I suppose I should be grateful that the BBC are reporting this story at all, because most people who get their news from the BBC would hardly know that cuts to welfare are even happening. However, I am furious about this story because of the way they phrased the report. Here’s how they referred to the cuts:
“her benefits were being cut as a result of the coalition’s spare room subsidy policy.
…she was facing financial difficulty because of what critics have called the bedroom tax”
This is repetition of government propaganda. True, the cut is not called the bedroom tax. Nor is it the removal of a spare room subsidy, because there never was any such thing, merely people receiving enough housing benefit to cover their rent in the available social housing. The official name of this cut in the legislation is the under-occupancy penalty. Because that’s what it is – a penalty for having a spare room, even if you had no choice about the number of rooms in the home you were allocated or if you need that room for medical equipment or numerous other reasons. It was never, ever a subsidy in the first place to remove. “Removal of the spare room subsidy” was a name given to the cut by a panicking government because people were calling it a bedroom tax and that was too close to the truth.
That the BBC repeated the official government line and referred to a spare room subsidy when reporting a suicide is a serious problem. Of course I don’t believe the BBC is unbiased any more; if anything the BBC follow a pro-government line no matter who is in power. But if the BBC won’t call it a bedroom tax then they shouldn’t call it a spare room subsidy either. They should use the official name of under-occupancy penalty, but they won’t because the word penalty is too revealing about this government’s actions when they are still claiming that this is not about money and that they are protecting the most vulnerable.
The latest issue of Streets Ahead, the newsletter of housing association Eastlands Homes in Manchester has this advice on dealing with the bedroom tax.
“Can you really afford Sky, cigarettes, bingo, drinks and other non essentials? If your benefit is being cut and you want to keep your home you have to make up the difference. Non-essential items won’t matter if you lose your home. Start budgeting now – we can help you do this, call us!”
This is outrageous for several reasons. It implies that all social housing tenants are unable to budget and will put those things first. It implies that they need things explaining to them at such a patronising level. It assumes that people on benefits are feckless and stupid rather than unlucky. It refers to cutting out everything nice in your life as “budgeting”. It assumes that people even could afford those things in the first place without scrimping and saving. It assumes that no person on housing benefit should ever have even minor luxuries, the tiniest of nice things. That poor people should sit in a corner, shut up, stare at the wall with no TV on it, never go out socially, and wait for their miserable existence to end.
I want to see an apology and a retraction from Eastlands Homes for this insulting language and perpetuating of stereotypes.
We’ve lobbied continuously against the government cuts which threaten the quality of life for many of our customers. We’ve increased the range of support and advice for anyone struggling in the face of these cuts as you will see from our newsletter.
We know there will be stark choices – our message is that we are here to help wherever possible and we’re sorry if we worded that clumsily.
The offence isn’t caused by their wording. The offence is caused by the whole view that they have of their tenants that their statement betrays.
There appears to be some confusion over a possible rethink of the Bedroom Tax. It seems that Iain Duncan Smith has told BBC News home editor one thing, while his department SPADs are claiming another. It shows just how bad things are in government. It seems to be chaos, with policies announced on the fly and ministers and departments contradicting each other.
“There’s no such thing as the bedroom tax. It’s nonsense. There is no bedroom tax.”
– Iain Duncan Smith.
I believe that the Under Occupancy Penalty is a tax. It will deduct 14% or 25% of a household’s rent from their housing benefit if they have a spare bedroom and live in social housing.
Tax is defined as:
“A compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions”
The bedroom tax for many people is impossible to avoid since there are few available one bedroom homes. Money that is deducted from housing benefit as a penalty for having a spare bedroom will contribute to government. Housing benefit is income. (Albeit income that is all passed on to the landlord to pay rent.) I believe that the under occupation penalty fits the definition of a tax.
In any case, it does not matter what the government choose to call something. The community charge will forever be the poll tax. Enforced unpaid work for benefits is always referred to as workfare despite the best efforts of the DWP. In two hundred years the under occupancy penalty will still be known as the bedroom tax and will be seen in history alongside the window tax.