Thursday, March 14, 2013

The bedroom tax

There is currently a lot of ill-thought blather from the left on the topic of the so-called "bedroom tax" or spare room subsidy.

Dr Eoin Clarke (blogger at Green Benches and founder of the think tank Labour Left) is typical of the agitators trying to spin the argument that the "bedroom tax" is "another poll tax".

However in their eagerness to condemn Coalition policy these lefties are revealing a number of contradictions in Labour's attitude towards social housing.

Council housing was originally envisaged to provide housing for working class families. 

Here we see Independent columnist and Labour activist Owen Jones talking about the origins of council housing ("village" communities reproducing Mrs Gaskell's Cranford even in the form of the Watling Estate in north London).

He castigates "Thatcher's ideological war on council housing".

But is it not a fact that the council housing of Nye Bevan's vision is no longer fit for purpose? - in which case a rationalisation of the stock is long overdue.

Originally the bulk of social housing was intended for families, typically two parents and two children.  Therefore three-bedroom council house properties were the norm.  There was some provision of one-bedroom and two-bedroom properties, but these did not really address the needs of society at that time.

Sixty years later the nature of society has changed.  And changed one has to say due to liberal social pressures - divorce is easy and commonplace; the percentage of single parents is increasing rapidly; "alternative" lifestyles are now unexceptional etc.  The result is that the social housing envisaged by Nye Bevan no longer matches the current and increasingly atomised structure of society.

There are two ways forward.

Either reconfigure society back the way it used to be - promote the idea of marriage by recognising it in the tax system; tighten the divorce laws (especially where couples have young children); encourage extended family life with different generations living together etc.

Or accept that with the liberal atomisation of society must come a realistic realignment of social housing provision in which the old three-bedroom family-style council houses are sold off (validating Margaret Thatcher's policy!) and are replaced with single unit accommodation (but please not in modernist barracks of the kind favoured by Rowan Moore).

The left cannot have it both ways.  Either social housing must reflect society or society must reflect social housing.  Therefore the bedroom tax (I am not afraid to use the expression, it is quite accurate) is the sensible way forward. 

However the policy should be modified to allow tenants with spare bedrooms a choice.  Either pay the supplement for extra bedrooms or release spare bedrooms back to the local housing department for reallocation to single households on the housing waiting list.  This would have to be done with sensitivity, and might mean a bit more work for housing departments, but we cannot go on living in a society with socially-liberal lifestyles and paying for a socially-conservative public housing stock.

No comments: