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From The Socialist newspaper, 25 September 2013

Labour to scrap bedroom tax in 2015 - we demand an amnesty now!

Hugh Caffrey
Warrington anti-bedroom tax demo April 2013, photo Kevin Bennett

Warrington anti-bedroom tax demo April 2013, photo Kevin Bennett   (Click to enlarge)

Labour's promise to scrap the Con-Dems' bedroom tax will be welcomed, especially by the 600,000 people suffering it. Labour's change of policy is the latest victory for the anti-bedroom tax movement.

But we can't wait until 2015 - councils should immediately axe the bedroom tax, restore housing benefit payments to their pre-April level, withdraw all court proceedings and eviction orders where the bedroom tax has been a factor in rent arrears, write off all bedroom tax related arrears, and order housing associations (HAs) to follow suit. Councils should use reserves or borrowing to pay for this.

The Labour leadership should promise to reimburse all local authorities for the costs incurred if it wins the next election.

Unworkable

A combination of legal and political pressure has forced Labour to shift. But 50,000 tenants could soon face eviction. Still urgent is the building of an 'anti-eviction army' in every community; and the campaign for councils and HAs to adopt 'no eviction' policies.

In Kirkby, Merseyside, the bailiffs were sent packing by a 'ring of steel' which the local campaign group formed around the home of a tenant threatened with eviction.

Local authority unions everywhere should adopt the position of Bolton Metro Unison, to defend members who refuse to enforce the bedroom tax.

The bedroom tax has been made unworkable by its own logic - forcing poor people to pay money they don't have. Non-payment is running at 50% or more in many HAs.

Some authorities, fearing an organised opposition or massive loss of rental income, have given concessions - 'reclassifying' rooms, exempting tenants who meet certain conditions, topping up the discretionary housing payment fund as the Scottish parliament did, or agreeing minimum repayment amounts for arrears.

Legal victories in Scotland over the minimum size of a room for one adult (70 square feet) have got housing bosses worried. Many tenants are threatened with eviction over bedroom tax on rooms which are smaller than 70 square feet, or even 50 square feet!

Now it turns out that may be illegal, the Chartered Institute of Housing says councils should be measuring room sizes. Wouldn't it be easier to just scrap the tax?!

Labour says it will, in government, help councils to help people who want to downsize. In some cases this will be possible - and it was more possible before council housing was broken up! But often there is nowhere else to go. If there is, it is likely to be in the more expensive private sector.

Housing programme

The answer to the housing crisis is to build a lot more council housing. Miliband and Co have made verbal gestures, but when New Labour was in government and where it is in control of councils, it hasn't done this.

Labour shares the same aim of austerity as the current millionaires' government. Its plans to urge the private sector into providing more 'affordable' rented homes will not go beyond costly token gestures on that basis.

Part of the problem is the chaotic patchwork of 'social housing' providers. Social housing should be owned by councils, democratically controlled and managed, including by representatives of tenants, workers, and the wider community, together with the local authority.

The building companies and landlords exist to make a profit. That means holding up rents and house prices, and any serious measures would have to tackle this.

Councils must swiftly implement a massive expansion in council housing through new-build and renovation. Where profiteering landlords and landowners get in the way, or refuse to renovate/let empty housing at affordable rents, councils should use their powers of compulsory purchase.

An expansion of council housing with affordable rents would drive down private sector rents. Linked with rent caps, this would benefit all tenants, and reduce the housing benefit bill.

Austerity means robbing the millions to bail out the billionaires. The sums are staggering - 120 billion in dodged taxes, 750 billion sitting idle in corporate accounts. That's where the money should come from to fund a massive housing construction/renovation plan.

This would be fought tooth and nail by the bosses, and that's why the answer to the housing crisis is ultimately the socialist public ownership of the banks, construction companies, and housing companies. As part of a democratic socialist plan, these enterprises could be put at the service of society to meet human need and end the housing crisis.

What we are fighting for:

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