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Op-Ed: British bedroom tax; What about MPs second homes allowances?

By Eileen Kersey     Mar 11, 2013 in Politics
London - In April 2013 the UK coalition government will introduce the bedroom tax. Ministers are busily selling it to the British public by many means but surely people should begin to question MPs second home allowances?
The so-called bedroom tax will reduce claimant's housing benefit, in the UK, if they are deemed to have a spare bedroom in their home.
So firstly how are the government selling the bedroom tax to the public?
Once again they play divide and conquer asking people who are not in receipt of housing benefit if they receive money for their spare rooms. The series of subjective questions continue. They are aimed at touching the "greedy nerve" that most of us have to varying degrees. They play the old, should people not in work be better off than those in work, and many peoples' response shows a blinkered view.
There are many reasons why some people in work are feeling the pinch and few in reality are due to the British welfare system being overly generous. Basic JSA, unemployment benefit, is around £70 a week, hardly a fortune. The rate varies and currently it is set at £56.25, £71 or £111.45, depending on personal circumstances.
The coalition's welfare reform plans have hit poorly paid workers in the UK as much as the jobless. Yes, as deputy PM Clegg says, harping on, the personal tax allowance improvement has taken many people out of paying tax, but any money gained is quickly grabbed by other means. Overall many will take a financial hit.
The simplistic approach though often serves a right-wing government well and make no mistake, the UK coalition is a right-wing government. Cameron may be less extreme than other potential Tory leaders but he still favours the City of Westminster and its banking sector, rather than the people of the UK. Cameron's Liberal Democrat partners are allegedly middle-of-the-road, as far as politics goes, but they no longer lean to the left. Add to this the fact that they hold a minority position in government and their strength is questionable.
According to the coalition the UK is facing a housing shortage, and the bedroom tax is somehow going to help fight this
Well they will know there is a shortage first-hand as it was begun by Tory PM Maggie Thatcher, when she allowed the wide-scale sell-off of council or low rent properties to occupiers. The 1980 Housing Act gave 5,000,000 council house tenants the right-to-buy. People were able to buy their council home at a reduced rate which initially was very appealing to many tenants. At the same time Maggie's administration put a halt on councils building new properties. This by the way is not merely a leftist rant with no substance as this writer worked administrating housing benefits during this time. She experienced the rates, the poll tax and the council tax first hand and soon realised that only the first one helped the vulnerable in the UK.
Housing stocks were quickly depleted. In time many people who purchased their council properties moved on, selling their home. On the surface this had been Maggie's dream, a nation of homeowners. The reality was rather different. A great deal depended on who bought the property.
Suffice to say there are now a range of dodgy landlords owning former council properties. On Thursday's Question Time, on the BBC, a slightly veiled accusation that some Tory ministers are the personal landlords of some former council houses was unchallenged by Tory MP Ken Clarke. His silence said it all. As Maggie's government deregulated housing to a greater degree fair rents became a thing of the past. Further along the line tenancy rights dwindled and many tenants now have short term leases, six months being good in some cases.
Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax are acting as a form of ethnic cleansing in British cities, London in particular
Consider the following
. You live in a large property in London. Your children have left home and your husband dies. You are still relatively young and have little money in savings. Ill health prevented your late husband working for the last two years of his life. What money you had saved has gone. You need to claim housing benefit to survive. You are working but your work is poorly paid. From April your housing benefit will be reduced according to the number of spare bedrooms in your home. Cameron's advice is take in lodgers or move. Both, he claims, will help the housing crisis. You and your husband have worked for twenty years since leaving school but in poorly paid jobs. Never forget we need people to do these jobs. So should you in your hour of need be faced with such choices as give up your home, take in lodgers or recieve a reduced level of housing benefit?
If your property is council owned you can contact the authorities in order to move to a smaller home. Good luck with that one. What a good way for the government to move "unwanteds" from the city of London. Many people are being told they will have to relocate to another part of the country but obviously that is not always practical.
In this writer's part of the UK, Yorkshire, one council went on record last week as saying they have no properities available. In April they know that many people, thousands, deemed to live in under occupied properties will face a reduction in housing benefit or need to move, but the authority has nowhere to rehouse them.
