By Steve Turner, Assistant General Secretary, Unite the union
From day one of this Tory led Coalition it was determined that austerity would be the name of the game, shrinking the state would be its aim and those who rely on the welfare state would bear a great burden. Yet even as we knew all that the imposition of the Bedroom Tax takes your breath away.
The propaganda that went with the tax was all about how it would release larger properties to help those living in overcrowded accommodation. It is a characteristic of the Coalition that they pit one set of people against another – the old against the young, disabled against the able, and those whose curtains remain drawn while others went to work. It’s a common practice – scapegoat those least able to defend themselves to deflect the reality of the economic crisis.
Now with the hated bedroom tax a year old the consequences of this mean, spiteful measure is becoming clear. We can see from hard evidence that it is an abject failure. Only six per cent of those who are deemed to have a spare room have been able to downsize. Not surprising really as the Thatcherite policy of selling off council housing and not allowing councils to replace its dwindling housing stock has landed us with a desperate social housing shortage. In the meantime predatory private landlords have enriched themselves on housing benefit paid to those on low income having to pay sky high rents. It has plunged people into ever growing debt. The most vulnerable within our communities now have the threat of bailiffs and eviction hanging over them.
As the cross-party House of Commons Work and Pensions committee confirmed recently disabled people are suffering "severe financial hardship and distress” as a result of the ‘tax’. Unite have example after example of disabled people where a spare room is actually not spare as it is used for equipment or for providing crucial space for those who provide care.
At the weekend, demonstrations organised by Unite in five major cities and towns highlighted the misery that the ‘tax’ has caused to over 600,000 families. But their message was not one of despair it was a message of defiance - determined to fight the tax and defend their homes.
Unite has been at the forefront of the successful campaign that has led to the Scottish Government agreeing to pay the full funds needed to cover the Tory led Coalition cut. Appeals against room size, over occupancy and what rooms are really used for had made the Bedroom Tax almost unworkable until the Scottish Government were forced to step in and clear up the mess.
Ed Miliband has committed a future Labour government to scrapping the bedroom tax from day one but with the hardship that this tax has caused we can’t wait another year.
We in Unite are calling on Iain Duncan Smith as he enters his seventh decade, to reflect on the misery his creation - the bedroom tax has caused. Put simply this obscenity should be put to a vote. It should be scrapped immediately.
For more information on how to fight the tax and campaign to bring it to an end Unite’s Community Membership team has published a bedroom tax appeal toolkit