Tag Archive: bedroom tax
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A couple of years ago, when the concept of framing was just starting to be discussed by those on the British left as a way both of understanding the challenges we face and how to fight issues on new and more fruitful turf, it was dismissed as the lunacy of “flat earthers”. It was a pipe dream that Labour could change any narrative, or move discussion away from the agenda set by the government. Instead, we must be play on the Conservatives turf and outsmart them there.
The case of the extremely successful (so far – it’s unpopularity hasn’t yet lead to it’s abolition) campaign against the Bedroom Tax shows us a true and concrete case of the value of framing and how it can be effectively used to win even the hardest of arguments. The Bedroom tax campaign has remained admirably focused on the one central issue. It has not been allowed to be swayed by the myriad of other issues that swirl around both social housing and welfare payments. It has not been taken off course in a fight between the most deserving victims – whether they be army families, the disabled or those who are struggling after their children have left home there has been a unity among campaigners which has ensured the simplicity of the unfairness of the measure is at the heart of the issue.
They have not been pulled into pointless arguments with those either embarrassingly trying to distract from the Bedroom Tax (a key tactic of Lib Dems has been to try to link it to Local Housing Allowance – quite a different measure with significantly different impacts and outcomes) or trying desperately to fight the settled frame with the awkward (and far too late) response of trying to call the measure the “Spare Room Subsidy”. Just as Thatcher’s local taxation regime in the early ’90s will never be known by any but a stalwart few as the Community Charge, nor will the Bedroom Tax be recorded in history with any other name.
Around 60% of the public believe the Bedroom Tax should be scrapped. When compared to harsher figures on just about every other welfare measure, that is an extraordinary figure. At a fringe meeting on Tuesday, I challenged Lord Ashcroft (who is generally pretty sound on polling numbers) in his assertion that voters are not behind the scrapping of the bedroom tax. He again said that swing voters were not. Now while I would like to believe that Labour have a loyal and firm vote at 60% of the public, the polling doesn’t bear me out. So some of those voters who believe the Bedroom Tax to be wrong must indeed be currently identifying Tories and Lib Dems. Or at the very least don’t knows. The precise swing voters Labour need to appeal to.
It is this popularity that scapping the measure has gained that has emboldened Labour to commit to doing so. And Ed Miliband to make doing so the dividing line between himself and David Cameron. Let us be honest, Labour are not winning the case with the general public on benefits in general. This is – in part – because Labour are not sure what it’s case is in this area. We are genuinely conflicted by competing desires – both left leaning – to pursue a full employment strategy and to alleviate instant hardship. There are few areas or decisions that can be taken on welfare that all but a few extremists (in the case of the Bedroom Tax it was Labour’s right wing, but when we introduced the notion of the jobs guarantee it was Labour’s left who were loudly outraged) support it. Which is why we continue to vacillate. Equally, Liam Byrne – despite having won around some key early skeptics – still has a tough time convincing many in the Party that his approach is not based on a fairly right wing strivers and scroungers narrative. It is perhaps a shame, as Liam has done a great deal to turn around his understanding on these issues, but for me, I would move him to a different brief and bring in a Cabinet Minister who could be better trusted to do a sales job on the communitarian, rights and responsibility agenda Labour has been shifting towards (cometh the hour, cometh Kate Green?…)
Labour and the left are in the process of proving they know how to do popular politics on their own turf. The success of the framing of the Bedroom Tax should give Labour great cheer that it is possible to win seemingly unpopular battles. Applied well and on the right issues (of which energy Bills may well be a great case in point) we are capable of moving the agenda and the electorate.
Episode 46 of the House of Comments podcast “The Future of the NHS” was recorded on Sunday and is out today. This week myself and Mark Thompson were joined by Guardian writer Ellie Mae O’Hagan to discuss Chris Huhne’s resignation and the ensuing Eastleigh by-election, the future of the NHS in the light of the Francis Inquiry into the failings at Stafford Hospital and the iniquity of the Bedroom Tax.
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PS: A big thanks to Audioboo for hosting the podcast for us and especially to Audioboo’s James O’Malley who has helped us out getting relaunched. James is also editor of The Pod Delusion podcast which is about “interesting things” and is well worth a listen too! We would also like to thank Kevin MacLeod from Incompetech.com for our theme music.
The Bedroom Tax is this Government’s sickest joke. It is also a perfect example of exactly how they do business. It is based on both a twisted truth and a false premise, it categorically will not achieve its stated aim (which is well understood within Government as its real aim is quite, quite different) and it hurts the poorest and most vulnerable.