The only conclusion is that the bedroom tax is another ill-thought government policy. It will hit the vulnerable in many ways and it is not workable. The problem however is that should the coalition see sense and re-think the bedroom tax where will the shortfall in revenue come from? Having wasted time, effort and money creating the bedroom tax Messrs, Cameron, Osborne and Clegg will be working budgets out on potential revenue raised. If the bedroom tax is scrapped who will be the trio's next target?
We suggest that Ministers should be the alternative target
In the last couple of years the UK has had more than one expenses scandal involving MPs. It became clear that most were using legal loopholes to claim unnecessary expenses. Then of course there were more than a few who were abusing the system. Some allegations resulted in court cases and jail terms. Allegedly MPs expense regulations were tightened to prevent abuse.
Whether that is true or not, slashing Ministers expenses and perks to the bone would be a good place to start.
The well-stocked publicly funded restaurant and bar in the Houses of Parlaiment should be privatised. After all the Tories love privatisation. The contract should, however, go to a cooperative rather than big business. Perhaps MPs could pay a subsidsed price for nourishment in line with workers who use staff canteens around the UK.
Second home allowance
If you are an MP in the North of England it is acceptable that you may need other accommodation in London for those times you attend Parliament. The expense scandal uncovered cases of Ministers, for example, buying homes in London, selling them to their parents for a reduced rate and then claiming extortionate allowances for rents and the like. In some cases the second homes are emprty more often than not. If the government is so concerned about under occupancy here is a good place to start. Scrap the second home allowance and replace it with a basic hotel expense allowance. This would prevent claims for furniture, duck-houses, videos, painting and decorating and more.
One prime example of government hypocrisy, Tory Lord Freud
In January the Daily Mirror wrote a damning report of Tory Lord Freud. In the report they said,
The Tory lord plunging 95,000 into poverty with his “bedroom tax” stays in an eight-bedroom country mansion ... when he’s not living in his £1.9million London home, the Sunday People has revealed.
Lord Freud was accused of being an out of touch hypocrite last night after provoking a storm of criticism this week defending the tax which will see some of Britain’s poorest families charged for spare bedrooms.
And thousands face being turfed out on the streets if they cannot afford it.
Lord Freud owns a huge, historic country pile – one of the oldest in England – in Kent, which he uses for weekends and holidays.
During the week, the father of three, 62, whose children have grown up and moved out, lives with his wife Priscilla in a four-bedroom townhouse in Highgate – that’s three MORE spare bedrooms – while working as David Cameron’s Welfare Minister on the front benches of the Tory party.
In November MPs demanded a 50% rise in second home allowances, to prevent them using public transport. MPs get a monthly allowance, from taxpayers, of up to £1,450 for a second home in London. However, it costs £750 a month more to rent a typical one-bedroom flat within walking distance of Westminster. They could rent cheaper flats a little further away but would then be faced with commuting on public transport with regular Londoners. Heaven forbid that, instead they opted to complain to their watchdog.
In November the Mirror reported that previously secret records revealed,
Showed that six former MPs are letting homes to politicians who are still in the Commons.
And Madeleine Moon was named as the third serving MP to have rented property to a colleague in a list of landlords released by watchdogs.
Two coalition peers were also revealed to be letting out properties to MPs while claiming thousands of pounds from the House of Lords’ attendance allowance. There were claims of a cover-up because at least one other current MP who lets to a fellow politician was among 50 landlords whose names were censored.
The politicians involved are not breaking Parliamentary rules.
Scrap the bedroom tax and the second home allowance for MPs
The bedroom tax remains in the news in the UK as those who oppose it attempt to prevent its implementation. Government ministers regularly appear in news programs selling the bedroom tax to an uniformed public. Many people are just cottoning on to the "nastiness" of this tax. Remember people's circumstances can change at the drop of a hat and you could be the next Tory victim.
Britain's "nasty party", the Tories, are running true to form. The message from the people should be scrap MPs, taxpayer funded, second home allowances, ministers perks, and the legal loopholes some ministers manipulate so that the bedroom tax can become a non-starter.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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