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?

95 comments:

  1. I can answer the question in your title quite simply with two words.

    BAIN PRINCIPLE!

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    1. Thanks for your comment Peter. There is no such thing as the Bain Principle, and even if there were, I'm proposing a break with the traditional animosities between Labour and the SNP in the interests of the people who will be affected by this damaging measure.

      We need to stop shouting slogans at each other and start thinking how best we can mitigate this damage.

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  2. Needs to be more than just councils; I would think there's more impact via housing associations.

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    1. If we're going to mitigate the effects we need to find money, so this alliance needs to happen in the Scottish Parliament as well as elsewhere.

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  3. ha ha ha ha yer grasping at straws hothersall

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    1. Disappointing response, if not entirely unexpected.

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  4. I agree - less politics is needed. Everyone is against it apart from the Tories. But the legislation thing is not an answer - councils and housing associations are NOT planning mass evictions and it is doing them an injustice to assume they are. And also the point Nicola Sturgeon made in parliament is important- it is not only people liable for the bedroom tax who are in danger of falling into arrears. And it is not only people in social housing either. Disabled households in particular are facing multiple benefit cuts at the same time.

    Agree also that we should not make this an indyref footballbut equally we must look hard at why is this happening - why do we allow it. Why can this bunch of rich Tories impose these dreadful cuts on our disabled folk. It is not right, it is not democratic. No-one except the Tories supports this. We must be able to decide these things for ourselves in future, we simply must.

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    1. No matter how dressed up in sincere and appreciable concern, you are still saying that the answer is independence. Frankly that is just not good enough. We can mitigate now, we should mitigate now.

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    2. There's no contradiction between supporting independence and supporting action right now with existing powers.

      There's also no contradiction between opposing independence and supporting action right now with existing powers.

      The independence debate isn't going to be put on hold if we agree to take that urgent action.

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    3. Fair point Patrick. Apologies to the original anonymous commenter - I over-emphasised the last sentence in my response.

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    4. Good point, Patrick and indeed good point Duncan (in the original article.) I said the same to Kezzy Dugdale on Twitter yesterday. There is not a contradiction between saying that action needs to be taken now and supporting evidence. If anything, a support for independence indicates an implicit desire to prevent this kind of thing happening in the future. When the Scottish Government is having to heavily legislate against the actions of another supposedly democratically elected Government of this country, it implies something is wrong. It implies that the system is broken.

      After all, what sense is there in the UK Government taking such actions to save UK tax money when the Scottish Government are having to spend the same tax money paying to mitigate against it's irresponsible impacts?

      You're a Labour man, and Labour currently lead the Welfare Reform committee undertaking this action. Surely you can understand what i'm getting at from that perspective?

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    5. Supporting "evidence" ... that meant to say "independence." Deary me.

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  5. It's a good call, and well argued Duncan. There are many issues where hostility and mistrust between Labour and the SNP is the problem, rather than any actual disagreement on the substance.

    This one is too important to let that pattern repeat itself.

    If some degree of agreement can be reached on the way forward, Scotland could be in a strong position to protect all social rented sector tenants, rather than leaving a patchwork of different approaches based on the party politics of each council.

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    1. Thanks Patrick. Really appreciate this.

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    2. And what about "Son of Bedroom Tax"? Or "Bedroom Tax III"? Or whatever British Labour chose to call Bedroom Tax should they ever get back into power at Westminster?

      Where is the line to be drawn? What proportion of the Scottish Government's budget are you prepared to see diverted to mitigating/facilitating UK Government policies?

      And what about those who are affected by funds being diverted? Who is to suffer?

      The Scottish Government funding the Bedroom Tax would effectively be them handing money back to the UK Government. Do you seriously think the UK Government won't try to grab more once a precedent is set?

      Fanciful talk of British Labour in Scotland setting aside its rancid resentment of the SNP sounds very noble and worthy. But realpolitik isn't banished by grandiose rhetoric.

      If we are to be united it should be to take a stand AGAINST such deplorable measures, not to find ways of making them bearable in the short term. But British Labour will not take such a stand because they are not actually opposed to the Bedroom Tax, or any of the Tories' welfare "reforms". For unity to be possible there must be a common purpose. On the Bedroom Tax, as on universality and much more, there is no common ground shared by the SNP and British Labour.

      The SNP is committed to preserving the welfare system. British Labour is happy to let the Tories do their dirty work for them. And if, at the same time, they can fashion a stick with which to beat the SNP then that's a bonus.

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  6. Good blog and agree with it all. The SNP and Labour have used too much of their energy involving themselves in a tit-for-tat when they could work together on this issue that brings them together to find real solutions to protect those most vulnerable.

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  7. I am wholeheartedly in favour of seeing a consensus in action on this issue. Independence aside (something I never thought I'd say) people are suffering because of this policy right now, and they need action right now. I, for one, would like to see every MSP from every party working to mitigate against the impact of the bedroom tax in Scotland. The question is, where's the money coming from? The budget is stretched to breaking point as it. Anyone who has an idea about how to fund any such initiative needs to speak and needs to be listened to no matter which party they come from.

