Paying the Price for Westminster’s Failure

My previous blog post focussed on the hypocritical parties that dominate Westminster politics – with Labour’s duplicity with the Bedroom Tax, allowing it to continue when they could have ended it and also the Tories complete disdain for the masses as Cameron extolled the virtues of permanent austerity from an opulent platform amidst some fine dining with the elite (all at the taxpayer’s cost!).

It was good to receive a comment on this post, and the comment brought a current consultation to my attention.  The Labour MSP Jackie Baillie has proposed a Member’s Bill ‘Protection from Eviction (Bedroom Tax) (Scotland) Bill’.  If ever there was a consultation that demonstrated how utterly insane & inefficient our current political structure is, I think this might be it… Welfare is reserved for Westminster, so no matter what the Scottish Parliament wish for here they cannot stop the reduction in benefit that is associated with the Bedroom Tax.  So what is being proposed is that Scotland accepts this Housing Benefit reduction enforced by Westminster (which we have no choice in as part of the UK) and attempt to prevent evictions that could result from people defaulting on their rent.  To recap, this will come about because so many people in the UK live on the breadline and the reduction of £60 a month from their welfare provisions will force them into debt beyond their means.

The attempt to prevent evictions in Scotland proposes that those affected should be put through a costly court process (Legal Aid etc) to determine whether it was the reduction of Housing Benefit that led to the inability to pay rent.  This process will cost the taxpayer far more than Housing Benefit ever would have and will no doubt be extremely stressful for all parties, requiring those affected to show their outgoings to the minutest detail (here a couple recount how they had to detail how much they spent on toilet roll as they attempt to care for their severely disabled grandson).  Dignity?  Westminster doesn’t care for such things.  If the verdict in the end is that the Bedroom Tax was the straw that broke the camel’s back the eviction will be prevented, but the Landlord (Local Council or Registered Social Landlord) will naturally be needing compensated by someone for loss of income.  The UK government has said that they won’t be doing it – that is their policy, and so the Scottish government will need to use some of its budget on this.  Indeed this has already happened, in September the Scottish Government created an emergency budget of £20million to mitigate the effects of the Bedroom Tax.

This is a really tragic scenario and I find it distressing that we’re in this situation – people’s livelihoods are genuinely at stake here.  However, these are the realities of our system within the UK.  The Scottish Government has a wide remit, but the headline aspects of government are ‘reserved for Westminster’.  If Westminster neglects an area of duty, and the Scottish Government step in and assign budget to that they are instantly taking away from areas of assigned responsibility.  When the cost would be so much more than any saving that Westminster would make from the reduced Housing Benefit bill it is surely unjustifiable?  Then when you realise that the Bedroom Tax may actually cost UK government more than it ever saves anyway (as reported here by the Independent), you start to see that the whole situation is beyond farce.

To be honest, if we vote No then we will see a continual rise of cases where people on the breadline are in need of help – the certainty that Cameron’s permanent austerity will result in this is frightening.  One other recent and tragic news example of where the UK fails its citizens to a shocking extent is that in just two years an estimated 2,000 Scottish military veterans have registered as homeless.  One charity, Shelter Scotland, believes the number of Scottish veterans now living on the streets could be as high as 5000.

We surely can’t stand for this any longer.  I do think that the Bedroom Tax issue is of high significance though and so would support the suggestion from magma24 to take time to respond to the ‘Protection from Eviction (Bedroom Tax) (Scotland) Bill’.  Here is my response for reference:

[1] Do you support the aims of the proposed Protection from Eviction (Bedroom Tax) (Scotland) Bill? Please answer YES or NO or UNDECIDED.

Undecided.

Reason: The UK government has embarked on an austerity agenda and the full proposal of this bill could see the Scottish Government divert a significant amount of its constrained budget in an attempt to nullify the reduction in Housing Benefit incurred via the Bedroom Tax.  It would be good to see this proposal work to the £20million emergency budget set aside from the Scottish Government to mitigate the effects of the Bedroom Tax.

[2] Do you support the principle of a statutory guarantee of no eviction solely in relation to arrears accrued from the bedroom tax? Please answer YES or NO.

Yes.

Reason: The most vulnerable members of society should not be suffering from the UK government’s austerity measures. 

[3] Do you support the proposal of requiring the tenant to provide evidence to the court in relation to establishing what proportion of rent arrears were accrued as a direct result of the bedroom tax? Please answer YES or NO.

No.

Reason: I feel that the cost & process of going to court should not be set as the expected standard.  It should be possible in most cases to establish the proportion of rent arrears that were accrued as a direct result of the Bedroom Tax, without the need for court appearances. 

[4] Do your support amending s.16 of the Housing (Scotland) 2001 Act so that bedroom tax arrears would become an ordinary debt and not relied upon for the purpose of seeking a decree for physical eviction from a tenant’s home? Please answer YES or NO.

Yes.

Reason: This measure should be quick and cost effective for the taxpayer to implement and I support the motion proposed in this amendment.  

[5] What is your assessment of the likely financial implications (if any) of the proposed Bill to you or your organisation? What (if any) other significant financial implications are likely to arise?

I cannot foresee any financial implications for me in issues relating to the Bedroom Tax.

[6] Is the proposed Bill likely to have any substantial positive or negative implications for equality? If it is likely to have a substantial negative implication, how might this be minimised or avoided?

Unfortunately I do not foresee this Bill having a significant impact on the inequality that currently exists in Scotland.  I think that the aim of preventing evictions associated with reduction in Housing Benefit from the UK government is to prevent those in most need of government assistance from falling into greater poverty.

[7] Are there any other comments you would wish to make relevant to this proposal?

I would like to see cross party support in Scotland for full transfer of Social Welfare & Taxation from the UK to the Scottish Government.  I feel that the logical structure for this will be through independence but for those who do not support independence I would like to see a firm commitment to a comprehensive transfer of powers to Holyrood.

As a final note, it is worth noting that affordable and decent housing is valued as the first element of a good life in the Oxfam Humankind Index analysis.  We should not be failing so many on this.   

About stuartmdarling

I live in Motherwell & work in Edinburgh in the Oil & Gas sector, which has been taking me around the world for 15 years now. My passion for politics and music go with me every step of the journey...
This entry was posted in Indyref context, Politics, UK problems and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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