Friday, 29 March 2013

Labour and SNP: can we work together against the Bedroom Tax?

In two days, one of the most damaging, heartless and ultimately futile elements of the UK government's welfare reform package comes into effect.

The Bedroom Tax, as it has been dubbed, will penalise people if they have more bedrooms in their social or housing association home than the government deems appropriate. Families with disabled children will be particularly badly affected since they often require additional space for medical needs. Disabled adults are also targeted by this law, alongside those serving in the armed forces and hundreds of thousands of other families across the country.

The government hopes to use this brute force method to free up social housing stock by moving people into smaller properties. There is a fundamental problem: the smaller properties simply don't exist. And yet even if there is no smaller property to move to, families will still have the Bedroom Tax imposed. It is as illogical as it is unfair.

Both the SNP and Scottish Labour strongly oppose this policy. Up to now, however, we have spent more effort discrediting each other's approaches to opposing it than we have to mitigating its effects. And the truth is we can mitigate its effects to a significant extent. Local authorities can adopt policies which protect tenants, and the Scottish Parliament can find funds to offset the losses councils will feel.

While we fight each other, the UK government is laughing up its sleeve. This is madness.

So here's a challenge. We've found ways to disagree on this, and we've found ways to turn it into yet another argument about independence. How about we set those aside and instead find where we agree, and how about we unite to protect social and housing association tenants from this dangerous, bad law?

An assumption against evictions is a good start, as promoted by SNP councils, but we need to be honest about how far that goes and not pretend it is a guarantee or a solution. We need to find real money to fund discretionary housing benefit payments from councils to tenants at risk. And we can justify this by looking at the costs of an eviction, and realising that preventing evictions and rehousing in the same stock is cheaper than allowing them to happen.

We have a choice. We can shout at each other and let people suffer, or we can work together and mitigate the worst effects of this law. In Edinburgh, Labour and the SNP have found a great deal of common ground in local government, and the Capital Coalition is successfully delivering a progressive vision for the capital. We can do this.

The SNP-Labour Alliance Against the Bedroom Tax. Who's in?