“Bedroom Tax” – should social landlords be doing more to encourage swaps?

The “bedroom tax” which is not actually a tax, but a cut in Housing Benefit if a tenant in social housing has more bedrooms than they are deemed to need, has caused much anxiety and disquiet in recent weeks. Its introduction in April means that tenants in social housing will need to find around £60 a month on already hard-pressed budgets. If they are unable to pay the extra, then they face eviction. Even ifsocial landlords decide not to evict and merely to pursue rent arrears, the stress of that debt and its impact on a family’s ability to keep fed and warm is potentially devastating.

The rules are inflexible. People with disabilities who need to sleep separately from their partners, or who need extra space for equipment, will be penalised by this measure.  Much has been written about their plight.  There is another group of people who will be badly affected, though. Separated or divorced parents who keep an extra bedroom for their children to sleep in will have to find the extra rent or move. This latter point appears inconsistent with another law that the Government is passing at the moment, the Children and Families Bill which applies to England and Wales. At the heart of its family justice provision is a presumption of shared parenting, the idea that both parents should be involved in children’s lives unless there is a very good reason for this not to happen. This surely has to include the ability to house children overnight.

There is a strong argument that these changes should be abandoned, or at the very least phased in with much greater flexibility, because there are simply not enough smaller properties in the social housing sector for people to move into. If they went across to the private sector, rents are likely to be pushed up if more people chase a similar supply of smaller properties. In any event, a lot of the new build one bedroom properties which have been so popular as buy to let options are out of the reach of someone on Housing Benefit. Because of earlier cuts, they can only get all of their rent paid if they take properties in lowest 30% of rent in the area. I do wonder, though, if there’s another way to mitigate the effects of this “bedroom tax” by more judicious use of the social housing stock?

There are a fair proportion of tenants who rent from social landlords who are in properties which are too big for them. At the same time, there are many families in accommodation that’s way too small for them. When I worked as an MP’s caseworker, nobody ever came to us to complain that their house was too big. However, several families every week would come and tell us that they had four children in a two bedroomed flat, for example. My question is whether social landlords have looked at over-occupancy as well as under-occupancy and could they do more to encourage and incentivise house swaps? That way, the older couple in a 3 bedroomed house can downsize while the overcrowded family can have the space they need. This doesn’t seek to justify the “bedroom tax” but is about mitigating its effects while also making sure that our social housing is meeting as many people’s needs as possible.

People who rent in the private sector often have to move at a couple of months’ notice if, for example, the landlord decides to sell the property. Once you get a council house, it’s yours for as long as you want it. Is there not at least an argument that when you sign up to a tenancy from a social landlord, you should be willing to move within a reasonable distance if the number of people you live with changes?

I would argue that the “Bedroom Tax” in its current form is too flawed. It needs reconsideration and its implementation should be delayed. A much more flexible approach to disabled people and separated parents is needed as a minimum. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has, as I said on my own blog the other week, been collecting evidence and is working with Liberal Democrat ministers in the UK Coalition to try to have some of the key issues addressed. Let’s hope that  they listen to him.

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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69 Comments

  • Good points here although councils/ registered socials landlords already have mechanisms in place to facilitate swaps – for example see http://www.homeswapper.co.uk

    I agree that parents with shared custody, and disabled people with conditions requiring additional space (includng for live-in carers) should be top of the list for flexibility.

  • Thanks for your considered and interesting take on this issue. I think it does need a rethink since the government appears to have applied a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Again, while we need to be limiting benefits to bring down the deficit, this is the kind of area where Lib Dems have an immensely valuable role to make sure changes do not cause unnecessary hardship

  • Why is Willie collecting evidence in order to persuade Lib Dem ministers. Did they not read their own government’s Equality Impact Assessment – or did they not understand it?:
    “According to estimates from DCLG there is a surplus of three bedroom properties, based on the profile of existing working age tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit, and a lack of one bedroom accommodation in the social sector. In many areas this mismatch could mean that there are insufficient properties to enable tenants to move to accommodation of an appropriate size even if tenants wished to move and landlords were able to facilitate this movement.”

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 20th Feb '13 - 10:27am

    tpfkar I know that there are house swap arrangements, but I don’t think social landlords routinely collect information on whether their tenancies are over or under occupied. The swaps are usually requested by the tenant and they often have to wait an awfully long time to get what they want. What I’m suggesting is that they should be much more proactive in getting people to move from larger properties that they don’t need into places currently occupied by an overcrowded family. That way more people get the accommodation that they need. It really should happen anyway, not just because of the Bedroom Tax.

    Hywel. I think it’s a good thing that Willie is trying to work on this.

  • It’s swings and roundabouts, isn’t it? If people are given council houses and told they could be asked to move from them at anytime, they won’t be spending money on them. That damages the economy by killing demand, exacerbating the overall situation.

  • This is a nasty piece of work by the coalition, if a suitable house is not made available then to reduce the housing benefit is nothing less than wicked. To punish someone who cannot avoid it is as low as the attacks on the disabled and will come back to haunt. It’s another one of those attacks on the so called scroungers most of whom are nothing but.

    Still we’re all in it together…… What have Cameron, Osbourne, Alexander and Clegg given up, oh yeah compassion.

  • Liberal Neil 20th Feb '13 - 11:45am

    By the sound of it another approach might be to convert some of the surplus three bedroom houses into flats.

