Opinion: Let’s have some facts on the ‘bedroom tax’

One of the ‘facts’ about the ‘bedroom tax’ which is becoming increasing accepted is that 9 out of 10 disabled people affected by the ‘bedroom tax’ and refused a discretionary payment are going without food.

There is a rather good graphic, much shared, on Facebook illustrating this and it has been added to the Labour rhetoric of the all round wickedness of the Coalition.

There seemed something rather ’too bad to be true’ about this figure to me so I asked the Papworth Trust, the organiser of the survey, how they arrived at this much quoted statistic. I assumed that as they are a large disability charity, they would have talked to people they work with and found out how they were affected. But that is not what they have done. Instead they put a survey form on the internet and asked anyone interested to complete it.

The form is still live and the Trust expect to produce further reports based on it

The form is well worth going through. It does not require anyone to actually be disabled or affected by the bedroom tax before they fill it in. There are some easily circumventable measures to stop people filling it in more than once, but only half the participants have given an email address. The Trust say they have weeded out any answers which were ‘obviously repetitive’ – rather an odd concept for a multiple choice survey with a limited number of questions.

Given how easy it is to participate and how widespread the request for people to complete it was, you might expect they have had a lot of participants; not at all. Only 259 people have competed it of whom 51 said that they had been unsuccessful in obtaining a discretionary payment.

So what this actually means is that about 40 people said in an online survey that they were going without food. Bizarrely in a country with the NHS, a quarter, 12 people, also said they were cutting back on healthcare.

To see how absurd this is consider a survey which said that because of the Coalition’s increased taxes on the better off, 90% of them said they had been forced to cut their contribution to charity, with the survey having been circulated to readers of websites aimed at the rich. Would this have any credibility? Of course not, but that is the exact analogy of what has happened.

To be clear I think is a perfectly legitimate area for the Papworth Trust to look at, but it seems extraordinary that rather than actually talking to their clients about how they have been affected they should prefer an anonymous survey.

Does the fact that this particular claim appears to be nonsense mean that Lib Dems can afford to be complacent about the impact of the ‘bedroom tax’? Not at all – which is why our Minister have arranged that the discretionary amounts to help in hardship cases have been increased and why Lib Dem controlled Councils like Stockport are leading the way in coming up with fair ways to deal with the challenges of implementation

But lets make sure the discussion is based around facts – not badly designed ‘surveys’.

* Simon McGrath is a Councillor in Wimbledon and a directly elected member of the Federal Board.

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47 Comments

  • Ed Shepherd 2nd Sep '13 - 8:54am

    “Bizarrely in a country with the NHS, a quarter, 12 people, also said they were cutting back on healthcare.”
    Why is that bizarre? Not all healthcare is free in this England (consider: prescriptions, eyecare, dentistry, non-prescription medicines). It is quote likely that someone running short of money will decide to postpone having an eye-test or visiting the dentist or buying a new supply of medicines).

  • “Our minister have”? I love Molesworth as much as the next lib dem, but…

  • Some people have clearly been badly affected by the benefit changes.
    On the other hand, some other people have a vested interest in painting the picture as black as possible.
    Nobody trusts anybody else’s “facts”.

    Strange how when Labour introduced the same “bedroom tax” for privately rented accommodation, hardly anybody noticed.

  • Matthew Huntbach 2nd Sep '13 - 10:11am

    One thing that is forgotten here is that the shortage of accommodation let out on the basis of need rather than profit means that for every family holding onto such accommodation beyond their need there are several with MORE need who can’t get even that accommodation.

  • While I am not a fan of the Bedroom Tax and no longer have any faith in the Lib Dems, I have to admit that this 9 out of 10 claim is ridiculous. I hate this tax with a passion but lets live in the real world eh!

  • “And in all this let’s not forget the families stuck in homes with fewer bedrooms than they need, who would quite like to swap up.”

    Easily solved by just building some houses.

  • Mr McGrath, I suggest you go to a food bank and do your own check on the “customers.”
    Various cuts to benefit or removal of them altogether are leaving a significant number of disabled people with no income.
    For instance, 22% of those found “fit for work” according to the DWPs own data are not ending up in employment or on a another benefit. The DWP are not monitoring what happens after that.
    I know where some of that 22% are ending up in Cornwall, at food banks.
    Check what is happening at the sharp end, and don’t waste your time nit picking a survey.

  • Anita Bellows 2nd Sep '13 - 11:37am

    It is certainly better to use hard data than a survey if possible. Which is why disabled people and activists are asking statistics from the DWP: For example a cumulative assessment of the impact of the benefit cuts on disabled people. Or the number of people who died just after being declared fit for work by Atos. The number of people on JSA and ESA sanctioned since October 2012. DWP has been postponing the publication of these figures for over six months now.
    Charities, activists and disabled people do not have the financial means of the government, Furthermore the government has a legal and moral responsibility to know what is the impact of the policies it introduced.
    I notice that the Libdem are so concerned about the bedroom tax that they have increased the discretionary payments. I would have thought the first thing to do would be to check whether 9 out of 10 people affected by the bedroom tax are really disabled. The fact it is not being done speaks volume.

