On a bleak, finger-chilling day, some heart-warming moments. At the demonstration against the bedroom tax outside the Scottish Parliament, a young Edinburgh student stirs the blood with invective against Holyrood Palace: will they be paying tax on unoccupied bedrooms? Like f*** they will. And, a trade unionist raises hopes: “This will be Cameron’s poll tax”. Loud cheers.
Well, we all remember what happened to Maggie Thatcher don’t we?
Or do we? The victorious campaign against that foolish policy is now a long time ago. Almost 23 years to the day since the riots in London, and the Scottish rebellion which saw Tommy Sheridan banged up and (eventually) Mrs Thatcher booted out.
A lot has happened since then. The latest Social Attitudes Survey indicates that a new generation care less about solidarity. Despite marches against tuition fees and support for the Occupy movement, most young people don’t see the point in political action. And, besides, the wily Coalition has decided the best way to rule is to divide the people who are going to feel the sharpest end of their cuts.’ Strivers versus skivers’ rhetoric is carefully calculated to make sure of that.
There’s another crucial difference. The poll tax would have affected everyone. I remember anti-poll tax fundraising events in middle class dining rooms and restaurants where academics, lawyers, politicians and community activists sat down together to plot the next rally. These were cross-party affairs uniting Labour, Lib Dem, SSP and SNP.
The bedroom tax (Cameroonian: ‘spare room subsidy’) hurts a much smaller segment of society: disabled, carers, single parents or people otherwise dependent on housing benefit to support the cost of their home. Under new rules from the beginning of April, the average reduction in benefit will be £14 a week for council tenants and £16 a week for housing association tenants. DWP estimates about 7 per cent of Housing Benefit claimants face a cut of £31. In total affecting maybe 600,000 people. Or many more.
New rules are fiddly and keep changing. The government can’t seem to make up its mind about them. By the time anyone reads this further changes may have been made.
And yet, maybe there is cause for hope in this characteristic Cameron clumsiness. Although the SNP government line is also complicated (they haven’t yet agreed to protect bedroom tax tenants from eviction), both Labour and SNP activists are out campaigning and Scottish middle class dining rooms are once again buzzing with the mindless unfairness of a Westminster policy which will not only cause great suffering to thousands of people, it will almost certainly not save any money.
Where tenants move they will be entitled to full housing benefit on more expensive properties. (The real problem is not under-occupancy it is under-building of properly affordable homes and over-pricing of rented properties.)
And when families are evicted because they stayed put (near jobs, schools, family support) but couldn’t afford the increased rent – well, then the council has to pick up the tab of finding them alternative, more costly accommodation.
This is a lose-lose policy and Cameron deserves to pay the price. Just like Thatcher.