  • These council houses that you talk about that people can be “downsized” from, i.e. evicted, are these people’s homes and many have lived in them for decades. So, just because they are old and powerless, and have a spare bedroom that they might wish their grandchildren or great nieces and nephews to stay in when they visit them, they are to be uprooted and moved around like chattels. A typical Tory approach. Why don’t you have the guts to demand what the people of this country really want, which is the building of millions of more state, council houses? Instead of victimising the frail and the elderly it would give the economy a huge boost. You really are out of touch, aren’t you?

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 20th Feb '13 - 12:57pm

    The Liberal Democrats have been in government for nearly three years. How many council flats and homes have they built in that time to house those large families living in cramped accomodation? Have they abolished the right to buy? No and never will. Labour gave those council house tenants a home for life and rightly so. Drop your Tory plans for forcibly evicting pensioners from their lives, their neighbourhoods, their support groups, their doctors, their hospitals, their friends, which is, of course, is what their homes mean to them. Heartless or what? Bite the bullet and build more council homes.

  • Geoffrey Payne 20th Feb '13 - 1:25pm

    This policy should never have seen the light of day.

  • Geoffrey Payne 20th Feb '13 - 1:40pm

    It is an odd article upon reflection. Fundamentally the bill should be defeated. However if you want social landlords to behave differently then the only way you can do that is have regulations that force them to do so. I’am not sure about the chances of that being put on the table.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Feb '13 - 2:09pm

    Mack

    Why don’t you have the guts to demand what the people of this country really want, which is the building of millions of more state, council houses?

    Where? There just aren’t vast amounts of land available to build houses, at least in the areas of high demand, that can be done without causing huge outrage. Most people will agree in the abstract with the idea “build more houses” but when it comes to reality add “but not anywhere near me”.

  • The Bedroom Tax is unworkable because it cause more problems than it claims to solve. There is only one solution and that is to build more council homes.

  • Matthew Huntbach 20th Feb '13 - 2:28pm

    Hywel

    According to estimates from DCLG there is a surplus of three bedroom properties, based on the profile of existing working age tenants in receipt of Housing Benefit, and a lack of one bedroom accommodation in the social sector.

    Not anywhere that I know of. When I was a councillor I frequently had to deal with casework involving families with several children living in two-bedroom accommodation who were told they would never qualify for three-bedroom council accommodation because there was simply not enough of it becoming available to re-let. Right-to-buy means anyone who allows a three-bedroom council house to return to the council to be re-let must be a rare philanthropical type. If you’ve got an elderly relative living alone in a three-bed council property, it’s crazy not to exercise right-to-buy and then inherit it and the substantial dollop of cash you’ll get from selling it. You don’t need ready money to do it, there are plenty of finance companies who’ll do a deal with you to lend the money to buy granny’s house and split the profits when the inevitable happens. At the height of right-to-buy, those finance companies were fairly blatantly advertising this, which is why the ward I represented, which consists mainly of three bedroom former council housing went from being 90% council housing to less than half in the space of a few years.

  • Tony Greaves 20th Feb '13 - 2:29pm

    This is a shocking policy and some of us did what we could in the Lords to halt it in its tracks, to no avail. The only serious argument put up was all about the fiscal deficit, not something to impress people who are being badly clobbered by ignorant or callous or stupid policy-making.

    As for social landlords doing what they can to help people affected by this, why (Caron) so you think that none of them are doing everything they can? Certainly my experience. Unfortunately if most of your property is 3 or 4 bedroom houses and 2 bedroom flats there is not much you can do to help the people most affected. (You can’t move people from houses into flats occupied by middle-aged couples or single people because there is nowhere for them, in turn, to go).

    Tony Greaves

  • Matthew Huntbach, you seem to be confusing your opinion on the inability to build more council homes with fact.

    The case for building more council home has been well made long before the idea of the Bedroom Tax policy was even floated and can be found in the House of Commons Council Housing Group report called ‘Council Housing: Time to Invest’ – http://www.support4councilhousing.org.uk/report/resources/HOCCHG_TimeToInvest.pdf

    In summary they say:

    “..The private housing market is in crisis, and cannot deliver the homes we need. Evidence to our inquiry showed the massive scale of demand for council housing throughout the country. We need a mass programme of new council housing for political, social and economic reasons. Public land should be used to build public housing. The social costs of not acting are enormous, while using councils to deliver council housing has direct benefits to tenants and to society. Councils can build more cheaply than RSLs and private-public partnerships. The costs of a large-scale programme of council homes would be less than the costs of not building them..”

    The Bedroom Tax is clearly not the answer. Building more council homes is.

  • Caron – it’s good that Willie is working to overturn this. What I was questioning was the need to collect evidence when this was a policy adopted after Ministers read their own Equality Impact Assessment.

    I can see why he might want to strengthen his case though given that Ministers knew what was going to happen and either didn’t understand the implications or didn’t worry about them :-)

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 20th Feb '13 - 5:13pm

    @ Mathew Huntbach

    “Where? There just aren’t vast amounts of land available to build houses,”

    Funny isn’t it? When there’s the political will to build an Olympic Stadium and change the face of vast areas of East London the building work miraculously materializes; also cf Canary Wharf. Yet not when it comes to state owned council homes. All over the country builders have thousands of acres of land that they are sitting on and refusing to develop until there’s an upturn and they can make huge profits from it.. Your party’s been in government for nearly three years. Compulsorily purchase the land and build the state owned council homes! — No. Your party would rather aid the Tories in creating thousands of elderly, infirm and disabled refugees who will have been forced out of their homes because they couldn’t afford their spare bedrooms.

    @ Paul Lynch:

    I agree absolutely with your post. And let’s have the abolition of the right to buy, too.

    @ Dan Falchikov

    How stupid of me to confuse Lloyd George with Atlee and MacMillan. Of course, it was Lloyd George who built all of those millions of council houses in the 1940s and 50s!

