When my best mate Nigel Nelson, veteran political editor of the PEOPLE, emailed me about his campaign to water down ‘the bedroom tax’, I thought the old boy had finally flipped. Was this was some mad red top spin that the government had finally started taxing shagging? Such wonderful headlines as, “Katie Price won’t take this laying down, ’I’ll move my three assets offshore’ she pouted”, swam through my mind. And weighty columnists like Simon Heffer and Peter Hitchens, who would rather like Britain to become morally like a rainy Saudi Arabia, would welcome the move as a lesson to a younger generation obsessed and corrupted by sex. On the other hand John Prescott would have to live abroad for a large part of the year and I would be entitled to a massive tax rebate.
But this is not what Nelson was contemplating. This is what he emailed to me, which you may think is rather troubling.“The plan is to withdraw housing benefit from those couples whose kids have fled the nest but are still living in three and four bedroom council homes. Saves about £500 million. It’s a tax on unoccupied bedrooms designed to get these people to downsize and free up housing stock.
Trouble is the rules don’t take into account individual circumstances. So you hit kidney patients on the transplant list who need a spare room for their dialysis machine, parents whose kids are temporarily away fighting in Afghanistan, foster parents who have rooms free for more than 13 weeks while they wait for their next batch of kids, that kind of thing.
But the real problem is that for most people it’s impossible to downsize. Local authorities just don’t build one bed properties – they think in terms of catering for families – so even if these people are prepared to move they can’t. But they could be losing up to £30 a week. 660,000 households are affected and there are estimates that 40,000 could end up homeless which would negate savings being made.
There’s no way we can reverse the measure which starts in April. So we’re campaigning for upping discretionary housing allowance so local authorities can take individual circumstances into account."
I don’t think for one moment that IDS, a sensible and compassionate fellow, thought that these were going to be the consequences of a proposal to free up housing stock which has considerable merit. It highlights the problem with this government. Their early warning systems don’t seem to work.
Whatever you might think of Damian MacBride as a human being (discuss) his blogs give a fascinating insight into the operation of government. After the pasty and charitable giving budget fiasco he wondered how on earth they could have slipped passed the Treasury scorecard system which is designed to weed out these sort of problems. Recently, he brought our attention to the demise of the grid system. I, like most others, thought that this was just a tool to set the media agenda. Not a bit of it. A stream of announcements would be provided to SPADS with a thirty page briefing so that most the wrinkles could be smoothed out beforehand. According to MacBride this is not happening now. My question is why on earth not. Failing to spot the potential cockups in time has been the Achilles heel of this coalition. It has to be remedied.
So to Nigel Nelson and his campaign, good luck mate.
Finally, may I thank all of you you have sent kind comments about this blog. I haven’t quite worked out how to operate the comments section yet so please don’t think that I am being rude!