  • That Liberal Democrats are still waffling on around the edges of the bedroom tax and pretending that this one tiny strand of the case against it may be suspect while at least two people have committed suicide over the policy tells us everything we need to know about them. The bedroom tax threatens to unseat more than a dozen sitting Lib Dem MPS in hard-won marginals at the next election and there is nothing now that the party can do about it. So well done, Liberal Democrats: your first crack at government in a hundred years and you have permanently disaffected 2 million voters or future voters in 660,000 homes. And you still don’t get it.

  • In answer to the headline, I thought there were some facts around, for example Cornwall Council noted that a high percentage of those affected were now in arrears..

    It’s an unfair “tax” or supplement or whatever else it is called because it makes no attempt to link the charge to a verified offer of a suitable alternative. No amount of interim measures can change that simple lack of fairness.

    And can we please stop talking about only being as bad as Labour as they introduced it for private rentals. Like many others I voted Lib Dem to see a fairer approach to government not more of the same.

  • There is no doubt in my mind that the bedroom tax is almost purely ideological. I say this because the government have almost turned a complete blind eye to that huge elephant in the room- the private rented sector. If we had a properly regulated private rented sector with decent security of tenure then demand for social housing would imho be reduceand andbthe housing benefit (sorry landlord benefit) bill would go down. However this would involve reversing many of the changes Thatcher brought in such as assured shorthold tenancies andbpossibly bringing in more regulated rents (and before anyone says these don’t work, they are the norm for social landlords). Of course any government with the tories in won’t do anything that irks the buy to let vote, they’d rather attack poor and vulnerable people instead.

  • Simon Bamonte 2nd Sep '13 - 1:28pm

    “So what this actually means is that about 40 people said in an online survey that they were going without food.”

    So you’ve introduced a major cut to housing for some of the poorest people in the nation and, hey, ONLY 40 people are having to go without food due to this cut. That makes it all right then. Never mind the fact that nobody should go hungry in a nation as rich as ours. Never mind the fact that some of the poorest people are having to go without food to keep a roof over their head while some of the richest people in the nation recently got a rather nice tax cut. Never mind the fact that, most people affected by the bedroom tax who WANT to move simply cannot as there are not enough properties to downsize to. Let’s defend starving the poor and point the finger (like usual) at Labour to deflect from ourselves.

    “Bizarrely in a country with the NHS, a quarter, 12 people, also said they were cutting back on healthcare.”

    Prescriptions are not free for everyone on benefits and disabled people often need many prescriptions every month. Travel to and from hospital appointments is not free, neither are glasses or dental treatments in most of the nation. I’m surprised you don’t know this, or at least wrote as if you did not know this. But then again the dispassionate tone in your article shows that, like many LibDems, you see this as an abstract; you are removed from a situation which does not affect you and you cannot possibly understand how this tax is ruining peoples’ lives and causing a further strain on the health of people who are already suffering. As someone who works with vulnerable people and helps sort out benefits, the DHPs which you trumpet are still not nowhere near enough to help all the vulnerable people who need them. From my perspective, the DHPs are like sticking a finger in a dam that is about to burst. The only excuses LibDems now have for their policies which his those with the least is a) it’s not as bad as those who are hurt think it is (because we said so) and b) look at Labour, it’s all their fault, they made us do it, etc.

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Sep '13 - 1:39pm

    Intersting that no-one has actually tried to defend the survey -I suspect because it is undefendable.
    @Ed Shepherd – I can see it may happen is some cases but the figures quoted seem extraordanarilty high.
    @Tony Dean – from what I have seen of food banks the biggest problem seems to be incompentence at the DSS rather than cuts in benefits. Not sure I follw your point about the 22% – are you suggesting people fit for work should get the same benefits as those who are not ?
    @Anita ” I would have thought the first thing to do would be to check whether 9 out of 10 people affected by the bedroom tax are really disabled. The fact it is not being done speaks volume” – I dont think anyone has made this claim.
    @Andrew :” The bedroom tax threatens to unseat more than a dozen sitting Lib Dem MPS in hard-won marginals at the next election and there is nothing now that the party can do about it.” Actually all the polls shows that the Govts welfare reforms are very popular
    @Simon Bamonte – not 40 people going without food. 40 people in an anonymous on line survey said they were going without food – not the same at all.

  • Simon Bamonte 2nd Sep '13 - 1:39pm

    @Andrew: “while at least two people have committed suicide over the policy tells us everything we need to know about them”

    Indeed. I’m sure someone will be along soon to tell us that everything is fine and that because ONLY two people have taken their own lives due to LibDem policy, the policy is not as bad as people think. And then they’ll point the finger at Labour again (for any reason, real or imagined) while absolving themselves and the Tories of any blame whatsoever.

    But what can you expect when it seems that most remaining LibDems are tribalists and uncritical, unthinking loyalists? What else should we expect when so many of the articles on this site are now apologia for things which would have been beyond the pale for LibDems pre-coalition? Never you mind that most of us used to vote LibDem because we wanted policies which are more fair and compassionate than Labour’s. At least Labour are now opening discussing removing the bedroom tax if they win the next election. Meanwhile, the LibDems are still defending this regressive, anti-poor, illogical policy. That tells me all I need to know about how far this once great party has fallen.