  • Richard Dean 20th Feb '13 - 6:00pm

    Is there any evidence that “All over the country builders have thousands of acres of land that they are … refusing to develop until … they can make huge profits from it”? It’s perfectly acceptable for builders to make reasonable profits, of course, and as soon as that possibility arises one would expect building to commence.

  • Helen Dudden 20th Feb '13 - 6:23pm

    There is a shortage of housing, so that to exchange or swap, still will not be enough. Look on the “Inside Housing” web page it is used by the housing trusts, and is freely giving advice to the true problems they face.

    We have Georgian stock that could be used in the private sector, I agree with the idea but again, there is little to replace it with. So it goes round in circles. We need more homes to support what we have.

  • Land to build new council homes is readily available.

    The House of Commons Council Housing Group report I provided a link to earlier clearly states”

    “..Given the scale of the problem, speed of delivery is imperative. Only the public sector has the current ability to respond to this need. The Barker Report identified the availability of land to build one million new homes. A significant proportion of this land (up to 50%) is in public ownership (e.g. local authorities, NHS, MoD and the Homes and Communities Agency). There is capacity for public bodies to quickly bring forward suitable sites for new council housing..”

  • Simon Bamonte 20th Feb '13 - 7:39pm

    @Dan Falchikov:
    “I won’t take lessons from people like you.”

    Maybe you’ll take lessons from someone like me, though, who left the LibDems last year after nearly two decades. And I am no friend of Labour in their current guise, either. But this government is just as bad, and even worse for poor and vulnerable people. With the votes of most of LD MPs, we have enacted policies which have led to sick & disabled people to take their own lives. We’re asking for more money in taxes from those who have the least while giving the richest a huge tax break. LibDems voted to force not just the unemployed, but terminally ill and cancer patients into Workfare. Our MPs support policy that may well see more people become homeless. There’s tuition fees. The continual rise of food banks in the UK. The harmful NHS “reforms”, passed against the wishes of the public. Oh and since you mention civil liberties, soon we may very well have secret courts. And, yes, Labour let the gap between the rich and poor widen, but this government is letting it widen even further.

    IMO, this government is just as bad as the last one. When it comes to cutting expenditure, how convenient that it’s always the most vulnerable and those with the least that you ask more from. For many people, the entire Westminster Class are all the same and among the working-class community I live in (and I suspect many others across the land), the entire system no longer represents us and is nothing more than a plutocracy.

    The thread about Labour’s Eastleigh candidate and his words on Thatcher should be essential reading for LibDem tribalists such as yourself. For millions of people, LibDems are now as hated as the Tories. Why? Because you are supporting and enacting policies that are very reminiscent of those in the 80s.

  • MacK(Not a Lib Dem) 20th Feb '13 - 8:06pm

    @ Richard Dean
    “Is there any evidence that “All over the country builders have thousands of acres of land that they are … refusing to develop until … they can make huge profits from it”?”

    Yes.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/propertynews/8726999/Housing-developers-store-up-land-ahead-of-planning-reforms.html

  • Richard Dean 20th Feb '13 - 8:40pm

    That does not seem to be evidence that developers are waiting until they can make huge profits. It looks like they are waiting, and rightly so, until democracy develops in relation to the planning process. In other words, they are doing what is wanted of them – getting ready to build.

    It is perfectly acceptable for developers and builders to expect reasonable profits. Without profits, businesses risk going bust – which is bad for jobs – and can’t grow, because growth comes from ploughing profits back into the business.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 20th Feb '13 - 11:37pm

    @Richard Dean

    I thought you wanted evidence that the builders are sitting on thousands of acres of land. I gave you that. Now you want evidence that they’re making huge profits from it. Wel, here it is. . The builders sit on the land waiting for the value to increase and then renewing their planning permission every five years. It’s called land hoarding. Even Downing Street is concerned about it. Perhaps this will convince you http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2012/10/ministerial-aide-tells-number-10-to-penalise-reluctant-developers/

  • Richard Dean 21st Feb '13 - 12:13am

    That isn’t evidence either, in my opinion. It’s a report about an answer to a “What if” question – What if builders are hoarding land for this purpose. It’s quote feasible that Downing Street has invented the idea anyway, as spin, to show that it’s trying to do something – when of course they are probably not able to do anything much.

    Builders really cannot be expected to work at a loss. If they purchased land five or six years ago, that was at the start of the financial crash, so they may have purchased in the expectation of being able to build and sell houses, only to find that the financial crash made all that impossible.

    Even if they had sold the land at cost, the next owner would have faced the same problem. It’s therefore quite reasonable for them to wait until the financial conditions become favourable for construction, in other words, until they can make a reasonable return on their investment..

    The very worst thing that could be done now would surely be to force builders to either relinquish their land at a loss, or build at a loss. That would drive some out of business, cause jobs losses, and eventually lead to higher prices as those builders that survive will find themselves in a situation a little bit closer to a monopoly.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Feb '13 - 12:14am

    Paul Lynch

    Matthew Huntbach, you seem to be confusing your opinion on the inability to build more council homes with fact.

    No, I am simply talking about the practicalities. I am very much in favour of ,more council housing, I believe the right-to-buy policy was a disaster – short term political gains in return for huge problems, social and economic long-term.

    If you look anywhere where big new house building projects are planned, you will find large scale protests about it. That’s a fact. I spent twelve years as a London Borough councillor, sitting on planning committees, very often voting in favour of new housing developments – because the law often said we HAD to, the idea that planning committees can arbitrarily reject new developments is wrong – and many time I faced being howled down by locals, accused of being”bribed” by the developers for supporting new developments in the face of local opposition.

