Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Making room

“We shouldn’t be financially supporting people to have bigger homes than they need.”
“If those living in homes with more rooms than they need moved somewhere smaller, then families who are over-crowded could be re-housed.”

Those statements seem entirely reasonable don’t they? In fact, many councils and housing associations have very good schemes to help tenants, in homes that are now larger than they need, to move somewhere smaller. But those schemes are very different from the Bedroom Tax that the government is now implementing.

In fact, the nature of the Bedroom Tax really tells us everything about the real values of David Cameron and Nick Clegg. 660,000 households are going to be hit. On average, they will lose £728 a year – about £14 a week. More than 10,000 families in Sheffield will be affected, and about 1250 in NE Derbyshire will lose out. In total, that will mean about an £8 million cut in money being spent locally.

The government says it’s targeting the skivers but the reality is very, very different. The Bedroom Tax unfair policy will mainly hit working households and some of the most vulnerable families.

Two thirds of the households hit are home to someone with a disability. Families of young soldiers serving our country will be penalised for keeping a bedroom where their son or daughter can stay when on leave. Bizarrely, if the bedroom is being kept for a son or daughter who’s been sent to prison, then you don’t get penalized. Foster families, who need a bedroom to respond urgently to provide a safe home for a child in danger are also going to be hit. As will thousands of ordinary working households of grandparents who have a bedroom in which their grandchildren can stay.

We can talk as much as we like about the general terms and the statistics. It’s when you see the real impact on real families that you know it’s going to hurt and damage.

And when, at the same time, 13,000 millionaires are getting a tax cut worth an average £100,000 a year, you know just how unfair it is.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Another myth bites the dust

Throughout history, at times of serious economic instability, we have seen how the politics of divide and rule have risen to prominence, often fueled by sections of the media. In this economic crisis, a whole range of scapegoats have been presented as the cause of our problems. Of course, issues which fit the currently dominant political ideology are likely to be promoted and repeated – never let the facts get in the way of the story you want to tell.

The Conservative-led coalition government has a very strong ideological view – put simply, ‘private-sector good; public-sector bad’. It not only wants to minimise the state – reflecting Margaret Thatcher’s ‘there’s no such thing as society’ – but it also wants, as far as possible, to privatise those things which it believes the state will have to do. People are only just beginning to realize how every part of our National Health Service is intended to be privatized.

Since the start of this economic crisis, government ministers – supported by various ideological friends and parts of the media – have been persistently promoting the view that there is a ‘public sector pay premium’. In other words, they have consistently alleged that public sector workers receive better pay and conditions than their counterparts in the private sector. For example, a big headline in the Daily Telegraph claimed that ‘public sector workers were ‘more than 40 per cent better off’ than employees in the private sector’.

Last week, a major study - ‘Public Sector Pay Premium’ – Fact or Fiction? by Income Data Services – simply blew apart the analysis on which these headlines and stories had been based.

Basically, the report said that ‘the substantial differences in income levels and occupational characteristics mean that average pay in any one sector will reflect all the complexity of skill mix, qualification, experience, responsibility, gender and seniority in each sector. This makes it even harder to draw simple comparisons.’ In other words, you shouldn’t compare apples and pears.

Further, IDS and other organisations consistently found that rather than there being a public sector ‘pay premium’, pay and conditions in the public sector are below those in the private sector for comparable roles.

Another myth bites the dust.