern Europe. This will send the housing benefit bill soaring even higher. Which will give the government an even better reason to end housing benefit altogether.

Or am I being too cynical?


  1. Agree with everything apart from the last sentence - ending housing benefit has really undesirable implications for Tories, because it would screw private landlords and probably fatally puncture the housing market. What all this does achieve is placing the blame on the poor for the ridiculous levels of HB spending, instead of looking at the real beneficiaries - BTL landlords.

  2. Thank you! Hadn't thought the logic through to that point. Light at the end of the tunnel!?

  3. (Driven here by the Urbane Professor)I'm afraid you are correct in your most cynical possible assumptions. It's all much the same as when the original RTB legislation was dressed up as 'choice' and freedom. But it had the intended effect of killing stone dead the inter-generational funding and financing of what we called public housing.

    Then that housing was 'rebranded' as 'social' to stigmatise the remaining stock and occupants housing (geddit? 'social' like people who 'live off the social').

    The drivers behind the much vaunted recent rise in the UK Housing Benefit bill are mostly located in England (no, not a SNP point). Moreover, the overwhelming cause is London rents and, again overwhelmingly,the core cause is Private Rented Sector (PRS) rents.

    Given that, something does rather give away the Coalition's true gameplan (with Lib Dem support). That something is that the Coalition is putting no equivalent constraints on the rising costs in the (London)PRS - the core cause of the 'problem'.

    It is, instead, the poorest and most vulnerable social housing tenants that are expected to bear the brunt of affordable funding cuts (sorry 'reforms'). That again echoes the RTB era when it was accompanied by Central Govt induced ever-rising rents in what had been the low rent public housing sector.

    There's even more support for your most cynical possible assumptions, but I think this suffices for now. Tuck the blankets in tight and sleep well tonight (but not in your 'spare bedroom' or Danny Alexander MP might label you a 'bedroom blocker'