  • Mack(Not a Lib Dem) 2nd Sep '13 - 1:47pm

    So now we know what a liberal Democrat government looks like: cut millions of pounds off the poorest people’s benefits and force them out of accommodation they’ve lived in all their lives but find millions of pounds worth of ordinance to chuck at Syria.

  • I agree that anyone looking to shift their views based on facts has already done so, but I’ve been asking some questions about the situation in my authority.

    Our big picture (to end July) is:
    Rent arrears increased by 2.5% for those affected by 2013 welfare changes (spare room subsidy + council tax support + benefit cap)
    Council tax collection rates down by 0.02%
    Discretionary payments (our council allowed an extra provision in mitigation for council tax support ) on track to be sufficient for the year
    No evictions – although 6 tenants affected were in serious arrears and were being supported to prevent eviction proceedings being needed.

    So there is an impact – but it is so far nowhere near the doom-mongering predicted by opponents. The individual casework I’ve done on this in my ward has been people quite happy to move to smaller accommodation and needing assistance in knowing how to set this in motion. While there have clearly been very sad individual stories, the big picture seems less dramatic than those on both sides would like to admit – and I note those on this thread opposing the changes haven’t itemised the £480m base budget saving they would make in exchange of this policy. I’d be only too happy to reverse it – but there must be a funded alternative.

  • Simon Bamonte 2nd Sep '13 - 1:53pm

    @Simon McGrath:
    “from what I have seen of food banks the biggest problem seems to be incompentence at the DSS rather than cuts in benefits.”

    One of the functions at the charity I work with is giving out food parcels. The biggest problem is not incompetence at the DWP (it hasn’t been called the DSS since before 1997; you should know this), cuts and sanctions for the slightest of reasons as well as ATOS/the WCA is the biggest problem with the DWP. The people at the DWP know full well what they’re doing, they just don’t care. We have had cancer patients and people with horribly degenerated MS come to us for food. We’ve had people whose JSA was sanctioned for several weeks come to us for food because of the most specious of reasons. It would take years to re-house everyone who comes to us wanting to downsize due to the bedroom tax, yet there simply are not enough homes. Most people don’t have the option to move. You clearly don’t know what a cruel and uncaring nightmare the DWP and bedroom tax has become under your government’s watch.

    “I dont think anyone has made this claim.”

    Your government recently voted down a measure to have a cumulative study on the impact all the cuts combined are having on disabled people. Your own government refused to investigate whether 9 out of 10 people affected by the bedroom tax are disabled. Nobody is asking because your government could care less.

    “Actually all the polls shows that the Govts welfare reforms are very popular”

    So that makes it ok, yes? Polls show the return of the death penalty is popular, but that doesn’t make it right. Are LibDems now populists without principles? Because that’s how you sound when you cite polls to support an unjust policy/

    “not 40 people going without food. 40 people in an anonymous on line survey said they were going without food – not the same at all.”

    I can tell you, from my work, that far more than 40 people at any given time right here in Central Manchester are going without food or will go without until they come to us or another charity (and we cannot help everyone who comes to us, either). But, once again, you are acting as a person who seems far removed from the misery the government you support is inflicting on people who have done nothing to cause this crisis. And worse, you are actively defending said misery.

    Something about “loyalists” and “tribalists”…

  • @Simon Bamonte
    “Are LibDems now populists without principles?”

    I’ve put that point to him previously (about the alleged popularity of welfare reform he always mentions). He didn’t respond. Good luck.

  • Hi Andrew,

    I think there’s a failure here to see the wider picture. What our economy really does not need is another unsustainable buy to let boom, exactly what Help to Buy seems to have set in motion, especially as it was a buy to let boom that helped create the current crisis we’re in.

    I see no reason why we can’t have a properly regulated private rented sector and a increase housing stock, other countries achieve this, so why not us? Also, we always have the option of borrowing money to build housing given interest rates are very low but that would not fit in with the austerity agenda of this government.

    Lastly, it would also help if the historical discrimination against DSS tenants were to end. It is almost nigh on impossible to obtain privately rented accommodation when you are on housing benefit, crisis estimate that only 1.5% of accommodation is available to these people, let alone affordable accommodation and regressive cuts to housing benefit like changes in the shared room rate, have only made this situation much worse! In the city where I live, there was only one landlord offering accommodation to people on DSS, charging over £400 a month for a single room. Whilst you may think this is beside the point, it paints a very bleak picture of life in this country and how much of a mess our housing policy is.

  • I agree with Simon Bamonte.

    There are a huge number of problems with the government’s changes to housing benefits. A major problem is that they are retrospective as Rebecca Taylor has said.

    Its also the extent of the cuts. For the under 35s, the rate has been cut in half. It is supposed to cover a single room in someone else’s house – who may be a drug dealer, thief or rapist, there is no way to know.

    All housing benefit rates now cover only the cheapest 30% of housing at the time this rule was brought in, however this will not be uprated, meaning that it won’t keep up with the rising cost of housing, and that very quickly nothing will be affordable. This is the current situation in my area.

  • Ed Shepherd 2nd Sep '13 - 8:52pm

    “@Ed Shepherd – I can see it may happen is some cases but the figures quoted seem extraordanarilty high.” [re: people cutting back on healthcare]. It doesn’t seem extraordinary to me. I have sometimes cut my healthcare spending and so have plenty of people I know. Your article implied that all healthcare in the UK is free because of the NHS. It’s not.