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  8. Agree it is time that the heat was turned on the likes of Alexander and Swinson who voted for such a disgraceful attack on the most vulnerable and least well off. I would like to see widely respected MSP's such as Bruce Crawford and Malcolm Chisholm start the ball rolling

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  9. I agree in principle, but

    >An assumption against evictions is a good start, as promoted by SNP councils

    Maybe the government seems reluctant to release another £50M to mitigate the impact, but at least SNP are making efforts at the council level by taking no-eviction policy, as you pointed out. Are Labour councils doing the same, for a start? Have they not opposed to no-eviction policy?

    I could be wrong, but securing £50M at government level seems to me much more difficult than taking no-eviction policy at council level. You seem to be asking too much from SNP and relatively less from Labour. Correct me if I am wrong though.

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    1. The trouble with doing it at a council level is it's hugely difficult to work out the point at which someone's arrears are Bedroom Tax caused or not, and when/if Universal Credit comes in, it's going to be even harder, hence councils like Dundee only putting a no-eviction policy in place for a 1 year transitional period, and even then making it subject to Housing Officer discretion.

      Not that that's A Bad Thing per se; it's the practical reality, so let's have no political footballing over it please; the press statements on it have been somewhat overblown on both sides already.

      The alternative is to have a no-evictions policy for any reason, for the cost reasons specified by Mr H above.

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    2. Thanks for your reply.

      >councils like Dundee only putting a no-eviction policy in place for a 1 year transitional period

      Yes, it may not be enough and certainly difficult, but Dundee is doing it anyway. Isn't that to be praised? And I am wondering if other councils including Labour controlled ones could follow suit, "for a start", before blaming the Scottish government? No-eviction policy for 1 year may not be enough, but it's a policy commitment. And it will buy some time.

      What I am asking is, have Labour shown that sort of policy commitment where they can, before blaming the Scottish government? It's easy to say they are opposed to bedroom tax, but demonstrating it as a policy commitment is different. And UK Labour haven't yet made it clear that they'll scrap it. At a council level, maybe not enough, but SNP is at least showing their policy commitment. And I am not sure if Labour are doing it before asking the SG to do something. Correct me, again, if I am wrong.

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  10. As a person who is about to be hit with 25% bedrooom tax and as a supporter of independece I'm finding some of the comments on twitter quite disparaging. I think people who are affected by this policy would welcome any common ground. My interpretation of this piece is, think of people and not of politics. no amount of squabbling is goint to help keep people in their homes.

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    1. Think of the people not the politics is exactly it. Thank you.

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  11. very good article, however, if successful, the first thing to come out of your mouth will not not be, that it was a great victory for those who would fall victim to the hated tax, but: proof that we are "better together"

    there's your answer.

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    1. A prime example of how the independence referendum debate is poisoning Scottish politics. Sad.

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    2. I have to say you are part of it, Duncan. Please don't pretend you are above that.

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    3. I have said consistently, since the the 2011 announcement that a referendum was to be held, that it is a distraction from actually running the devolved administration in the interests of Scots.

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    4. I know that and I respect your consistency. But that doesn't mean you are totally unbiased or you have won everyone's respect.

      Why do you think some people who commented here are sceptical about your intention? Is it because they are narrow minded, stupid nats obsessed with independence? Do you want them to accept your proposal and to get behind this, or do you just ignore them?

      Anyway, I'm a yes voter and I am in. I fear this, if realised, would be exploited by both sides for point-scoring, but there are more important things. I will keep checking your twitter and blog for updates for actions. I hope this will lead to something good.

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  12. Congratulations to the Labour and SNP councils who've taken a stand against evictions. As Duncan says, that's only solving a tiny part of the overall problem, but it's something.

    I'm a nationalist, but I'm quite prepared to be proud of what the Scottish people can achieve inside the union as well as outside, and I'm also happy to acknowledge that it was the Green party of England & Wales in Brighton which was first to commit to no evictions.

    So if I gently criticise part of Duncan's article, I hope it's seen as helpful rather than kneejerk opposition. Is it really feasible for Holyrood to make up the funding gap caused by Westminster? If Labour were in power in Scotland would they be cutting funding from their priorities (cancer drugs? childcare? colleges?) to make the coalition's welfare cuts a little less unpalatable to those affected?

    Many people are going to be placed in terrible circumstances over the welfare changes, so yes, perhaps there is need for Holyrood to help in the short term, but it can't possibly do so for long.

    62% of votes in the 2010 UK election went to Labour/SNP. Over 80% of the seats at Holyrood are held between SNP/Labour. So as a block, what could we do at Holyrood? Do we have the powers to redesignate the smallest room in every house as an office rather than a bedroom? I realise that's probably pie-in-the-sky, but I do think we need some clever ideas from our representatives on this.