    I am sorry, but it is people like you and Mack who don’t take this into account who are the fantasists, not me. You are in fact dancing to the tune of the right-wing extreme marketeers who love to put across the idea that all that is needed to solve the housing problem is less regulation, and end to planning laws, this whole right-wing myth that our country is still controlled by some left-wing establishment consisting of councillors and the like, with big business being some sort of rebel movement on the side of the people.

    The idea that we don’t need some sort of financial system for sharing out housing more evenly, that there’s an easy-peasy solution – throw away planning regulations (like all other regulations – regulations to stop people being sacked at will, regulations to stop horse meat being sold as beef – all useless “red tape” that should be abolished) – is being pushed by the economic far right. And you are naive to go along with them and not see through them.

  • Matthew Huntbach, if that is the best you can do then I pity you!

    Nowhere in the House of Commons Council Housing Group or in what I suggested is there any mention of “less regulation”. Indeed, I would favour less neoliberal free market ideology and more Keynesian intervention to remedy the housing problems.

    You have simply created a ‘straw man’ for yourself to knock down because patently you have no real answer to the problem, as to do so you would need the break from LibDem party lines and support a Keynesian solution to the housing crisis – which of course would undermine you partisan position as a LibDem/Tory apologist because, at least whilst your in bed with the Tories, Keynesianism will always be a dirty word to political opportunist like yourself… Pffft!

    Besides, no one is calling for huge monolithic council estates to be built, like those built in previous decades. So there is no need to pretend there would be “large scale protests” about ” big new house building projects”, that argument is just as false as it is ridiculous when you consider the widespread opposition there is to what the Coalition are doing with such thing as Bedroom Tax and other Welfare cuts…

    If you’re worried about public reaction to unpopular policies, why aren’t just as concerned about those protesting about the Coalitions attacks on the most vulnerable in society?

    Lets keep things in perspective shall we?

  • Sue McCafferty 21st Feb '13 - 5:50am

    One important aspect of this which is becoming clearer by the day is the unpreparedness of frontline staff in councils and some housing associations. The process for claiming a discretionary housing payment seems especially flawed with most LAs not even redesigning the application forms to take account of the changes. DHPs were not designed to mop up the mess of welfare reform and the entire culture around them reflects that with some staff still refusing to believe they can be made as a long term award. There is also the problem of when people are to be awarded DHPs with councils saying they won’t make a decision until after April 1st; thus putting every applicant into immediate arrears with the rent. Surely this cannot be commensurate with their statutory duties?

  • Helen Dudden 21st Feb '13 - 9:15am

    I should still like to see the subject of housing a non political issue. On one hand, there is the ideas to solve some of the problems, but it has to be agreed with everyone to make it workable,

    I can agree with the use of our Georgian stock to prop up further housing for those in need, social housing could be only the housing affordable to those who need a home.

    We need someone in government ,or a government responsible body to answer to the problems, and to help resolve them before disaster will strike. To simply add a bedroom tax will not get someone over 61 years of age from their 3 bed house. We also, need better housing other than sheltered, we need to accept that those over 55 years of age are not like they were .

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 21st Feb '13 - 9:31am

    @ Simon Bamonte. I lived through the 80s and I don’t remember the Tories cutting Income Tax for the lowest paid. You’re making a lot of assertions and providing absolutely no evidence to back them up. Who has taken their own lives simply as a result of the welfare changes? Where are those terminally ill people forced into workfare?

    Nobody is pretending that the Work Capability Assessment is anywhere near up to scratch yet, but it’s a darned sight better than it was under Labour. The Coalition has adopted all the recommendations of Professor Harrington. There’s more to be done on this. I have no problem with the principle of an assessment made on actual medical evidence and not a tick box exercise, but there’s more to be done to improve the system introduced by Labour.

    I’m also not saying that tuition fees was perfectly handled, but perhaps you might like to explain how we would have paid for them without even further cuts to the welfare budget?

  • Suzanne Fletcher 21st Feb '13 - 9:50am

    A good assessment of where we are, Caron. I doubt though that there can be that much movement with swapping homes between under and over occupied, and it already happens in some areas.
    There does need to be a campaign to make changes to this ill thought out law, using the examples you give as starters ( split families, people with disabilities) adding child caring when child’s parents are working shifts. Also needs to have transitional arrangements to be in place till a suitable smaller property comes up.
    Ability to build more socially rented homes is going to be reduced as revenue to social landlords reduces with people not able to pay the extra amount of rent.
    I am glad Willie is compiling evidence. anyone with any sense knows this policy is being put into action wrongly, but we are talking about influencing peopl with not a lot of sense, and real stories hit hard.

  • Peter Watson 21st Feb '13 - 10:26am

    @Caron Lindsay “I’m also not saying that tuition fees was perfectly handled, but perhaps you might like to explain how we would have paid for them without even further cuts to the welfare budget?”
    The Lib Dem manifesto in 2010 stated, “We will Scrap unfair university tuition fees for all students taking their first degree, including those studying part-time, saving them over £10,000 each. We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years, so that the change is affordable even in these difficult economic times, and without cutting university income.” Did you believe then that our “financially responsible plan” required “even further cuts to the welfare budget”?

  • Caron Lindsay, “Is there not at least an argument that when you sign up to a tenancy from a social landlord, you should be willing to move within a reasonable distance if the number of people you live with changes?”