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Sep '13 - 9:31pm

    @simon bamonte – as is I think obvious from the thread my point about welfare reforms being popular was in response to the claim that they will lose us a dozen seats,I did not suggest that their being popular made them right ( or wrong for that matter)

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Sep '13 - 12:47am

    Steve

    Easily solved by just building some houses

    No it is not.

    Every time serious questions about housing are raised, this is brought up as if it is all that needs to be said, an easy-peasy solution.

    It is easy until you start proposing places to build the houses, then you will find huge opposition. In the years I was a councillor sitting on my borough’s planning committee, EVERY medium to large scale house building plan got mass opposition from people living locally, who insisted that it was wrecking their nice quiet environment, destroying their green surroundings, out of place, not needed here etc. This was in inner suburban London where the building plans were almost always making use of “brown field” sites, which to the outsider would not look very impressive and would be assumed could be built on with not much protest. I’m afraid one person’s bit of overgrown wasteland is another’s valuable nature resource. It is very much worse if you dare attempt to propose building on green field sites in country areas. Yet it is that sort of place where house prices are so high and so there is most need for those who cannot afford to buy.

    The reality is that if you want to ensure housing is available for all, and you don’t accept moving poor people hundreds of miles away from where they have their family and social links, and you don’t want to be pouring concrete and tarmac over our green land, you need measures to ensure our existing housing is distributed equitably. That means measures which make it expensive to hold onto property you don’t have an immediate need for, measures which stop you doing this as an “investment” or passing it on as an inheritance so its value can be added to what your heirs can afford as a mortgage and so push house prices up even higher beyond the reach of those who don’t have access to inherited wealth.

    I know from experience that even to raise such things as a suggestion is to cause howls of outrage. The losers from this sort of measure are vocal. Those who would gain are often inarticulate or anti-political, so say nothing. However, it doesn’t help when there are so many voices claiming that there is an easy “build more houses” solution who appear to have no idea of how much resistance there is to new build, and how unpopular it makes one as a politician if one supports it against the outraged opposition of one’s constituents.

  • It is easy until you start proposing places to build the houses, then you will find huge opposition. In the years I was a councillor sitting on my borough’s planning committee, EVERY medium to large scale house building plan got mass opposition from people living locally, who insisted that it was wrecking their nice quiet environment, destroying their green surroundings, out of place, not needed here etc.

    And of course you don’t have to look too far to find examples of that…..

    http://yorklibdems.org.uk/en/petition/save-our-green-belt

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    “No it is not.”

    Oh, yes it is!

    My previous comment was flippant admittedly, but it was aimed at countering the idea that the way to deal with the shortage of council housing is to shift people around and make better use of the existing bedrooms, etc. It was also meant to counteract the view that building houses is difficult. It isn’t. The government has the will to put through plans to build HS2 despite the enormous destruction to the countryside and the justifiable opposition of those that live along the route. So, politicians appear to be able to put the case for HS2 on the basis of national economic need outweighing environmental destruction and the objections of hundreds of thousands of people that live along the route. They can do the same for house building with just as much ease. HS2 cannot be built without compulsory purchase. The same system of compulsory purchase can be used to create new towns. The government would capture the value they have created in creating the new towns by selling the houses incorporating the increased land value. We were able to build good quality housing in the mid-war and post-war periods when governments used to compete with each other to build the most.

    “and you don’t want to be pouring concrete and tarmac over our green land”

    If my remark was simplistic and flippant, so is talking about concreting over our green land. Around 95% of land in the UK is not residential and it would take only a very small percentage of this land to build hundreds of thousands of houses. Obviously the percentage varies between the regions but even in the south-east there is space for new towns that would meet with little objection and result in the destruction of the most dismal countryside – take at look at a satellite view of the fens on google. Besides, biodiversity is often much greater in the urban environment than in the mono-culture of much of the arable land in the countryside, so there is a sound ecological reason for wishing to convert fields to well-planned urban space with gardens and parkland that support a greater variety of indigenous flora and fauna. Intensive farming has wrought a much greater destruction to the ecology of the countryside than urbanism.

    “you need measures to ensure our existing housing is distributed equitably….”

    Yes, I agree. I’ve written enough comments on here advocating LVT. I will modify my comment to:

    “Easily solved by just building some houses and replacing existing taxes on income with a Land Value Tax.

    If you repeat something a million times then people believe it. I’ve heard people talk about concreting over the countryside a million times. If everyone repeats a million times that it is easy to build more houses because (a) it’s happened before (b) there’s enough space (c) it improves the quality of life for humans and wildlife and (d) the government is quite happy to override local objections for other projects, then people will believe it instead. I don’t doubt doubt for one second your experience of the objections to house building from the public, I just think that the mentality against house building needs to be challenged more robustly. Successive governments have played along with the meme that it is difficult to solve the housing problem because of the lack of space. It needs countering a million times with the opinion that it is actually simple to solve. because it exposes their unwillingness to do anything about it.

