You are the deserving poor now

By Joe Mellor, In house Reporter 

The bedroom tax, FOI

Have we beaten the poor enough with the naughty stick during this economic crisis? Is it time to return to the politics of altruism?

Today’s FOI request by the TUC has shown that one in three council tenants affected by a recent cut to housing benefit have fallen behind on rent since the policy took effect.

The data revealed that 50,000 tenants had fallen into arrears since April. None of these tenants were in arrears prior to the benefit changes.

In Barrow, three quarters had fallen behind and 67 per cent were also in arrears in Clackmannanshire. The level was at 50 per cent  in Tamworth, South Kestevan and Rotherham. These are hardly benefit scroungers living in luxury in Kensington, West London.

The Department for Work and Pensions dismissed the significance of the findings and defended a “necessary reform to return fairness to housing benefit. The early stages of the policy won’t represent long-term trends in any way whatsoever”, a spokesman said.

During the economic crisis, the perception, fuelled by certain press outlets of people on benefits living in “lavish” accommodation, made people angry. They wanted something done about it. “I’m not working 50 hours a week to pay for these scroungers.”

There is nothing new in this response to an economic downturn. The scapegoat of the underserving poor and often ethnic minorities come under attack.

For example, the Golden Dawn, right wing party in Greece, has decided to blame immigrants for the collapse of their economy.

It’s easier to blame your state-funded Somalian next-door neighbour, than protest against the structural crisis of capitalism.

But now the downturn is over (well, London house prices are booming), and with that, attitudes to benefit claimants have softened.

According to the NatCen Social Research survey, which questioned more than 3,000 people, they found that 51% said benefits were too high in 2012, down from 62 per cent  in 2011.

Alison Park from NatCen stated:

“It remains to be seen what impact the coalition Government’s welfare reform agenda will have on public attitudes.”

Maybe the guy next door did deserve a spare room for their disabled son, shame they have moved out now.

Perhaps the government’s new threat to jail benefit cheats for up to ten years is too late in the day. Instead of looking like a strong government, it’s kicking a man when he’s down.

Benefits have been capped by Work and Pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to a little less than £26,000 per year, per household.

But the proportion of people who believed that benefit cuts would damage too many people’s lives rose to 47 per cent in 2012, from 42 per cent  in 2011.

It appears that this cap has manifested itself into claimants not paying rent. Food, clothing and heating is the priority. Some would argue beer, cigarettes and Sky TV are the real reasons.

Either way, whatever benefits are being spent on, it isn’t rent. Landlords have to accept that they will not be receiving their full rent for the foreseeable future.

Property owners might refuse to house benefit claimants, leading to homelessness. Rental prices are rising as housing benefits are reduced. Why risk taking in a family who might not be able to afford the rent? A housing crisis looms.

The bedroom tax seems antiquated like the much hated window tax of the 17-19th century. In those days, people blocked up their windows to circumvent the tax. One way around the bedroom tax is to have more children to fill the rooms – another mouth for the state to feed, and you get to keep your home. This would be a nightmare scenario for the Government, but, like the avoidance of the window tax, where there is a will there is a way.

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