As letters start drop on the doormats of social housing tenants across the UK, the full horror of the Tories' unjust Bedroom Tax is starting to sink in.
From April, if you're a social housing (council or housing association) tenant, and the government decides you have a ‘spare’ room, then they're going to deduct money from your housing benefit for it, leaving tenants to pay the difference. Later in the year, with housing benefit being replaced by Universal Credit, tenants will also be expected to pay rent themselves instead of having it paid direct to the landlord.
In pilot areas it's been shown that immediately 41% of tenants can't afford to pay, so when introduced this will inevitably lead to a massive rise in the number of tenants getting into rent arrears. And the longer that goes on the greater the chance we'll be looking at mass numbers of evictions and a huge rise in homelessness.
The unfairness of the cuts will be felt by many groups who fall through the cracks, and whose extra room is anything but spare: Disabled people who occasionally need a carer; kids who will be forced to share (if they're the same gender they have to share through teenage years as well); or parents who have part custody and need a spare room in order to see their kids; all are set to be hit hard.
The problem is particularly acute in Scotland, where there is an incredible shortage of social housing in general and one bedroom houses in particular. Government policies for decades mean that very little council housing has been built since the 70's. Since then the structure of families has changed and we don't need as many big houses for three generations of the same family to live together.
Nowadays, with the rise of single parent families and record numbers living alone, only 22% of Scottish social housing tenants who need a one bedroom house are in one. Big families live in overcrowded properties because bigger ones go to those with greater needs. If you want to downsize it simply isn't possible, leaving people with no choice but to pay the difference.
What can the Scottish Parliament do to try and help us cope with the impact of this grossly unfair Tory policy? Well ultimately we obviously need to build a lot more council houses, of all shapes and sizes to meet the needs of today's diverse family units. But in the short term there's something the Scottish Government could do as an emergency measure to help thousands: legislate to prevent evictions.
Govan Law Centre and the STUC have initiated a petition to the Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee demanding that the government amends the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 so that any rent arrears caused by the bedroom tax would be treated simply as debt and not a housing issue, ensuring no Scottish tenants are evicted through Tory benefit cuts.
This simple, effective measure will only come in if mass pressure is applied from the rest of society. So far the government has merely talked about what they would do if Scotland was independent, but tenants can't wait until 2014 for a solution.
Unite Community backs the campaign for No Eviction for Bedroom Tax and is organising to get out on the streets to collect thousands of signatures to pressure the government.
We're also sponsoring local meetings on the topic which are open to all. These take place on:
• Monday 18 February, 7pm, Unite Glasgow Office, 145 - 165 West Regent Street, G2 4LD; and
• Thursday 21 February, 6pm, Possilpark Millennium Centre, 25 Ardoch Street, Glasgow, G22 5GQ.
More details of local meetings will follow so please keep an eye on the webpage for updates.
If you'd like to organise a meeting in your area then all you need to do is find a venue and start telling people. There's also nothing to stop you taking the petition round the streets or your neighbour's doors for signatures.
Below are leaflets and posters on which you can write your own local details before copying. Click here for a pdf of the petition for printing. If you're using these, or would like help organising your meeting, please get in touch with: Jack Ferguson, Unite Scotland Community Coordinator on 07711 376562.