  • Simon McGrath 2nd Sep ’13 – 1:39pm
    @Tony Dean – from what I have seen of food banks the biggest problem seems to be incompentence at the DSS rather than cuts in benefits. Not sure I follw your point about the 22% – are you suggesting people fit for work should get the same benefits as those who are not ?
    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    My point which you spectacularly missed is 22% of those found “fit for work” (Which does not mean they are fit for work) are ending up with NO income at all because they are not on another benefit or in work.
    Basically because they can’t handle the traumatic experience of trying to appeal the fit for work decision or the equally traumatic experience of trying to claim another benefit, they also cannot work because they are too ill and/or disabled to do so. (Blame Unum, The DWP and ATOS for that 22% falling through the safety net.)

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Sep '13 - 12:51pm

    Steve

    If you repeat something a million times then people believe it. I’ve heard people talk about concreting over the countryside a million times.

    Sorry, could you please go back and this time take the bother of reading what I wrote?

    I wasn’t writing on the basis of rumours going around people. I was writing on the basis of actually sitting on real planning committees approving real plans to build real houses.

    I’m very well aware of the arguments you put. I’m not saying building many more houses is impossible, but I am saying it is not as easy as you and many other suppose when you blithely put it as an obvious “easy” solution. You try saying these things to justify a new development, in the face of local residents screaming abuse at you, calling you “Judas”, saying you’re a “typical politician who never listens to the people who elected him”, saying “He’s been bribed by the builders to support them against the local residents he’s supposed to be serving”. And this was in the London Borough of Lewisham, a rather drab inner suburban area, full of brownfield sites without any obvious ecological values.

    Obviously the percentage varies between the regions but even in the south-east there is space for new towns that would meet with little objection

    Where? Name the places. You gave the example of the fens which i) is not in the south-east and ii) is a hugely important ecological area. Just tell me WHERE in south-east London where I live now, or in the county of Sussex where I was born and brought up, you could find space to build hundreds of thousands of houses where there would be little objection? My mother lives in Burgess Hill, one of those places which to the outsider is surrounded by not very interesting or important countryside, so it could easily be filled in to create a great big new urban area stretching across Mid-Sussex. Are you aware of the HUGE outrage that is happening right now over even fairly modest plans to extend the built-up area of Burgess Hill?

    You mention HS2, but the visual impact of a railway line is small compared to that of a large housing estate. You play the populist game of blaming “the politicians” for not building all these houses you say could so easily be built, but you will find any attempt to overturn local objections by political imposition from above, as you want, will result in far bigger and deeper anti-politicians rhetoric. Indeed, UKIP is already benefiting from it, a favourite line it uses in the south-east is to talk about “the politicians” wanting to build all these houses on our green land, which does have some truth on it, as it is based on development plans pushed downwards from central government.

    I am not saying what you are proposing should never be done, or you’re a bad person for wanting it. But I think you need to get out a bit more to find out why it would not go down well, and stop using the populist rhetoric about it which the other side can and does use far more effectively.

  • @Matthew Huntbach

    Where to begin, where to end…

    Firstly, I’d like to apologise to the mods as this discussion with Matthew has gone way off on a tangent. This is my last comment on this article.

    The fens: they are in the south of England and the east of England, which is why I described them as being in the south-east on the basis of splitting England into quadrants. You clearly have another geographical definition, so we will have to agree to differ. There is very little natural environment left in the area referred to as the fens. Most fenland was drained for intensive agriculture consisting of miles of unrelenting flat, rectangular fields without hedgerows, which brings me on to the point I was making about ‘concreting over’. This is a very simplistic term used frequently by people opposed to residential development. It fails to take into account that they themselves are living in houses that are built on what used to be the natural landscape and it fails to take into account that most of the countryside is not natural either – the fens being a good example. At the risk of labouring the point, cities often have greater biodiversity than much of the countryside. Anecdotally, I live in a city and within a quarter of a mile of my house I’ve seen grass snakes swimming in the canal and kingfishers flying over the water. I haven’t seen the otters that live there yet. I’ve also walked across the fens and seen none of those things.

    I’m sorry that you feel that I misrepresented you – it certainly wasn’t done on purpose and I did read what you said. You did mentioned ‘pouring concrete and tarmac over our green land’ which I would describe as an oversimplification of urban development which, when done well, can incorporate green space that supports a greater variety of wildlife and is more easily accessible for people than much of our countryside. There is, of course, the issue of loss of land for food production, but that is another issue.

    “I wasn’t writing on the basis of rumours going around people. I was writing on the basis of actually sitting on real planning committees approving real plans to build real houses.”

    I don’t see the difference between you hearing of views from people on your planning committee and me hearing views from people as someone not involved in the planning process.

    “Where? Name the places. ”

    I did name an area, but you don’t think it’s in the south-east. I’m not familiar with Lewisham, but given its location I doubt there is any room for expansion that wouldn’t impact on the vital green spaces of the area. There is the option of increasing the population density by building higher of course, but I don’t think that’s necessary when there’s plenty of space away from Lewisham. As for Sussex – again I’m not familiar with the place, but from a quick look on google maps the 200 square miles or so centred on Burgess Hill appears to be around 90% farmland. How did Burgess Hill get built in the first place? How did Gatwick get built? If the housing stock (and new schools, etc) in that area were increased by 10% then it would be 89% farmland. I can appreciate how such arguments appear flippant in the face of the likely outrage from local residents, but why should a political party at a national level be afraid of outrage in the face of what would be a small percentage loss of agricultural land across the country if explained properly?

