Socialist Worker

Killing the bedroom tax can help us beat other attacks on benefits

Benefit cuts are causing misery and despair—but we should be confident about fighting back, argues Eileen Short

Issue No. 2418

Protest against the bedroom tax on its first birthday earlier this year

Protest against the bedroom tax on its first birthday earlier this year (Pic: Mark Krantz)


There’s a man in prison because of the bedroom tax.

Michael Hilton, a tenant in Church, East Lancashire, got into rent arrears. Facing eviction by stock transfer landlord Hyndburn Homes, he threatened to blow up his home of 30 years rather than lose it.

Like many, his mental health was made worse by the bedroom tax. But instead of help he got threats.

Michael should have been exempt. But he was not in touch with campaigners, and not helped by his council or landlord. There are people all over Britain who are isolated, ill and in fear due to benefit cuts. There’s a constant churn as people lose jobs, go sick or retire early.

At a rough estimate, a third of those hit by the bedroom tax are in rent arrears. A third get Discretionary Housing Payment to cover the shortfall, and a third try to pay.

Bristol tenant Margery wrote on our Facebook page what paying meant: “Back to beans on toast and no heating come winter. I’m a sick and single 60 year old.”

People are paying £14-25 a week bedroom tax, plus £3-5 in council tax leaving them to live on £30 or less a week. Cuts to disability allowances and a million Job Seeker benefit sanctions make it even worse.

We are proud of the fight against the bedroom tax but we know it’s not over.

Around 28,000 of us protested across Britain in March last year. We formed the Anti Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice Federation to link up, share tactics and make plans. From the start we were out on estates. Raising confidence there was key. 

We took the fight to councils and landlords, demanding they decide whose side they are on. We linked with trade unions, campaigns, tenant groups and politicians. 

We’ve fought the bedroom tax almost to a standstill. The policy is dead—but still people suffer the impact.

Backlash

Active campaigning and defiance has pushed hundreds of councils and landlords to say they won’t evict. Most of the rest are too wary of a backlash to evict in practice.

Putting pressure on Labour councillors, and getting the United Nations special rapporteur to visit and hear our case, forced Labour to commit to repeal it. This gave others confidence that it will be beaten.

The Welsh Assembly is demanding abolition of the bedroom tax, pushed by campaigners fighting alongside the official Welsh tenants’ organisations.

Scotland’s “anti-eviction army” forced every Scottish council to promise no evictions, and then the Scottish government to refund every tenant.

The bedroom tax is openly flouted, defied and torpedoed after just 16 months. No wonder the government is set to “review” the policy and the Lib Dems are jumping ship.

The size of meetings has ebbed, but a network of activists is determined to keep up the fight. 

On 11 September a joint day of protest has been called against the Department for Work and Pensions. Bedroom tax campaigners, Boycott Workfare, and trade unions including job centre staff union PCS are all involved.

If you are against benefit cuts, join with workers resisting bullying managers and targets. Join the fight for a system that supports people in work and out of it, raising children, caring and studying. 

The bedroom tax is at the heart of an avalanche of benefit attacks. 

It isn’t a question of which is most important, but which is the weakest link. Beating the bedroom tax makes it easier to beat workfare, attacks on disability benefits, and sanctions.

See antibedroomtax.org.uk for details of protests

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