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    1. Very open to clever ideas Garve and I appreciate your constructive criticism. The Scottish budget is £30bn a year, and the cost of mitigating Bedroom Tax would be approximately £30m a year. It's not an insignificant sum, but it is 0.1% of the budget. I think we could find it.

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  13. Duncan you'll have to forgive us for being cynical about you sudden truce?
    Everyone should read Rev Stu' s analysis of Labour hypocrisy on the bedroom tax
    Labour invented it and Labour in Westminster have not promised to repeal it.
    http://wingsoverscotland.com/hostages-of-the-bedroom-tax/

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  14. For reasons I detailed in a post yesterday, ONLY councils and housing associations can effectively mitigate the bedroom tax. Scottish Government legislation is both undesirable on principle - once we start subsidising Tory cuts out of Scotland's budget, where do we stop? - and in practice. Advocates of legislation tend to say "Yes, we know legislation would cause all sorts of problems for social landlords but *mumble mumble mumble*". That won't do. You can't just paper over the MAJOR difficulties that would arise for the sake of a soundbite.

    Landlords need to redesignate rooms wherever possible. This is surely mainly a matter of having the will to do so. Call a second bedroom a "walk-in cupboard" or "storage room" or "study". Who's going to actually do anything about that? What COULD the UK government do about it? Nottingham has done it en masse.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-21931443

    Redesignating rooms solves the problem with the minimum of bureaucracy and, theoretically at least, at zero cost to anyone. Unless there's some law that FORCES councils to charge less rent for a "one-bedroom" property that's really got two, nothing needs to change. (And if there IS such a law, and it's a devolved issue, then THAT'S the law Holyrood needs to fix, not pass one that essentially just hands tens of millions of pounds to George Osborne.)

    I'd like to believe Duncan's post means that Scottish Labour MIGHT put practical help for the poor and vulnerable above opportunistic and ultimately self-destructive point-scoring against the SNP. Just about every Scottish council could secure a majority by combining SNP, Labour and Green, so there's no excuse. I won't hold my breath, though.

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    1. The Scottish Government could fund council action. The problem is that without actual money, council action is impotent, because housing receipts will be cut. The money has to come from somewhere, unless you think councils should be the ones making cuts to other services. I think the Scottish Government has deeper pockets than councils.

      Redesignating rooms should be looked at, for sure, but it is subject to the same mumbled problems for landlords as you say legislation is. What we're really lacking is appropriate social housing stock, and a blanket downsizing of the limited stock we have now is going to exacerbate that problem.

      There is no solution here that doesn't require money. My suggestion is that the parties sit down and find it, together.

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    2. "The Scottish Government could fund council action. The problem is that without actual money, council action is impotent, because housing receipts will be cut."

      Why? If landlords say "We're now calling this a one-bedroom flat with a storage room but keeping the rent the same", where is money required?

      "Redesignating rooms should be looked at, for sure, but it is subject to the same mumbled problems for landlords as you say legislation is."

      Such as? I'm happy to specify what the problems with legislation are - among others, it would be open to abuse (as people could run up rent arrears knowing they wouldn't be evicted), it doesn't solve the fundamental problem (tenants would continue to build up debts which would have to be faced at some point), only delays it, and it obviously leaves social landlords with an ACTUAL shortfall in revenue which has to be recouped from somewhere.

      "What we're really lacking is appropriate social housing stock, and a blanket downsizing of the limited stock we have now is going to exacerbate that problem."

      You say that as if the extra rooms are going to be filled in with concrete. They're still going to be there. Nothing is going to be ACTUALLY "downsized", just re-labelled, and could be re-labelled again as circumstances demanded.

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    3. It's not going to be possible to have a blanket redesignation of rooms which mitigates all of the effects. If it were, it would happen in every non-Tory/Lib Dem council in the country (the UK), and it's ain't happening. Even your example of Nottingham is far more limited, applying only to high-rise flats and only those which are 2-bed are being reclassified as 1-bed. There will still be people affected by Bedroom Tax in Nottingham.

      The solution here is finding money to mitigate the effects. There are mechanisms to create local housing benefit that would supplement what's missing. There is the political will to help. Re-labelling simply isn't going to solve this problem.

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    4. "It's not going to be possible to have a blanket redesignation of rooms which mitigates all of the effects."

      Why?

      "Even your example of Nottingham is far more limited, applying only to high-rise flats and only those which are 2-bed are being reclassified as 1-bed."

      Do we know they're not applying it to other properties? If not, why not?

      "The solution here is finding money to mitigate the effects."

      That's not a "solution", it's a sticking plaster on a broken leg. It might stop the bleeding, but unless you deal with the underlying problem you're still never playing football again.

      "Re-labelling simply isn't going to solve this problem."

      Why not? I'm doing my level best to be practical and consensual, and you're simply making assertions without evidence.