    I used the word ‘government’ in my last comment, when comparing the attitude of recent governments to the mid-war and immediate post-war governments. I didn’t use the word politician and I didn’t refer to local politicians. Criticising a current consensus of behaviour of national governments (promising to do a lot about housing but doing very little) is not the same thing as being anti-politician in my book.

    “You mention HS2, but the visual impact of a railway line is small compared to that of a large housing estate. ”

    I disagree. Our other house (which we’re about to move back to) is within a few hundred yards of the proposed HS2 route. It will be cutting through rolling fields, raised on embankments with overhead power lines. That is not a structure designed for the quality of life of the people that live next to it – it is a structure designed to get people from A to B quicker. It is ugly and will probably shut off two footpaths across the fields (hard to tell from the available drawings) restricting human access. A housing estate, on the other hand, should be designed for the comfort and enjoyment of people -they are a social space whereas a railway line isn’t for the people not on the train. The footprint of HS2 within half a mile of the house will be greater than the footprint of the housing recently built withinthe same area. I very much welcomed the building of that housing. I can walk the streets past other people enjoying their lives.

    “You play the populist game of blaming “the politicians” for not building all these houses you say could so easily be built,”

    You say I’m being populist, but I am saying something that is currently unpopular, at least with middle England. I suspect attitudes are changing though, given the plight of young people, but to my mind, attitudes used to be very different a few decades ago without much in the way of real reasoning why attitudes have changed so much. Those attitudes can surely be changed back with a bit of persuasion?

    “But I think you need to get out a bit more ”

    Slightly patronising, maybe?

    “a bad person”

    I don’t think you’re a bad person either, Matthew. I’d be happy to vote for you as my local councillor 🙂

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Sep '13 - 12:29pm

    Steve

    You say I’m being populist, but I am saying something that is currently unpopular, at least with middle England. I suspect attitudes are changing though, given the plight of young people, but to my mind, attitudes used to be very different a few decades ago without much in the way of real reasoning why attitudes have changed so much.

    Words like “So, politicians appear to be able to put the case for HS2 on the basis of national economic need outweighing environmental destruction and the objections of hundreds of thousands of people that live along the route. They can do the same for house building with just as much ease. ” fit into the way in which a simplistic approach to so many problems gets written up as “blame the politicians”. A very common line in any discussion on housing is to suggest loads more houses could be very easily built, and the only thing stopping it is politicians who for some reason, probably because as politicians they are naturally bad people, just take an irrational opposition to it.

    This is cop-out talk, though it’s what you generally hear in “saloon bar” situations. The point I am making is that it isn’t as easy as you first put it, because there are very strong arguments against, and very large numbers of people who would be outraged by what you propose. It doesn’t mean what you propose is all wrong, but it does mean here, as with much else in politics, we need to be able to see both sides of the case in order to move forward.

    The “blame the politicians” rhetoric, which you are using probably without really thinking about it, using it just because it’s so common now that it comes automatically from people wanting to propose simplistic solutions, is a big part of the problem. One of the reasons why the pro-housing side doesn’t get nearly as much of a look-in as the anti-development side, or the tax-land side doesn’t get nearly as much a look in as the property-ownership-is-sacred side, is that young people have mostly taken the “politics is bad” line to heart, and so don’t get involved in it. As a result, the politicians that get elected, and the politicians who hope to get elected, speak largely in the interests of older and wealthier people.

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Sep '13 - 12:46pm

    Steve

    I very much welcomed the building of that housing. I can walk the streets past other people enjoying their lives.

    Maybe. I was brought up on a small council estate in a downland valley. There were green views and country walks in easy access. Since those days, the valley has been filled up with more houses, as have other valleys in the Brighton conurbation. There are pictures of my mother as a girl standing in green land where our council estate was later built. You seem to assume that since we have started we can just go on and on. When do we say “No”? Or, if you agree “no” here, is it really fair to decant young people who can’t get housing locally hundreds of miles away to the fenland on the grounds “it’s all south-east to me”?

    I think part of the solution has to be measures to discourage people from occupying more housing than they need. Doing this is just as unpopular as building more housing, but we need to show people who so value their green views that if they don’t want more housing built it is the alternative. I first stood for local election in my home county, and the housing problems my family were experiencing due to rising costs and us all growing up and wanting a place of our own were very much on my mind. For saying what I said along these lines, I was denounced by my political opponents as proposing “Moscow’s housing policy”. I don’t think it helps win these arguments when the topic is dismissed with a wave of the hands “Oh, easy, just build more houses”. Because all that happens is that everyone agrees that’s the solution, that nothing more needs to done, but they add just one addendum “Not in my back yard”.

  • Apologies to the mods again, for breaking my promise about`my final word, but..

