18 Jun 2013

The Bedroom Tax: SNP - Earn The Right To Be Free

I see SNP supporters and others are enthusiastically sharing an article from Inside Housing reporting Alex Salmond's pledge to abolish the Bedroom Tax in an independent Scotland, Good news. But big deal?

Because the very earliest this can be done is 2016, and more realistically it will be 2017-18 before any law changes are enacted. So over four years from now. Does anyone really think any but a tiny minority hit here and now by the Bedroom Tax will survive by then? So a near meaningless pledge. And a real cheap one, given the numbers by then involved

So tokenism. As token as the pledge from all SNP Councils (and some Labour ones) not to evict any council tenant for bedroom tax arrears in year one of the tax, And note, this pledge only apples if a tenant “co-operates”, however that is defined by a Council official. But, co-operation or not, it takes about a year to evict someone anyway.

And more fundamentally, many of the Councils committed to this pledge have near no social housing to evict anyone from. SNP Argyll and Bute for example has not a single council house – all transferred to local Housing Associations years ago, and all Housing Associations are completely exempt from local council non-eviction pledges.

So SNP folks and others, you are being sold mince here. Scottish mince – but mince.

What the Scottish Government can and must do, beyond the extra £5m already allocated to advice welfare advice services centres, is as follows:

(1) Increase significantly the Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) funds to Councils over and above the £10 million allocated by the Westminster Government to help those worst affected by the Bedroom Tax. The Scottish Government can legally top this fund up by up to one and a half times, so immediately the fund could rise to £25 million – near on half the amount Scots are set to lose as a result of the Bedroom Tax 

(2) Increase by a similar or greater amount central grant funding to social landlords to enable met to more realistically carry, and in some case write off debt incurred by their Bedroom Tax affected tenants, Many of these tenants simply can't pay, and widely available statistics are now showing they are not paying in significant numbers 

(3) Give serious consideration to The Govan Law Center proposed amendment to the Housing Scotland Act which would offer enhanced increased legal protection from eviction to tenants in rent arrears incurred as a result of the Bedroom Tax. And SNP whips could make a start by telling its committee members who control the Scottish Parliament's Public Petitions Committee, which meets on Tuesday 25h June to consider the GLC amendment, to allow the main petitioner, Mike Dailly, Director of the Center to speak to his own petition. Hardly a radical idea. Kind of a self-evidently sensible one. And totally cost free.

But the first two elements of this three part package, they would cost. Around £50 million would be my estimate, much the same sum as calculated by Shelter Scotland and the Scottish TUC. Not a trivial sum. But a findable sum for sure. Less that 0.1% of the Scottish Government's total block grant. A block grant SNP and previous Labour administrations have succeed in underspending by this amount and more in near every year since devolution.

So do this Alex, and poor people – real poor people, amongst the poorest in Scotland - might warm to your pledge to abolish the Bedroom Tax altogether come independence: The final step in a process you will have already started with them. And can start tomorrow.

In the words of one of my recent songs, “Earn the Right to be Free”!


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