      It's not a rhetorical question. WHAT are the problems with redesignation? Why can't it be used in all cases? Why is it apparently absolutely vital that we subsidise Westminster with Scottish money?

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    5. Okay. I'm not sure you're succeeding entirely on the consensual thing, but I appreciate that you're making the effort. I'm sure that you can see I've done more than make assertions without evidence here.

      You ask a fair question; why shouldn't the solution to this be to designate every house currently let as having the precise number of bedrooms it ought to have, then revert to having the number of bedrooms it actually has when it is vacant, and then have another revised number once it is re-let.

      So one significant challenge here is rent, which is currently charged on a basis closely related to the number of bedrooms in a property. With the number of bedrooms in a property varying over time, there would be an issue of how to set rent. You suggested above that rents could simply be set to match the real number of bedrooms rather than the officially reported number. But if tenants were being charged a three bedroom price for a property designated as having only two bedrooms they would be in law entitled to challenge their rental agreement and would be very likely to have a case.

      Govan Law Centre has suggested a reclassification approach but suggests that this would lead to a shortfall in rental income across Scotland of around £50m.

      So perhaps reclassifying is an option, but it leads to a financial shortfall for councils anyway, and we are back to the issue of finding the money.

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    6. "So one significant challenge here is rent, which is currently charged on a basis closely related to the number of bedrooms in a property."

      But you haven't shown that it NEEDS to be. As I asked originally - is there some law that says councils MUST reduce the rent if they reclassify a property? I'm not saying there isn't, I'm asking.

      If so, is it a law within Holyrood's remit and which could therefore be changed? If not, fine, my plan is unworkable. But you need to show that before you dismiss it.

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    7. As I tried to point out, if councils started charging different rents for the same types of property then tenants paying more would surely have a case in either contract law, trading standards regulations or anti-discrimination statute? And there isn't a legislative remedy for that.

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    8. "tenants paying more would surely have a case in either contract law, trading standards regulations or anti-discrimination statute?"

      "Surely?" Would they or wouldn't they? Do you think the Scottish people are so mercenary they'd go to court in numbers to get a few quid knocked off their rent because their disabled neighbour was getting a "spare" room for the same price? I'm not sure my opinion of people is that low, and I'm a misanthrope par excellence.

      (They'd definitely have no recourse under contract or trading standards law, btw. Anti-discrimination, don't know, but I doubt it. I can't sue anyone because I'm in almost the only group of people in the country who isn't allowed to buy a Railcard - I'm not young, old, a student, disabled or a family with children. I'm discriminated against for being between 26 and 60, able-bodied and childless, but I've got no legal recourse.)

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    9. Mercenary? No. Desperate? Yes.

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    10. Even desperate people are generally terrified of taking on court cases, particularly as changes in the Small Claims Court system in recent years have made it prohibitively difficult and expensive.

      And as I noted, it's highly unlikely they'd have any grounds to anyway. The private sector can charge different rents for two identical houses in the same street if it wants to, there's no reason housing associations would be prevented in law from doing the same.

      Again, more than happy to be proved wrong if you can cite the chapter and verse.

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  15. Interesting article here saying that if everyone appealed then it wouldn't be financially possible to enforce. Does it make sense?
    http://speye.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/bedroom-tax-only-the-tenant-can-get-rid-of-it-and-heres-how/

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    1. Strikes me as a proposal to bury councils in casework, which will cost a huge amount of money to process but not achieve very much by my reckoning?

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    2. It's essentially the tactic that did for Margaret Thatcher and the poll tax:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Charge#Non-payment

      Does that count as "not achieving very much"?

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    3. Not the same thing at all. It's impossible to not pay - it's subtracted at source. The poll tax was defeated by a non-payment campaign, not a campaign of appealing.

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    4. The principle is completely identical even if the precise method is slightly different - overwhelm the system with paperwork that simply can't be managed, to the point where the law is unenforceable. The site Garve linked to explains how it can work.

      So far the only solution you've offered is "pay the Tories' ransom by robbing public services". I'm not sure you're going to whip up a lot of public support for that one.

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    5. Non-payment was not about overwhelming the system with paperwork. It was about non-payment.

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    6. From the link:

      "Because of the huge number of non-payers, usual enforcement measures like liability order, bailiffs and even arrest warrants and committal hearings proved useless - there were not enough bailiffs, courts or prison cells to implement any of the orders granted.

      For example, in November 1990 South Yorkshire police said they were planning to refuse to arrest Community Charge defaulters even when instructed to by the courts because it would be "physically impossible for the police because of the large number of defaulters."

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    7. You seem to be arguing my point. If you seriously think that "get everyone to appeal" solves the problem then fine. I don't, for the reasons I've set out.

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    8. You've missed the point. If the system is jammed with appeals, it becomes unworkable. That principle holds whatever the specifics of a particular protest. Coupled with a non-eviction policy buying time for the plan to take effect, it's certainly viable in theory.