    Matthew, You are reading into my comments a motivation I do not have. I could equally invite you to go back and re-read my comment in the same way you asked me to bother reading yours. When I scanned back through my comment I didn’t notice I’d used the word ‘politician’. Re-reading it, I did use it once as you have quoted, but I also used the word ‘government’ five times, so in context it is obvious I am talking about the current consensual behaviour of governments, especially given that I explicitly I spelled this out by contrasting the attitudes of the current succession of governments and their markedly different attitude to the mid-war and post-war governments. Those governments were composed of politicians also. If my comment was anti-politician then why am in favour of the arguments advanced by and the results achieved by those previous politicians? If I attack what I perceive to be a consensual behaviour of political parties in power it does not mean that I am being anti-politician, it means that I would like some of those politicians to change their tune so there is a greater representation of the electorate’s view beyond key voters in marginal constituencies. In the absence of such a difference, we are left with lobby groups advancing the arguments of the large sections of the population that become disenfranchised, e.g. the ‘Yes to Homes’ campaign by the NHF referred to in an LDV article this morning:

    http://www.yestohomes.co.uk/the-problem#.UicelNK-qmN

    “In our cities, many people can’t afford to rent a home in the neighbourhoods where they grew up. In the countryside, homes are more expensive than in cities and towns, and often way beyond the means of many local residents.
    The solution to this problem is simple. We need to build more homes. But to make a bad situation worse, people are saying ‘no’ to much-needed new homes in their community. Just a small handful of people can block the new homes that are a lifeline for many. When they are the only people putting pressure on local politicians their views are heard loud and clear.”

    The current government is in the process of restricting the influence of such lobby groups – that is their answer – to try and close down representation by other means.

    PR as a replacement for FPTP might help,but it ain’t going to happen soon so pragmatism is required. A mature political party should be able to advance arguments that represent swathes of the ignored population despite the lack of appeal to key voters. They should be able to persuade the electorate rather than let opinion polling lead their policy and, yes, that is what the current government is doing with HS2 – arguing for the economic necessity in the face of many legitimate objections from voters in their own constituencies, so it does happen and can be done (although I’m not massively keen on HS2 myself, I applaud the politicians that are for advancing the arguments at the election and for arguing their case in the face of vociferous opposition – that’s a democracy in action).

  • “When do we say “No”? Or, if you agree “no” here, is it really fair to decant young people who can’t get housing locally hundreds of miles away to the fenland on the grounds “it’s all south-east to me”?”

    We all have an attachment to particular areas but the economic reality is that we do need labour force mobility and business mobility. Build a new town in the fens (or wherever) and the jobs and housing move there, reducing the demand in Brighton. We built new towns in the past, so why not again? The beauty of new towns is that you get far fewer objectors and the land can be bought much cheaper than the value that will be added by the development.

    “You seem to assume that since we have started we can just go on and on. ”

    I could equally say that you seem to assume that because we’ve stopped we don’t need to bother staring again. I don’t know what percentage of land should be given over to residential property as an absolute limit, do you? If we were to build on 1% of the land in the UK we would still have over 90% as non-built-up and we would be able to increase the housing stock by at least 25%. That does not seem outrageous to me, especially if careful consideration is given to the location to avoid damaging countryside of interest and value. Where do you draw the line at preventing development? – should all countryside be protected?

  • Matthew Huntbach 4th Sep '13 - 3:32pm

    Steve

    Build a new town in the fens (or wherever) and the jobs and housing move there, reducing the demand in Brighton.

    Jobs? In Brighton? Have you seen the closed down industrial estates there? The little workshops that used to be dotted around. All gone. This is the Brighton that outsiders don’t know, the Brighton of working class Sussex people, not the tourist parts, and not the Brighton of trendies who come in from and push up our house prices, and now it seems tell us we should get out and go and live in a bog up north.

  • Steve

    “Easily solved by just building some houses and replacing existing taxes on income with a Land Value Tax.”

    That probably won’t be enough. We would also need to scrap the moving house tax (stamp duty) and probably introduce some increased competition in the Estate Agent market to reduce moving costs.

    But to encourage local communities to be more accepting of new development the buildings need to be better designed than most new builds currently are. There are a lot of factors that would be involved in moving that, probably too many to list here.

    So LVT yes. Building more and better houses vital, but not easy.

  • @Psi
    Yes, SDLT needs scrapping. I’ve been baffled for a long time by the ability of estate agents to charge so much for doing so little, but what’s currently preventing new entrants to the market undercutting them?

    @Matthew Huntbach
    LVT would lead to far more locals, who are only able to live in desirable areas through inheritance, being forced to move to the boggy north.

  • Helen Dudden 5th Sep '13 - 10:46am

    There is one point. In the past you rented what you could afford. I know the feeling when I had my own home. A large increase in the lending rate, and my mortgage it shot up. It became more than I could afford.

    Unforeseen expenses, that is what causes the problems. How much should renting a property cost out of your salary? This point is sadly missed. How much do you need to live on?

    MP’s were asking for a rise a while ago,how do they calculate the living allowance?

  • Matthew Huntbach 5th Sep '13 - 11:16am

    Steve

    @Matthew Huntbach
    LVT would lead to far more locals, who are only able to live in desirable areas through inheritance, being forced to move to the boggy north.

    Er, no, this comes from the same misunderstanding of market economics which makes people (e.g. George Osborne) think that giving out more money for people to buy housing helps those people. There is not some committee which sets house prices, and the house prices then stay rigidly at that level no matter what, but your way of thinking and Mr Osborne’s only work if that is the case. The price of a house is what someone is prepared to pay for it. If you give people more money to buy housing, they will have more to pay for it, so its price will rise accordingly. If people have less money to pay for it, its price will fall.

