Two of the government’s recent benefits policies have been based on arguments about fairness. In the case of the ‘bedroom tax’, the government claims that it is removing a ‘spare room subsidy’, because it should refuse to pay people to rent rooms they don’t need. Leaving aside the obvious objection that there’s nowhere for people to move to, it appears that the amount of the deduction is not actually related to the cost of an extra room in social housing. According to figures gathered for the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, the penalty for underoccupying by one room is 14%, for two rooms it’s 25%. In Scotland, the cost of an extra room in social housing is on average 10-11%, and two rooms cost 20-21%. So the ‘bedroom tax’ is – as the government originally said it was – a penalty for underoccupation, not the removal of a subsidy.
Now the TUC has reported figures for the benefit cap which show that the cap has not been set at the average household wage. Net median earnings for working households in 2011/12 were £564 per week, not £500 – and of course, those with high rents might still be eligible for Housing Benefit.
Both these policies leave people with less money than they need, by the criteria that were used before. Because people have the same liabilities as before, they are being left with less money for basic needs after their liabilities are met. They are cuts – pure and simple. However, they have been misrepresented as something else.