Monday, 22 April 2013

Mr Tory Lite Speaks

So Milliband won't commit himself to abolishing the Bedroom Tax. Which means, of course, that he has no intention whatsoever of doing so, but lacks the guts to say so outright.  That's what happens when all three parties are so thoroughly in thrall to neoliberal ideology that they can't see an inch past it.

It's an imposition on the poorest which can't save money, however they play it. There simply aren't the single person flats available in social housing for the number of single people in such housing. So if they should happen to move willingly, they'd have to go to private lets, and Housing Benefit would have to pick up the bill for those on benefits. The bill would go up, not down. If they won't move, and can't pay, evictions would cost thousands on top of the extra rent. Where Councils pledge not to evict non-payers, it effectively becomes yet another cut aimed at Local Authorities.

I am, however, more concerned about the ethical implications. I originally applied for a Council flat in December 1988. I was being unlawfully evicted by a landlord who decided he wanted to sell the house I was living in, went to the Neighbourhood Office, and they gave me a flat the next day. There were no single-bedroom flats, so they gave me two bedrooms. Someone like me might be living in such a flat for decades, and then suddenly the goverment turns round and punishes them for having an 'extra bedroom'. I currently live in a three bedroom maisonette with my family. My daughter is studying in London; again, an 'extra bedroom'. If I was on Housing Benefit, I'd either have to pay extra out of inadequate benefits or wages, or move, and she'd lose her home. I'm out campaigning every week, and we meet people who don't know which way to turn.

Of course, the real fault for the current housing crisis lies with successive governments, both Tory and 'New Labour', and not with impoverished tenants who happen to have more rooms than people to sleep in them. When Thatcher gave Council tenants the right to buy their own homes - and I'm not criticising that - she also stopped Councils from building more. This is what did the damage. A rolling programme of Local Authority building across the country simply stopped, and never started again. This is the sole cause of the shortage, of inflated house prices, and of sky-high rents. To be fair, Labour has been making some noises about building, but they're not pushing it as they might. Could they possibly be afraid of the revitalised Local Authorities which might result, I wonder? Housing Associations aren't geared up to provide the volume of housing which is needed; private enterprise would merely cash in. What's needed is the sort of massive Council building programme we saw in the 1950's and 60's.

If Labour was what it pretends to be, this would be its opportunity. We have a policy which is palpable nonsense, and by pledging to overturn it, it could be seen to stand up for ordinary people against a feral Tory regime. But, of course, it isn't. It has no more respect for our right to live in our homes in peace than they have.  The Coalition is weak, and could be eaten alive between now and the election, only the Opposition is so weak it doesn't seem to understand how to oppose. Westminster token democracy is offering us nothing. The only alternative is street politics.

We've made a start in Birmingham; last Saturday, for instance, we mounted a protest in the city centre, spoke to a great many people, and made thousands aware of our presence as they went past. It's going to be a long haul, but there are enough people who still believe in the sort of values which lie behind the Welfare State and the NHS that we must have a chance of changing the political climate enough to prevent their final destruction by the forces of rampant neoliberalism.

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