    If LVT takes away inheritance money – and sensibly, it should, because the solution to the “little old lady in the big house” problem is for payment to be made in equity share – then there won’t be big dollops of inherited cash to put together with mortgage to pay for housing, and so its price will fall. This will make housing more affordable for those who were foolish enough not to choose to have wealthy and short-lived parents.

    Right now we have an appalling feedback whereby house price rises feed into higher inheritance cash dollops and as this gets thrown back into the housing market it pushes up prices even further. If people don’t have a quarter of a million plus their salary multiple to buy a house, do you really think the average price of a house will stick at a quarter of a million plus salary multiple, which is in effect what your argument is saying? If people don’t have that money to pay, prices will fall. Sellers can’t hold out indefinitely, especially if the LVT-man is knocking at the door saying “hey, now the owner is dead, where’s the cash?”.

  • Malcolm Todd 5th Sep '13 - 11:39am

    Matthew

    I think you’re probably right about how LVT will work out here in the provinces, and I’m all in favour of it; but will it really work that way in London? Aren’t the drivers of the property bubble there more to do with foreign investors and City money rather than inherited wealth?

  • I’m starting to think that you could start an argument in an empty room, Matthew.

    I think it is you that perhaps misunderstands some of the mechanisms that determine house prices. If I inherit a house and then put it on the market, its price is determined by the highest bidder. If I use that money to go and buy another house then its price is linked to the original buyer that gave me the money. That highest bidder is going to bid using a combination of cash and credit (The availability of cash and credit to the house-buying population and the willingness of that population to use it to buy houses is the economic demand and is plotted as the quantity demanded as a function of price). The fact I inherited the house has no bearing on the demand for it and given that house price movements tend to be dominated by the demand side because of supply inelasticity, then it is the bidders willingness and ability to pay for it that has the most effect on price movements. Of course, if I inherit a house and then leave it empty then this affects the overall housing stock in use and restricts the re-supply of existing housing stock to the market. This will have an effect on prices and does so especially in places like Cornwall where people inherit a place and then keep it as a second home because the maintenance costs are low and can be easily covered by reluctantly renting it out for a couple of months of the year at an above optimal rent. I’ve stayed in such places and it’s noticeable how little they are let throughout the year. Such behaviour has created many ghost towns. LVT would increase the costs to the owner of keeping the property and would help force them to make more efficient use of it by either moving in to it full time or letting it out more.

    Anyway, the value of inherited property is mostly determined by demand and that demand is not determined by inheritance as far as I can see. If people are behaving rationally then the demand, and hence house prices, are determined by rental yield. If the yields are higher than other investments then people will start piling their money into property, bidding up prices and thus reducing the yield to a level equal to other investments. Problems occur when people see the capital gain as an investment return and banks start relaxing lending criteria or governments start underwriting the risks – that’s how we end up with unstable price bubbles that eventually go pop.

    Anyway, if LVT were introduced it would reduce property prices because of the increased supply to the market as owners are forced to make more efficient use of their land, but I don’t think it would reduce prices through the process you suggest and it wouldn’t reduce prices (and rents) enough for those locals that are currently able to remain in gentrified areas through inheritance.

    I don’t quite know how you arrived at the conclusion that I think house prices are set in some mysterious way that is independent of market economics. There is nothing in my previous comment that I can see that would lead to that conclusion.

  • Extending my example…

    I’m renting but I inherit a house from a deceased relative and sell it to person A who uses a combination of cash and credit to buy it.
    I buy a house using the proceeds from person B who is reducing their portfolio by one house and depositing the cash in the bank.
    A young man with a new job moves in to the rented house I originally lived in.

    All that’s happened here is that the bank has increased its assets and liabilities, but this is negated by all the people they’ve previously lent to repaying their mortgages. It’s the price person A is prepared to pay and the price person B is prepared to sell at that determine the house price and they both need think that their money is just as well invested in a house as it is elsewhere.

  • Just modifying my last comments…
    Yes, actually there will be a drop in house prices in addition to the increased supply to the market, but this is countered by the increased LVT so that the average person should be no better or worse off. Those living in a high land value area on low incomes will lose out and those on high incomes in low land value areas will gain. Not that any of this will ever happen of course as the British dream of the day they pay off their mortgage and release themselves from the shackles of wage slavery. I’m all in favour of introducing LVT but the objections need to be considered and if you’re worried about the poor folk of Brighton being unable to buy because of all the trendies then their situation isn’t going to be improved by a hefty LVT bill.

    With regards to rents, if housing use is currently efficient than LVT should have no effect on their level, but if LVT does make it more efficient and increases the supply of underused housing then rents will fall a bit.

  • The title should have been “Opinion: Let’s have some facts about a survey on the ‘bedroom tax’”. Its a really obtuse ploy to find a survey you think you can criticise and paint knocking it down as an attack on the thing the survey was over. Moreover a survey few had probably every heard of. This measure is bringing misery to many people. But here’s a survey that may be wrong…. lets score some political points… talk about that…

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