    Yes there is at least an argument for such but it should be noted that adoption of such an idea also implies that we cease to consider social housing as homing those who need it and accept that those who rent are not entitled to a home as those who purchase a property would understand it. Rented accommodation would thus become a dormitory rather than a home. The individual would have ceased to be self-determining and autonomous under these circumstances and the whole basis of liberalism would have thus been undermined in that the actions of others will be entirely responsible for the tenant’s living arrangements.

    But yes, there is an argument to be had.

  • @Richard Dean

    Not evidence? Come on! They’re hardly going to tell us that they’re sitting on land for profit. If a Tory periodical is telling us that builders are hoarding land in the expectation that its value will rise I’m sure we can believe it.

    @Richard Dean. “The very worst thing that could be done now would surely be to force builders to either relinquish their land at a loss, or build at a loss. That would drive some out of business, cause jobs losses, and eventually lead to higher prices as those builders that survive will find themselves in a situation a little bit closer to a monopoly.”

    I’m a socialist. I don’t want builders to be the arbiters of what gets built. I want the state to do that. I don ‘t see why the people should be held to ransom by greedy builders who want to make vast profits out of people’s need for homes; particularly those who can’t afford to buy homes. The Tories and , it seems, their Lib Dem allies, loathe the idea of building council homes because builders and property developers, the people who back the Tories, aren’t able to make vast profits from them. The system is completely rotten and those who support exploitative builders are the problem, not the solution. I want to see us going back to the days when councils had an in- house work force that built the houses on the basis of need not for the benefit of greedy building companies and property developers. And I want to see the return of rent controls. It’s greedy landlords who are really the beneficiaries of housing benefit. It goes straight into their pockets: yet it’s the poor people who are charged exhorbitant and outrageous rents by greedy, grasping landlords and can only find somewhere to live with the aid of housing benefit who are villified by the present, appalling coalition government of which the Liberal Democrats are enthusiastic members. No wonder we have a housing crisis and huge numbers of homeless.

  • Steve Griffiths 21st Feb '13 - 11:29am

    @Caron Lindsay

    “Who has taken their own lives simply as a result of the welfare changes?”

    Have a look at:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/politics/2012/07/welfare-reform-suicides-must-not-be-overlooked

  • Richard Dean 21st Feb '13 - 11:38am

    I’m a democrat. I want people to be the arbiters of what gets built. They do that through the normal processes of planning consent and of paying for it. They pay either directly, or through taxes to fund government subsidies.

  • Richard Dean 21st Feb '13 - 11:43am

    The article about suicides contains the following important sentence:

    Suicide is never a simple matter of a single cause, so of course all of these cases must be kept in the context of the myriad pressures each individual faced, rather than isolated to fit into a particular narrative

  • Mack(Not a Lib DEm) 21st Feb '13 - 11:44am

    @Dan Falchikov

    “The Labour government was a rotten government – widening the gap between the rich and poor, allowing the fat cat bankers to get away with robbing the people, destroying the manufacturing base of the country, relying on voodoo economics and destroying civil liberties.”

    Hand me down opinions from the disinformation department at Tory H.Q.

    When you speak of destroying civil liberties: not thinking of setting up secret courts are you by any chance? By the way, the fat cat bankers robbed the people in virtually every country in the world, not just this one. And no-one saw it coming, not even Mr Hindsight. So you can’t lay that at Labour’s door. Yes, and although the gap between rich and poor widened the rich got richer and the poor got richer too under Blair and Brown. Under this government millionaires get tens of thousands in tax rebates, their huge mansions are left untaxed and it’s the poor, disabled and the vulnerable who are constantly villified, lose their benefits or have their benefit pittance reduced and have to pay a huge percentage of what they get in tax on their spare bedrooms. Just another chapter in the ignominy, incompetence and hard heartedness that is this disgraceful coalition. One more thing, it was Thatcher’s governments that destroyed the manufacturing base of this country, not Labour. Under Labour Britain boomed.

    Reform of the House of Lords; Peace in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement; Freedom of Information; The Minimum Wage ; Civil Parnerships ; Equality Legislation; Sure Start: the list of Labour’s achievements in office are monumental and extensive. Any reasonable person would acknowledge that.. Are you sure that I’m the one who’s being one eyedly partisan? I think I’ll let Simon Bamonte’s eloquent post make the rest of my points for me.

  • Steve Griffiths 21st Feb '13 - 11:55am

    @Richard Dean

    It also contains the following sentence:

    “The fully-referenced list currently comprises 21 cases where either a suicide note or the testimony of family or health professionals cites an aspect of the welfare reforms as the main cause for the suicide.”

  • Mack(Not a Lib DEm) 21st Feb '13 - 12:08pm

    @Richard Dean

    I’m a democrat too. A democratic socialist.

  • Richard Dean 21st Feb '13 - 12:21pm

    Well, that wasn’t all that hard, was it Mack (Not a Lib DEm). I am so glad you have come over to my point of view. I wonder what else I might persuade you to do …. er …. perhaps change your last four names? :-)

  • I do feel that after the intolerance and plain ‘nastiness’ of the Thatcher and Major years, the Labour years saw a much more tolerant society and cleaner too ( smoking ban) . The only time anyone in our family experienced crime was under the Tory govt. under Labour I felt we had a safer society too in terms of petty crime. Sadly we are nw seeing a much less tolerant ‘narrative’ developing again.

  • Mack(Not a Lib DEm) 21st Feb '13 - 12:57pm

    @Richard Dean

    You must be joking! Never!

  • @Caron Lindsay,

    “Nobody is pretending that the Work Capability Assessment is anywhere near up to scratch yet, but it’s a darned sight better than it was under Labour.”