      The only genuine obstacle is whether enough people would go through all the hassle of fighting it, but they did with the poll tax so we know that it CAN work.

      Again, it surely beats giving the Tories a blank cheque. If the Scottish Government hobble other services to bail people out, what's to stop the Tories saying "Okay, next year the penalty is 20% for one bedroom and 40% for two"?

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  16. I'm with you on this Duncan, and in fact blogged on how bedroom tax should unite not divide. I find the partisanship on this issue dismaying. Everyone could do more, there are solutions to be found, it isn't about mitigating Tory policy, it's about alleviating adverse impact on real people's lives. And given that the SG found the money to make up the 10% cut on council tax benefit, there is precedent here. It's about everyone getting round the table and looking for possible solutions and costing them, then working out where the money should come from. Councils can find it too, HRA reserves is one source no one talking about...

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    1. So your solution is also to subsidise brutal Tory cuts with Scottish money? What happens next year when they double the tax?

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    2. To be honest I'm not seeing this consensual thing happening from you Stu. Please try harder.

      Kate, thank you. I absolutely agree that there needs to be serious co-operation on where money can be found. Not sure how much councils have in HRA reserves but I'm guessing not much? But everything should be looked at for sure.

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    3. "To be honest I'm not seeing this consensual thing happening from you Stu."

      I've offered practical suggestions that don't involve Scotland subsidising the Tory government, you've pooh-poohed them with empty assertions you refuse to support. I know who's undermining this "consensus" and it's not me.

      Move us forward. Tell me WHY redesignation won't work and I'll gladly consider alternatives.

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    4. You appear not to have noticed my reply. Feel free to delete your comment if you wish.

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    5. Burdzeyeview, It is all very well to call for everyone to work together but surely the SNP have done their bit so far calling for all councils not to evict. Labour rejected this in many cases. Labour have been called upon to state they will abolish the bedroom tax if re elected. Labour have rejected this. It is two-faced to be calling for the parties to work together.

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  17. As stated above Labour set this in motion back in 2008 and Westminster is just taking it further and faster than Labour were planning to do. But with friends like this one can only assume that you are using this action for political benefit rather than addressing the real problem which is Westminster.

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    1. Thank you for providing a prima facie example of how political debate in Scotland is broken by the twin corrosives of visceral hatred and independence obsession.

      If you want to pick fights about George, independence or Westminster, find somewhere else to do it. We're trying to do some good here.

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    2. No the problem is your own party who will not repeal this if they ever get back into power so all you are doing is the Tories dirty work for party political gain, just like Kezia over the tram project and Scots are sick of it.

      Did all the Scottish Labour MPs vote against the bill? NO because they were to busy promoting their own careers elsewhere than doing what the voters wanted.

      The hatred comes from your party as Hansard shows so don't tar us all with your own parties policies if anyone knows what they are!

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  18. I should point out that Kate (@burdzeyeview) did a blog post about how we should unite against the Bedroom Tax back in February. Worth a read:

    http://burdzeyeview.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/bedroom-tax-a-battle-which-should-unite-not-divide/

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  19. I think it is import to act for the greater good.

    And before any nats give me a kicking for not supporting the SNP amendment to my motion in Dundee - my reasons are documented on my website www.lesleybrennan.com .

    Anyway, for me, housing revenue accounts and especially housing association need to be back -filled otherwise repairs will not be done or midyear rent increases will be implemented. This is not scaremongering Cllr Jimmy Black noted this during his evidence at ScotParl on Tuesday.

    Re filling potential rent loss:
    £53 million is 0.2% of the 2013/14 ScotGov budget. Thus, it could be found if the political will is there.

    My concern is that if additional funding is not provided this issue may become very divisive as tenants who are not directly affected cannot get their repairs done.

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    1. Thanks very much Lesley, useful info. We need to get past questions of whether this can be mitigated without spending money. It simply can't. The next step is to work out together where we can find the money.

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    2. So you're calling for the Scottish Government to subsidise Tory cuts? Brave. Perhaps YOU can tell us why reclassifying properties won't work?

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  20. Stu is right on this. Block the initiative don't finance it and cut other things. £50 m is easy to find. Absolute bullshit. Turn it into a poll tax issue. And Mr Hothersall you still haven't answered the question about Labour initiating and failing to promise to repeal. Just because Kate Higgins agrees with you doesn't mean you can avoid answering!

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    1. "Turn it into a poll tax issue" and "the Scottish Government shouldn't subsidise Tory cuts" are both just ways of saying let's do nothing, leave people to fight this on their own.

      I don't think that's good enough, not only because it's a cop out but because it still leaves councils to pick up the tab. If thousands of appeals really did snare the system as claimed, it would do so at the expense of councils. The original link in which that suggestion is made claims that this would kill the tax because councils would pressure the government to stop it on the basis of the costs they were incurring. Surely you see the problem with that approach in Scotland.

      Councils already oppose this tax. They don't need pressured. We need to accept that money must be found.

