Guest Blog: Jack Wrighton
22 year old Exeter University student and budding writer.
Over a year ago the dreaded and little understood ‘Bedroom Tax’ came in and if you’re an owner-occupant (which accounts for the majority of the UK) it probably washed over you like water off a duck’s back. And why not? It seems like a good incentive for making sure people live in houses suited to their needs: big families get big houses, small families get small ones. Sadly that is just not the case – in fact the truth is there is just not enough social housing to go around especially for those seeking one-bedroom apartments. In fact The Guardian recently reported that the numbers of families living in under-occupied accommodation is 180,000 compared to that of 70,000 available one-bedroom apartments; so what happens when there isn’t enough social housing? Well many will be forced to move to expensive private rents which will sometimes mean living in unsatisfactory accommodation at the tax payer’s expense. Everyone loses out. Except of course the landlord.
For those of you who don’t understand bedroom tax the idea is this: the occupant loses 14% of their housing benefit if they have one unoccupied room which subsequently goes-up to 25% for those with two spare rooms. But of course as I’ve mentioned before with the lack of one-bedroom apartments available many are risking staying in their current properties and so this effectively becomes a tax for those less fortunate in society.
My mother is already losing out on housing benefit for the spare room in our house, a room many people would turn their noses up at if it was offered to them as a wardrobe. Things will get worse the day I plan to move out and make a life for myself as this will go-up to 25%. There’s probably some of you who think that doesn’t sound too bad or are probably wonder if my Mum has a job, or whether she’s spending her money on boozey weekends and holidays abroad. If you are thinking that then I’d suggest the cause of your judgment is a mind too easily influenced by the media.
My Mum is a hardworking woman. She works full-time as a carer for the elderly doing jobs many would deem unsavory. However we sadly live in a world where hard work doesn’t always equal fair pay and she ends up bringing less than £10,000 home a year. Which means to live she needs help from the government. Before the bedroom tax she was earning an amount that would put her on or below the poverty line and as she is single there’s no second income coming into the house to top this up as I am in full time education. The money she is losing out on is stripping away any chance of a comfortable life, not a lavish one, a comfortable one and for the sixth richest country in the world that hardly seems fair.
I could go into the difficulties we’ve encountered as a low-income family but I don’t wish for the reader to feel I am bitter or hold a chip on my shoulder I only wish to see the end of an economy where the victims of its unfair system are blamed for their circumstances. I’ve grown up in social housing and I wouldn’t change that for the world. I was fortunate to have been brought up in a nice area with lovely neighbors and attended a great state school nearby. But what I’ve seen over these past few years from government and media alike is a direct attack on those who are subsidized by the government. The vocabulary that often surrounds such debates can include words such as ‘scrounger’, ‘parasite’ all nicely packaged under the term ‘the underclass’. This image of the average benefits-user-council-house-dweller comes from a media whose workers the majority of which come from backgrounds far more comfortable than those they are out to demonize. It’s those at the bottom, mainly without a voice in the public sphere, which end up paying for the subsequent witch-hunts that make for such lucrative T.V.
Social housing is for some the only option and if the government doesn’t start building more homes instead of blaming those that rely on the system for their circumstances then it’s only going to get worse. For both tax payer and council house dweller alike.
By Jack Wrighton, 22.