    Caron, this seems to be the fall back position many LibDems are taking when faced with the reality that their policies aren’t working, i.e.admit it’s not ‘perfect’, claim it will get better and then say it was worse under (‘New’) Labour – whilst spectacularly failing to admit:

    a – it’s simply not fit for purpose.
    b – you can’t polish a turd.
    c – two wrongs don’t make a right.

    As someone who has had to attend these Work Capability Assessments every two years or so I can assure you they are much worse now than ever and I wholeheartedly concur with the views of Disability Rights UK who state the Work Capability Assessments are not fit for purpose..

    http://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/notfitforpurpose.htm

    I sincerely hope Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie’s efforts to persuade Liberal Democrat ministers in the UK Coalition to reconsider their views on the Bedroom Tax are not thwarted by ministers taking this same fall back position or else there is no hope for you or for me!

  • Caron – virtually none of the tuition fee loans being paid out between 2011 and 2015 will have been paid back by the next election so all that money has been found.

    A recent report from the Million+ Universities group calculated that the write-offs of non-repaid fees would be about £2.4bn more than under the previous scheme. IE the new scheme costs the Exchequer more than the old (and substantially more than our costed proposals for scrapping fees!)

  • @Richard Dean

    Of course suicide is not usually a single matte cause. There are usually many underlining issues that accumulate to such an extent that the person see’s no other way out.

    Surely the point is though that the DWP & Atos have a responsibility to gather “all” the persons medical history from their GP’s and other health care professionals {before} performing a WCA on the claimant.

    The problem with the DWP & ATOS is that they do not do this and it is left to the “claimant” to gather information that they wish to submit as evidence.
    At an assessment ATOS are not interested in the “reasons” why someone is suffering from mental health conditions, their sole purpose is to use LIMA computer software {tick box} to ask “irrelevant” questions on their capability to carry out the most “basic” of functions.
    So the assessor has no knowledge of the claimants history, the DWP do not gather all the medical evidence. Which means the entire system is “unfit for purpose”

    It is this very distressing situation on people who are already vulnerable which results in people feeling that they have no other option but to take their own life.

    The system is failing the most vulnerable people in society.

    And @ Caron

    The excuse that things were bad under Labour is a poor one. It is the Governments duty of the “day” to improve things, regardless of who and what did what in previous governments.
    I would also like to point out that things “have not improved” under this government. Tribunal cases are getting “larger” not “smaller” the success rate of appeals “still” stands at 40% and 70% if the claimant has representation. Their is such a back log on the tribunal system due to the ever increasing case-load that the entire system is falling apart.

    I really do wish people would make sure that they are informed of all the facts when giving opinions on such matters. It is the most vulnerable people in society that we are talking about here who deserve the support of the government and society.
    Giving opinions on pure “speculation” is just plain wrong. I really do despair at what kind of society we are becoming

  • 7 weeks away from implementation of this wicked reform and its only now the LibDems are saying it should be delayed at least.

    The Impact Assessment said 600,000 households will be affected. http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/social-sector-housing-under-occupation-wr2011-ia.pdf

    Surely that was the time to halt the implementation ?

    What happens to households where their children are entitled to different rooms yet as soon as one leaves home, they have to move again ? How much money do you think those on HB actually have ? Nowhere near enough to keep paying removal costs that’s for sure !

    I read that Danny Alexander is calling for it to be delayed.

    It’s too late ! IDS will never stop it at this stage – one only had to hear him on the Marr show on Sunday and yesterdays interview with O’Brien on Radio 4 to hear the venom he holds for those on benefits.

    The LDs cannot at this stage wrong their hands and say how awful it is – your MPs voted it through knowing exactly what the repercussions would be.

  • Matthew Huntbach 21st Feb '13 - 3:11pm

    Paul Lynch

    You have simply created a ‘straw man’ for yourself to knock down because patently you have no real answer to the problem, as to do so you would need the break from LibDem party lines and support a Keynesian solution to the housing crisis – which of course would undermine you partisan position as a LibDem/Tory apologist because, at least whilst your in bed with the Tories, Keynesianism will always be a dirty word to political opportunist like yourself… Pffft!

    Ah, thank you! It is people like you who remind me why I am in the Liberal Democrats. It is this illiberal, uncaring, unthinking and nasty partisan way of thinking that I find amongst so many on the left outside the party that keeps me in.
    I can almost guarantee that any time that I, being a long-term leftist member of the party who hasn’t been happy with any of its leaders ever (and I join in the 1970s), am on the verge of tearing up my membership card, someone like you will come along and cause me to keep hold of it.

    For your information, Mr Lynch:

    1) I have made no secret that I despise Nick Clegg, believe him to be far too right-wing, and have reached the point where I am refusing to do any active work for the party while he remains as leader

    2) I am supporter of the Keynesian approach to the current economic crisis, the proposer of the motion to the last Liberal Democrat conference calling on the party to completely change the economic thinking it has been using was the Chair of my local party, and I backed him fully in proposing that motion

    3) I said at the time the coalition was formed that while I accepted that circumstances had pushed the party into it, we should keep it going for as long as necessary to remind people just how nasty the Tories are, and then pull the rug on them. I said, on election night when the results were coming through showing that the only viable government would be a Tory-LibDem coalition “Give them two years”. I have not changed my opinion since then. The two years is up. I think we should have pulled the rug by now.

    4) I am not a Leninist. I have argued passionately, and written articles against the Leninist attitude to politics in which it is assumed all party members must be loyal and uncritical supporters of their party leader and whatever is this weeks’s party line.

