by Helen Godwin Teige
We know that economics alone cannot dictate the shape of our society and despite living under the most regressive government in modern times, we expect human considerations to be included in coalition policy. In the case of the “bedroom tax” it seems that Cameron’s Tories have reached a low ebb in disregarding those who require help from the government.
Growing up in the 1980’s on a small, very green and very pleasant housing estate around a third of the inhabitants had taken up the right to buy option. The street was a mix of young families and older couples, rehoused from post war prefabs. There was no sense of the temporary in our street, owner occupiers and tenants lived, worked and played together; only the council paint palette on the front doors gave away which houses were still local authority owned. Gardens were manicured, hanging baskets tended and everyone looked after each other.
My point is not one of nostalgia; but rather that this world does still exist. The current governments obsession with demonizing those in social housing or claiming housing benefit threatens to tear apart the very fabric of communities across Britain through the bedroom tax which will force people to leave their homes; or face a further financial penalty during some of the toughest times in decades. It is also prudent to highlight that many commentators have little understanding of the benefit of this policy, given the lack of smaller housing stock., confirming that this policy is purely a fiscal one and will do little ease the demand on social housing. Rather, as we all know, the answer is to build new social housing and pull together communities through job creation, renewed confidence and ambition.
Putting people in this position threatens schooling, childcare arrangements, familial support and the financial stability of families with the least money to spare. The now-predictable U-turn we saw from Iain Duncan-Smith earlier this month protects foster carers, families of teenagers in the armed forces and some with disabilities, but still leaves thousands of people with difficult choices to make over the months ahead.
The government is also busy encouraging local authorities to only offer fixed term tenancies; further fragmenting the sense of community in these sometimes challenging locations as well as taking away the stability for children that can only be found from a consistent home and school life.
It strikes me that this policy is the culmination of decades of ignorance and lack of attention to the most vulnerable families in the country. There are an infinite number of lines to use at this point; ‘there is no place like home’, ‘home is where the heart is’; but not in 2013 Britain – it seems not everyone is entitled to the dignity of a permanent home and the support of a community that they know; the very thing that is very often the underpinning of this fragile society.
Helen Godwin Teige is a Labour party campaigner