      As for Labour initiating this, I'm sick of hearing this rubbish. This measure is being brought in by the current government. The clue is that it's happening now.

      Labour oppose it and have voted against it.

      As for repeal, no party can make a financial commitment for 2015 in 2013, but Labour is clear in its opposition today.

      If we're going to fight it together you guys need to stop blaming us for it and start trying to find ways of working constructively together, instead of taking the sort of pot shots typical of the destructive style of Stuart Campbell's blog.

      Enough Labour-blaming. The issue is people not politics. Rise to it.

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    2. "both just ways of saying let's do nothing, leave people to fight this on their own. "

      Rubbish. I've clearly laid out a proposed practical solution that doesn't involve cuts elsewhere and doesn't just enable the bedroom tax by getting the blood off the Tories' hands, and I'm still waiting to hear a valid reason - as opposed to speculation - why it's not a workable one.

      For as long as that answer doesn't arrive, try as I might, straining every sinew to exercise good faith, it's getting harder not to conclude that that's because Labour like an alternative "solution" which involves the SNP making unpopular cuts to other services just fine.

      Delete
    3. Why is your demand for cast iron certainty only one way? Prove that your proposal will work without adding additional costs onto councils. I don't think you can. So we're left with only unproven assertions on both sides.

      Delete
    4. I expressly made, and make, no claims of certainty. I explained why my proposal would logically be feasible, and invited you (repeatedly) to correct me if I was unaware of any statute that would inhibit it, indicating my willingness to consider alternatives in that event. You haven't done so.

      If you were genuinely seeking consensus, it seems to me that you would at least seek to establish whether such a plan was flawed, rather than dismissing it out of hand and calling for the Scottish Government to make damaging cuts instead.

      Delete
    5. (For my part, I've already contacted Patrick Harvie to ask him that question, since I'd imagine he'd be better placed to know/find out than I am. I wouldn't know where to even start looking for information about laws governing the rents social landlords were obliged to charge, and unlike both you and he I have no direct links to any political parties who might also know where to locate such information.)

      Delete
    6. If you want a legal opinion you'll need to contact a lawyer. Meanwhile if you were genuinely seeking consensus you would be willing to explore all options rather than trying to block progress until the workability of your latest suggestion can be proved or disproved.

      I think it's obvious to any rational observer that a major cut in the welfare budget can only be mitigated by putting money back in. I think it would be more fruitful for the parties to get together and work out how this can be done than for us to wait to find out why your cunning plan can't work.

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    7. "Meanwhile if you were genuinely seeking consensus you would be willing to explore all options rather than trying to block progress until the workability of your latest suggestion can be proved or disproved."

      Um, right back atcha.

      I've outlined clear, specific reasons why I believe your preferred solution is impractical (it's open to abuse by tenants, it involves extra costly layers of bureaucracy, it doesn't prevent the Tories ramping up the charge in subsequent years).

      You haven't countered any of them, merely said "Well, the same is true of yours", without explaining why.

      "I think it's obvious to any rational observer that a major cut in the welfare budget can only be mitigated by putting money back in."

      As far as I'm aware, in the case of the bedroom tax there ISN'T an actual *inherent* cut. I can find no reference to the government actually reducing housing-benefit funding to councils at this stage.

      If my plan is viable within the law, housing benefit would continue to be payable at current levels, and would have to be funded by the UK government. The cut is implied and intended, but will ONLY come into existence IF councils and housing associations implement the measures *in the manner the Tories want them to*.

      Once again, absolutely correct me if I'm wrong, as I'm happy to acknowledge I could be - but preferably by actually providing a source rather than just saying so. Because otherwise it's very difficult to see why you're so absolutely intent on having Scotland subsidise a Tory cut when as yet we have no reason to believe it has to.

      Delete
  21. My chief concern is that the political focus appears to be solely on the bedroom tax. But disabled people are facing up to six benefit cuts simultaneously - they don't all live in social housing, they aren't all facing eviction. Eviction is a bit of a red herring to be honest. It's just a simple idea that the media can latch onto. In reality disabled people in under occupied housing are not going to be evicted because there is no stock of adapted temporary accommodation to put them in. The real horror of what people face is endless grinding poverty and stress. People will end up killing themselves over this if it is allowed to go on.

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    1. Indeed, and admirably detailed here:

      http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/03/why-april-will-be-cruellest-month-age-austerity

      Which is why simply robbing Peter to pay Paul is no solution.

      Delete
  22. Duncan, putting aside your vain attempts at revisionist history re Labour & the 'Bedroom tax', acouple of things:

    1. It's reckoned that the shortfall in receipts would be in the region of £53 million this year. This, of course, ignores admin costs (a favourite habit of Labour) which could amount to another £10 to £20 million. And costs next year, and the year after that? Or are you giving us a cast iron guarantee that Labour will repeal the tax should, by some strange quirk of fate, they get a majority at the next Westminster GE?