    5) The use of the term “in bed” to describe some sort of inter-party agreement in politics is, I believe, homophobic, it started, I seem to recall, at the time of the Lib-Lab pact with the deliberate intention of mocking the Liberals over the Jeremy Thorpe affair.

    I actually very much support the idea of building more council houses, but I think, as I would with any policy, we must consider all aspects of it, and how our opponents will try and turn it against us. That’s just practical politics.

    One of my main motivating factors in politics comes from growing up in a low-waged family in an area of high housing costs, and having first hand experience of all the problems and misery that causes. When I first stood as a Liberal candidate in local elections and called for radical changes in the way housing works in this country, I was denounced by my Tory opponents as a “Marxist”. This was the time when the Tories were pushing “right to buy”, and their housing minister, Ian Gow, was a local MP – I wrote to him, pointing out the troubles his politics would bring in the next generation, well, the man is dead now, but what he said in his defence has proved all wrong, and what I said in my attack on him has been proved very accurate.

    If you think I am a “Tory apologist”, Mr Lynch, you do NOT know me,

  • There is no shortage of land, only a shortage of people wanting new houses built. Even in the ‘overcrowded’ South East the vast majority of land is fields – have a look on google earth. 60% of the population own their own homes and would, therefore, like to prevent anyone else from building a house to (a) prevent their lovely views from being spoilt and (b) to keep house prices as high as possible.

  • @Matthew Huntbach,

    Then I take back my accusation of you being a Tory apologist!

    The reason I accused you of that was because at the time of writing it you had not offered any solutions to the problem and had only criticised others (who were offering a solution) with your own subjective opinion which was not backed up with any objective evidence – therefore appearing to shout down anyone offering a credible alternative to the Bedroom Tax, which in turn gave the impression you supported it.

    I am really glad to hear you “very much support the idea of building more council houses” especially after all you said to dispel the idea previously.

    I hope you will take the time to read the House of Commons Council Housing Group report and see that the only reason we are not building more council homes is because a lack of political will to do so. Even though it would solve the housing crisis, get people in work and off benefits, therefore reducing welfare spending, and stimulate the economy.

    Anyway, it’s good to know we all agree the Bedroom Tax will be a disaster!

  • Simon Bamonte 21st Feb '13 - 4:26pm

    @Caron Lindsay:

    Others have already provided links to articles (one which links to the “Callum’s List” website which documents people who have taken their lives or died due to coalition welfare reform). And, as others have said, the WCA is still not up to scratch at all. The stress of going through this whole process has not only caused suicides, but it has worsened the health of many people going through it, especially those with mental illnesses. ATOS is still getting it very wrong, as are the DWP. The appeals system is close to breaking point, but thanks to the votes of LibDems in Parliament, the DWP will soon take away the automatic right to appeal by making their staff “look at the decision again” with NO time limit on this. Additionally, claimants will no longer receive the assessment rate while waiting for their appeal (if it is allowed), leaving them penniless. And we all know most appeals are taking months to be heard. So that’s yet another way your MPs have attacked the sick and disabled. I would say I was surprised you didn’t know all this, but the LibDems (apart from George Potter) have basically abandoned the sick and disabled.

    Oh and as for this “bedroom tax”, a very large portion of those affected are indeed sick or disabled people. As well as the changes in Council Tax benefit, which will see some people (who simply cannot afford it) having to pay up to 30% of their bill on pain of imprisonment. So we very well could be seeing disabled people not only losing their homes, but put in prison as well. These people are often close to the breadline as it is and yet your MPs voted in these changes, changes which take money from those with the least.

    I work for a charity which helps people with benefits and is also a food bank. Most of the people we are helping right now are indeed sick and disabled people as well as the unemployed. It is indeed, to me and many others, starting to feel like the 80s all over again.

    One could be forgiven for thinking that, like the Tories, the LibDems simply don’t care about sick and disabled people. Collective responsibility is only for cabinet members. Nobody forced Liberal Democrat MPs to vote these disgusting policies through. Like the Tories did in the 80s, you are now (with the Tories) further impoverishing people who are already in poverty.

  • One thing I would say is that lot of these properties were rented under assured tenancy agreements and that IDS could find himself facing a fair few legal challenges.
    Also having worked in property, I have it on good authority that Housing Associations are indeed advising tenants to take in lodgers, so the benefits bill may rise rather than shrink. It all seems pretty hastily thought through .

  • Matthew Huntbach 22nd Feb '13 - 12:03am

    Paul Lynch

    The reason I accused you of that was because at the time of writing it you had not offered any solutions to the problem and had only criticised others (who were offering a solution) with your own subjective opinion which was not backed up with any objective evidence

    No, it is not “subjective opinion”. It is based on observation of very many cases where proposals for large scale housing developments meet huge opposition from local people. You insult me when you accuse me of having no “objective evidence” when I’ve seen this myself through years of sitting on planning committees. Although this was in London, my childhood was in Sussex, and I’m acutely aware of how so much of the countryside I knew when I was young has been taken over by housing. To dismiss those who are concerned about this as people who care only for their house price is wrong. You jumped to a conclusion and insulted me based on some Leninist model of political party you seem to have in your head that just because I am a member of the Liberal Democrats, I must be some unthinking supporter of Clegg and what he says is the “party line”. You did not bother to take into account what I was really saying.

    To say that I have “not offered any solutions to the problem” is completely wrong, when a dominant theme in my politics, something I have been writing about here and elsewhere for the past 30 years is the need for radical measures to make it unprofitable to hold housing for “investment”, for taxation of land values balanced by needs related subsidies to ensure a fair distribution of housing.

