It’s all in the name for benefit policy

Council homes at Priory Heath.

Council homes at Priory Heath.

EVERY so often an issue arises where even the name is loaded with significance.

The government is bringing in changes to the way housing benefit is paid for social housing – working-age tenants on housing benefits will have to make a larger contribution if they live in a home with more bedrooms than the government feels they need.

That is a mouthful. It was inevitable that a shortened form would be developed – and so it has.

The problem is that the two sides of the political argument have very different names – and both are incredibly loaded.

If you call the change “The Bedroom Tax” the Tories jump up and down and say it isn’t a tax, it’s merely the abolition of a subsidy that people don’t need.

If you say it’s ending “The Spare Room Subsidy” Labour jumps up and down and says it’s a tax on the poor because it’s penalising them for something they’ve always had.

Aside from the name, the policy is a classic interesting idea that’s being implemented without any thought for its impact on real people.

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According to the rules two children under 10 should share a bedroom – irrespective of their gender. Once they’re more than 10 boys and girls should have their own room.

So what happens to a family with a boy and girl aged eight living in a three-bedroomed council home? The rules say that they should move into a two-bedroomed home for a couple of years and then move back into a three-bedroomed home after that.

And it assumes that there is an infinite number of the right size of homes available – you can’t move a family out of a three-bedroomed home if there isn’t a two-bedroomed home for them to move into.

Surely a better way to introduce such a policy (whatever you call it) would be an incentive for those in homes too large for them to move to smaller accommodation.

After all not all couples living on their own want to have to look after a large garden and heat rooms that are rarely used – but neither do they want to have to move away from friends and neighbours they have lived near for years.