    2. A favourite anti-indy tactic is to bang on about a version of localism that bypasses the Scottish government and jumps from Westminster to local councils. Why isn't that the solution now? Re-categorisation of bedrooms does appear a solution that could pay more dividends than asking the Scottish goverment to use an ever increasing amount of the block grant to compensate for cuts coming from Westminster (the SG already have allocated £10 million to make up the shortfall in Counci Tax benefits).

    3. Some of your rhetoric STILL iimplies the problem is the upcoming indy ref means the Scottish government isn't pursuing solutions to problems now coz they're too focused on the indy debate. Anyone who happened to catch any of Ms Baillie's utterances on the Bedroom tax this week will see that the real problem is Laboour's sense of entitlement and the ever compliant media that allows the main opposition party in Scotland to spout nonsense without challenge while bumming them up - does anyone really consider Lamont comes out well from FMQs on a regular basis? IDS was at Hollyrood the other day but who do SLab choose to attack? The SNP of course.

    And that's the nub of articles like this. Who exactly are you appealing to? After all, surely you don't seriously believe that both sides are as bad as each other? How many times have we read articles like this, calling for a united front that lasts until the next time a Unionist politiican is quoted in our media. You're basically calling for the Scottish government to pull Labour out of a hole (what, exactly, are you asking Labour to do?) while still refusing to acknowledge the merits of their main argument. - if Scotland was in control of wellfare spengin, we'd only have bedroom taxes, workfare, etc. if the people of Scotland voted for them.

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  23. Rev Stu, Counsel's Opinion on Govan Law Centre's website explains why local authorities have to make a judgement to make on what a bedroom is but they don't have discretion to decide what is and what isn't a bedroom. There is therefore the implication that local authorities would be acting unlawfully by simply deeming a room not to be a bedroom where that does not accord with the particular facts and circumstances of the tenant's living arrangements. So whilst rebranding all 2+ bedroom houses would on the face of it be straightforward, there are probably reasons why local authorities have not proceeded in this way.

    (A further issue to bear in mind in this discussion is that not all local authorities now have housing stock because it has been transferred to registered social landlords who are independent of LAs.)

    That is not to say there shouldn't be challenges against the judgement exercised by LA's in relation to what is deemed a bedroom but that will have to be done in the form of individuals pursuing appeals through the tribunals. That should be encouraged where there is a basis. Not all cases though will be as strong as others. Further, the deduction from housing benefit will continue pending determination of appeal. However if a tenant is successful there will be a backdate.

    An ongoing appeal would also be a basis to adjourn any eviction proceedings based on bedroom tax arrears pending appeal but this would be at discretion of the sheriff, although if there is a prima facie case, there should be strong grounds for appeal.

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    1. Last line should read ... Strong grounds for an adjournment.

      Delete
  24. "Counsel's Opinion on Govan Law Centre's website explains why local authorities have to make a judgement to make on what a bedroom is but they don't have discretion to decide what is and what isn't a bedroom."

    I'm not sure I grasp the distinction between a "judgement" and "discretion" - surely those are the same thing? What does "discretion" mean if not "the discretion to make a judgement"?

    But I'd certainly be interested in seeing the detailed reasoning behind this opinion. Do you have a link?

    "There is therefore the implication that local authorities would be acting unlawfully by simply deeming a room not to be a bedroom where that does not accord with the particular facts and circumstances of the tenant's living arrangements."

    Who would be the plaintiff in such a case? Are the UK government going to directly intervene in 105,000 cases of redesignation? By what means?

    (That's not a rhetorical question, but a genuine illustration of how difficult it would be for Westminster to combat mass redesignations. Since every individual case is different, a simple test case would not provide precedent which could be applied uniformly.)

    It seems to me that the main objection of politicos to mass redesignation (if we assume good faith, which may be rather naive) is rather akin to the objection to the principle of "helicopter money" - namely that while it would in fact be effective, it somehow just seems too "crude".

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  25. Duncan's (and Labour's) sincerity about the bedroom tax being a fundamentally bad thing can be judged from this snippet from one of Duncan's comments:

    "As for repeal, no party can make a financial commitment for 2015 in 2013, but Labour is clear in its opposition today."

    If it's fundamentally wrong in 2013, then it's fundamentally wrong in 2015. Or is it somehow more palatable to punish the poor when Labour are the ones doing it?

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  26. Legal opinion obtained on behalf of Glasgow advice agency http://www.govanlc.com/GAAopinion.pdf

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    1. Thanks. That is - at best - highly inconclusive, though. As lawyers are wont to do, the lawyer says "Well, this could be seen one way or another way, and it really all depends on circumstances and interpretation".

      It contains very little in the way of solid definitive information, and indeed spends much of its time saying "there IS no solid definitive information".

      So I again find myself returning to the practical implications. If every council and housing association decided to designate all 105,000 "extra" rooms as not bedrooms any more (while perfectly reasonably keeping the rent the same, as it was the same property), what could the UK government *in reality* do about it?