    I think it fair to be concerned over protecting our countryside, so I don’t join with you and others in the “concrete it over” lobby. However, I do make the point that the costs of protecting our countryside have to fall on those making profits from owning homes. If they don’t want to see more building, then they have to accept the alternative is financial measures which would hurt them. It was for saying such things in Sussex in the 1980s that I was accused of having “Moscow’s housing policy” by my Tory opponents. And now when I say the same things here, you accuse e of saying them out of being a “Tory apologist”.

    As I said, that is why I despise people like you,Paul Lynch, arrogant one-track mind lefties, the sort of people who have alienated so many others and so let the right win.

  • @Matthew Huntbach,

    “..No, it is not “subjective opinion”. It is based on observation of very many cases..”

    Yes, your own subjective observations…

    (yawn!)

  • richard heathcote 22nd Feb '13 - 7:38am

    I received details of the charges and local council plans and I found them to be quite disgraceful. I can understand the council wanting to persuade people to move to more appropriate housing but this is awful and poorly thought out.
    In the plans for my local council if you had 2 kids a boy and a girl under age of 10 you would have to pay for a third bedroom as the kids would be expected to share and as such if they had a 3 bedroom house would be hit in the pocket even though both bedrooms would be occupied.
    This is not a tax on empty bedrooms at all its a nasty government hitting the poorest in scociety who have very limited chances of buying housing and are forced to rent whatever is available.
    If we expect people to move all the time to houses that suit circumstance what happens to community spirit or friendships and neighbourhoods.
    Who decides that kids of opposite sex are suitable to share till the age of 10, and when the children who share bedrooms hit 10 year old will they get a priority on housing list so they get their own bedroom?
    What if the only house available when it comes into a change is miles away does that mean at the age of 10 we uproot kids and families forcing change of schools change of friendships and then costs of moving properties.
    I think in the end most people will just pay up and suffer the hardship which is a sort of underhand way of taxing the most vunerable people those who are on housing benefit in social housing. I would love to see what would happen if the rich had to bay a levy on empty rooms. how many empty bedrooms do MP’s have in their 2 homes.
    This plans will destroy communities and turn the UK into transient communities.

  • Helen Dudden 22nd Feb '13 - 8:38am

    There were comments that a local authority was going to move some tenants to cheaper areas in the private renting sector.

    Most of this page contains comments on politics, it is not politics , it is human misery. A very sad and serious issue, no where to live, that you can call home.

  • Older people would volunteer to move if they were offered something better to move to.

  • Helen Dudden 22nd Feb '13 - 11:23am

    But there is little to move too. I live in very cold conditions, and my flat is not insulated. There is sheltered housing, but that is not always what people wish. This is what I suggested at a recent meeting with a housing trust, other options.

    Maybe , reclassification of ground floor flats,.

    Should living in sheltered housing be the only option to those over 55 years of age? Until this is treated with respect the subject of housing, more hapless ideas will come onto the radar screen.

    Of course, people should not be shipped out to areas that are far from where they live. This is an urgent subject, and I would like to see it treated as one.

  • @Simon McGrath,

    “.. many people do actually move home and schools every years without any permenant damage. Why should people living in taxpayer subsidised housing be any different ?”

    Just because it is suits some people to move home doesn’t mean it suits everyone. Besides, where do people who can not afford the Bedroom Tax find the money to move home? Logically, if they can’t afford the Bedroom Tax they can’t afford to move.

    Don’t forget most of the people affected, 420,000, have serious health problems or are disabled and forcing them to move home could make their conditions worse…

  • The thing that gets me is that hosing benefits are actually subsidies to property companies. Why do we not talk about landlords as being benefits recipients or as living high on the hog off the tax payers money. The benefits bill has reason, in this case, because of the rich not the poor. Re introduce fair rents and let house prices drop because greed is the real problem.

  • Helen Dudden 22nd Feb '13 - 6:13pm

    There will be further rent rises in April, in the social housing sector. When I moved into the flat I live in, that was back in November 2003, the rent was £49.32p with a charge of £3.20 per week. It is now getting close to a £100 per week with the charges. That is nearly double in 10 years. So the rents are increasing , with the additions of things like the bedroom tax, things are steadily rising. This is a housing association property.

    There is the addition of affordable rents coming in, how affordable they are is another matter.

    There are people who work and pay their rent, it is not all housing benefit. So larger homes cost more, often they do not have the comfort of central heating, and storage heating is a favorite in some of the older stock, which happens to be quite a few. Not all homes are state fo the art.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 24th Feb '13 - 7:47am

    It is heartening to read the comments of so many like minded Liberal Democrats who recognise this to be an unjust and unfair policy that will punish the poor and underprivileged, who are disproportionately residents in social housing.

    We state that we are the Party of ‘fairness’, in fact we are seeking to “Build a Fairer Britain”, so how on earth did this draconian policy even see the light of day?

    We should not support Tory policies that are ill conceived, and see the poor as an underclass that exist to be exploited and abused. We are the Party that should be acting as the checking mechanism to assure fairness.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    English Party Diversity Champion
    Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats – Vice Chair

  • Ruwan, I agree, the LibDems in the Coalition should be acting as the checking mechanism against the Tories draconian policies instead of the fig leaf they currently are. I fear Nick Clegg has sold his party out and will soon jump ship leaving the rest of the LibDems to pick up the pieces.

  • Helen Dudden 24th Feb '13 - 6:10pm

    I agree, it was ill thought out. What happens when the children reach 10 years , is that another move?

    Remember we are in a coalition, the Lib Dems voted for this too.

    I have asked my MP Don Foster for a meeting on housing, nothing heard yet.

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