Westminster 'bedroom tax' to deepen Scots austerity pain
Posted by Alexander Porter
Scotland housing and welfare minister, Margaret Burgess, has
outlined how Westminster's new 'bedroom tax' will hit vulnerable
Vulnerable Scots face the agony of more Westminster austerity cuts with the introduction of the new 'bedroom tax' the Scottish government has revealed.
Scotland's Housing and Welfare Minister Margaret Burgess has outlined how the new tax will impact on Scots families. The Scottish government analysis shows that over 100,000 households will be hit - or one in five of Scotland's social rented sector - with the lowest income families facing a further £600 cut every year to their household budgets.
As Britain's economic crisis deepens the UK government been increasingly desperate to find income for the treasury. Westminster argues that it is tackling 'under-occupancy' in social housing by introducing a penalty or 'bedroom tax' from next April with those tenants with a spare room forced to pay more. The logic is that people will move to more appropriate housing and so relieve the strain on the social sector.
However critics argue that this legislation doesn't take account of the availability of smaller properties in local areas, nor of the effect of moving away from family, carers, schools and other local ties.
Housing charities such as Crisis and Shelter Scotland argue that there will be a huge mismatch between available housing stock and the actual demand resulting in the tax driving up rent arrears and evictions.
Linda Fabiani MSP has expressed her outrage at what she described as "the true extend of the damage caused by the Tories' bedroom tax." Ms Fabiana, a former housing association director, who sits on the Scottish parliament's welfare reform committee, argues that the UK government has not through the extreme social consequences of the new tax. She said:
“The Tories’ claims that these people can simply move to a smaller property to avoid this tax would be laughable if the issue were not so serious. In most cases people can’t just up sticks and move to a smaller property.
“Even in the unlikely scenario that there is a vacant property – people have places of work, they send their kids to the local school, they may live close to relatives – but the Tories expect them to just abandon all of this."
The 'bedroom tax' has been with a hostile reaction by a range of charities and housing organisations which point to likely scenarios of Scottish families being caught up in the new tax. Concerns that the worst affected will be vulnerable groups such as single parents with part-time access to their children; couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation; families with disabled children; and disabled people – including those living in adapted properties. Foster carers will not be automatically be exempt, and will be forced to apply for a limited pot of discretionary funding.
Ms Fabiani, an SNP MSP, argues that Scotland should have more devolved powers to avoid such disadvantages: “Yet again, we see the Tories taking money from the most vulnerable in society – and taking money from the Scottish economy. This is £60m that will not be spent in Scotland, which will hurt economic recovery.
“This is another example of why leaving these decisions to be made in Westminster leaves Scotland at such a disadvantage. If we were able to join up our welfare and benefits policies to our Housing strategy – we could produce policies which work for the most vulnerable in society – not against them.”
As Westminster finances deplete further the UK government appears ready to deepen austerity measures in the UK. It is morally indefensible that a financial crisis caused by systemic fraud in the UK financial sector has been turned into an economic crisis - through bailouts and money printing to help the City recover - with the poor disproportionately paying for it.
As private sector jobs disappear, owing to an extended period of low interest rates, the UK government erroniously believes that reducing public spending at the same time will help. It won't - with both sectors contracting at the same time the UK government is provoking a social and economic disaster.
This latest measure will only add to concerns of a growing social emergency in Britain. There are already some signs of malnutrition emerging again in the UK with a recent explosion of food banks across the UK attempting to meet a rapidly growing demand for free food parcels. Evidence is also emerging that suicides are on the increase including among people who have had disability benefits removed.
2013 threatens to be a year when families face unprecedented levels of stress across Britain. Following Greece and Spain down the austerity path can only lead to trouble. Some reports coming out of Greece speak of women in labour being refused access to hospitals and a rapid growth in gang activity as a selfish survival instinct grips their crumbling society.
Scotland has a larger public sector and more social housing than south of the border. It makes sense then that Westminster austerity measures will have a greater impact on Scotland's economy and society.
So far, during Scotland's referendum campaign poor economic statistics relating to Scotland have been widely reported as evidence that the independence path has questionable viability. However, worrying UK statistics have not been reported as challenging the viability of remaining within the Union.
As the UK economy continues to nosedive and the intensity of the referendum campaign picks up, this is set to change. The SNP has looked to the Catalan independence movement which has enjoyed incredible success through drawing attention to the collapse of the Spanish economy.
If the Union is to be preserved under such extreme conditions then sound economic leadership must emerge from Westminster.
The cause of Britain's economic decline is far too much private debt. Austerity will not solve this problem. Stimulus may alleviate some economic symptoms in the short term but ultimately it increases borrowing and so deepens the debt crisis.
What was needed in 2008 and needed even more today is a process of debt restructuring and/or cancellation.
Only under conditions of debt cancellation can interest rates be raised allowing savers to build the capital needed for investment in Britain's neglected manufacturing sector. If Britain does not make things to sell, the value of the pound will continue falling meaning food and energy will become less and less affordable as the pound in people's pockets become worth less.
If the British state, as we know it, is to save itself from political extinction such policies and leadership must emerge. Should Westminster continue with austerity the call of 'better together' will sound hollow to Scots as social protection and jobs disappear and the Nationalists offer an alternative vision.
Westminster 'bedroom tax' to deepen Scots austerity pain