      As the advice expressly notes, every case is different, even in the instance of two identical houses in the same street. So no simple precedent could be set. It is, obviously, simply not possible to bring 105,000 individual cases. So the government would be faced with the "poll tax" scenario outlined by Wikipedia - an unworkable, unenforceable law that would have to be abandoned. We win.

      The only problem is, that way doesn't damage the SNP.

      Delete
    2. Which government would be faced with that though? Think it through. Redesignating leaves the UK government laughing, and Scottish councils AND the Scottish Government counting the cost.

      Drop the "you're out to get the SNP" stuff and start thinking logically. The best solution here is to work together.

      Delete
    3. "Redesignating leaves the UK government laughing, and Scottish councils AND the Scottish Government counting the cost."

      What cost? Are you just ignoring the bit where I said "(while perfectly reasonably keeping the rent the same, as it was the same property)"?

      Delete
    4. "Which government would be faced with that though?"

      The UK government, obviously. It would be the one challenging the council/housing associations' decisions. It would have absolutely nothing to do with the Scottish Government.

      Delete
    5. "It is, obviously, simply not possible to bring 105,000 individual cases. So the government would be faced with the "poll tax" scenario outlined by Wikipedia - an unworkable, unenforceable law that would have to be abandoned."

      What makes it unworkable and unenforceable? Think it through. Who has to deal with it?

      Delete
    6. Simply repeatedly telling me to "think it through" isn't a substitute for an argument. If the UK government wishes to challenge 105,000 cases, it has to initiate that action, and in order to do so it has to examine each case individually, because there is no "one size fits all" here. It does not have the resources to do so, or anywhere remotely close. So it'd never get to court.

      Delete
  27. Duncan, I am a non member of all political parties. During my adult life I've voted, in Scotland , Wales and England , For the candidate I thought best. After yesterday's "tweet" Labour, Labour in Scotland and any party allied or aligned to the same will have no support from me as long as Foulkes is a member.

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  28. I fail to see just what the SNP do here, they have already agreed that SNP councils will not evict. Labour on the other hand have not convinced their councils to do the same. So as Nicola Sturgeon pointed out. Labour want the SNP to do what labour themselves refuse to do. Also, just how does it square with labour's real intentions when very many of their Westminster MP'S abstained, as they do now, with most difficult issues.
    So they are not genuine but just want to try and cause a way they can unload a lot of the blame onto the SNP " for not taking action" when they themselves do nothing but make soundbites.
    Get your own councils to join with the SNP in bringing in a no eviction policy en mass, then and only then will I listen to what Labour is asking for.Ian Davidson proves the case, he said in public he had voted no, when in fact he was not even there for the vote. Treacherous is not strong enough a word.

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  29. I agree Labour and the SNP should work collaboratively. As should the SNP and Lib Dems. After all, the Lib Dems claim to support federalism, and aside from independence, Labour, the SNP and Lib Dems have almost entirely identical manifestos.

    So why is there so much hatred over everything? Why is the entire anti-independence, Better Together campaign founded on utter hatred of the SNP and Alex Salmond? Why are we not being allowed to have a debate on what is best for Scotland, but instead being subjected to continual smears, lies and scaremongering?

    Why can Scotland's politicians not just work together for the people in Scotland they are supposed to represent on everything? Including the referendum, which people voted for, as well as the evil and damaging welfare reforms - all of them, not just bedroom tax? Why are Labour not collaborating on the SNP with how we keep universalism as well, for example?

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  30. Duncan, you don't build consensus by simply demanding that other people agree with you, nor by dismissing alternatives out of hand. Not untypically for a Labour activist, you have no interest in consensus, only obedience.

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  31. The problem Duncan, is that if the SNP begin to pay for the tory cuts the tory's will simply increase the cuts. labour will then scream at the SNP to pay more and if they don't then Labour will say why not pay 'this' since you paid 'that'

    This would destroy the Scottish governments financial credibility.

    Maybe this is your end game Duncan and why you will not agree to the Revs points and ideas?

    Just saying like :-)

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  32. Also, as long as Labour won't accept that Holyrood having control of welfare (supported by a majority of Scots) is at least part of the debate on "how to protect Scots from poor Westminster welfare decisions)" they can't be seen as serious or honest on the issue. You don't have to agree it's the best way, but tell us,why you believe it isn't, especially if you think Holyrood should mitigate.

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  33. DUncan, you have a very strange interpretation of what consensus is. You seem to believe it means that everybody should agree with you and that any other views should be dismissed out of hand.

    The fact that your idea has the added effect of forcing the SNP government into making cuts elsewhere surely isn't driving your agenda, is it?

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  34. One thing Labour could do that it hasn't yet done would be to pledge to repeal the Bedroom Tax - and the other benefit cuts - if they get back into power at Westminster.

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  35. I'm now closing comments on this post. The answer to my question is sadly all too clear. It's a no.

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