The Bedroom Tax is also the perfect case study for this Coalition government.
First, you need a crisis – real or imagined (so far we’ve seen this applied to the real crisis in the economy, a largely confected crisis in welfare spending, a misunderstanding of the nature of the NHS sold as a crisis… The list goes on), in this case, the very real housing crisis.The crisis is vital. the crisis lets you act radically, no questions asked. The crisis allows the Lib Dems to suspend their morality “in the national interest”. The crisis means you have to act fast, act now and ignore all the experts telling you how wrong you are. The crisis is the Government’s invisibility cloak, it’s Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card.
It helps if the crisis has – at least in part – its roots in a failing by Labour. It is arguable that the Thatcher and Major governments did far more to cause the housing crisis than Labour. It is unarguable that Labour did little to ameliorate it and failed significantly to change or regulate the housing market or to invest in social housing adequately. It was our biggest domestic failing and the lesson that most needed learning. Indications are that it has been. But we must prove that when next in Government.
Being able to blame Labour is really important to this coalition. Hatred of Labour is the glue that binds them. If you can convince yourself something is Labour’s fault, then you can also deflect all criticisms of your solution as partisan tribalism. Lib Dems and Tories can convince themselves that the Bedroom Tax is only being opposed by that nasty Labour Party and their allies because it is them imposing it. not because it is the wrong solution – even when it is their own people coming out against them.
The Bedroom Tax was mooted to solve the problem of people “under-occupying” their properties. The theory is that people will vacate large properties they no longer need and make these available for families who need these larger homes. The people vacating will move into smaller places. The reality is – of course – quite different.
the truth is that there are not anything like the amount of smaller social home available for people to move into. Because of the aforementioned failure to build enough social housing (one of the mooted reasons for this tax remember) these homes don’t exist in anything like the number of those who will be affected by the Bedroom Tax. But the Government know this. Their own impact assessment shows that they expect people to stay in their larger homes and to find the extra money. This blows out the water the argument that this is about the sensible reallocation of stock. It is about two things – raising money on the back of the poorest and most vulnerable people (two thirds of those who will be affected by the Bedroom Tax are disabled) and ideology.
Social housing is one of the most concrete examples of the welfare state in action. But it is one of the most vulnerable to attack. Like the NHS and state provided education it has been denigrated and run down by the Tories and right wing commentators for years. Sadly, unlike the NHS and State education, it was not revived by the Labour Government. New Labour learned most of its lessons in the early 80s. What started as a sensible project to learn to once again become electable became at times a calcified dogma – as stuck in the politics of the 80s as the Tories now seem to be. And little in the early 80s was more iconic than the sale of council houses. Because of that sale and the overwhelmingly positive reaction to it from the public, Labour no longer looked upon building social stock as important socially or electorally. Now however, the Tories try to recreate that moment to little effect. When Grant Shapps was serving as Housing Minister and running for Party Chairman he announced the return of right-to-buy. It did the job he wanted it too – it made him popular with his Party. No one else really noticed.
The idea of Social Housing being a home for life is completely anathema to the Tories. For them the Welfare state should be nothing but the very, very bare safety net. A home for a life encourages someone to have a relationship for life with the state as provider. For the champions of small state, private equity “I’m alright Jack” economics, it makes no sense for them to encourage that. That’s why we’re seeing “Any Qualified providers” snatching as much of our NHS as possible. It’s why Free Schools are being forced into education against the will of parents and teachers. At every opportunity, the Tories and their Orange Book ideological partners will weaken the social bonds between people and state.
If those forced to are not able to cover the extra costs of the Bedroom Tax they will be forced to move to smaller accommodation in the Private Rented Sector. Because of the current differential between rents in social housing and the private sector (though through the Orwellianly named “affordable rent regime” means this differential won’t remain in place for long) their housing benefit will likely go up. The scheme will probably not save as much money for the Government as they are estimating as a result.
But that’s not important. Because this was never about better stock allocation. It was only peripherally about saving money. The Bedroom Tax is about the same thing that is at the core of every policy introduced by this gang of radical headbangers. It is about enforcing a retreat of the state’s support for its people.
The Bedroom Tax probably won’t be the thing that this Government is remembered for. It probably won’t become the shorthand for this Government’s failings (I suspect the words “Triple” and “Dip” will feature there). But it is – for me – the clearest and most obvious example of this government’s priorities and their desire to let’s their overweening ideology do its worst – with no thought at all to the human cost. And I will remember them for it.