How Essex MPs voted on the Opposition Day vote on the bedroom tax

In case you were wondering how our local Members of Parliament voted on the Opposition Day vote on the bedroom tax :-

Basildon and Billericay John Baron No
Braintree Brooks Newmark No
Brentwood and Ongar Eric Pickles No
Castle Point Rebecca Harris No
Chelmsford Simon Burns No
Colchester Bob Russell No
Harlow Robert Halfon No
Harwich and North Essex Bernard Jenkin No
Rayleigh and Wickford Mark Francois No
Rochford and Southend East James Duddridge Absent
Saffron Walden Alan Haselhurst No
South Basildon and East Thurrock Stephen Metcalfe No
Southend West David Amess No
Thurrock Jackie Doyle-Price No
Witham Priti Patel No

Only one Conservative MP (Andrew Percy) and no Liberal Democrats voted for the Labour motion (Let’s scrap the Bedroom Tax by Christmas).

I think it is pretty clear where the Conservatives stand, and that the Liberal Democrats are backing them all the way.

Essex Parliamentary Constituencies – August 2014 Spare Room Subsidy Indicators

Here is the data showing the numbers subject to the Bedroom Tax in Essex for August for all eighteen Parliamentary constituencies in the glorious county of Essex. I have ordered them with those having the highest numbers at the top.

Constituency Reduction applied No reduction applied Not applicable – private rented
Thurrock 898 5868 3612
Basildon and Billericay 765 4869 1529
South Basildon and East Thurrock 740 4625 2254
Harlow 728 6386 1852
Rochford and Southend East 574 5197 6547
Colchester 567 5276 3207
Braintree 418 3624 1686
Chelmsford 401 4237 1545
Witham 358 2989 1270
Epping Forest 342 3746 1551
Clacton 293 2439 6251
Saffron Walden 284 2999 1049
Brentwood and Ongar 260 2975 1193
Maldon 236 2271 1507
Harwich and North Essex 227 2179 2511
Southend West 178 1920 3874
Castle Point 161 1406 2938
Rayleigh and Wickford 128 1709 1519

Whilst Southend West is towards the bottom of this list, 178 households who have had their Housing Benefit reduced because they are considered under-occupied is 178 too many in my opinion.

(The numbers are for Housing Benefit Claimants)

Let’s scrap the Bedroom Tax by Christmas

Parliamentary Candidate Julian Ware-Lane is urging MPs from all parties to back Labour’s attempt to scrap the Bedroom Tax by Christmas. Labour has forced a debate and vote in parliament on Wednesday 17th December on the Bedroom Tax.

Since the Bedroom Tax was introduced around half a million low-income households have been forced to find, on average an extra £700 a year. In Southend West 178 people have been hit by the Bedroom Tax.

Cllr Julian Ware-Lane said: ‘This winter 178 people in Southend West will struggle to make ends meet, many relying on food banks to survive because of the Bedroom Tax David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s government introduced in April 2013. The Bedroom Tax is wasting people’s money, time and talents, it’s another example of Tory Welfare Waste.

‘This Wednesday Labour is forcing a vote to scrap this failing policy once and for all. I urge MPs from all parties to do the right thing and back Labour’s attempt to scrap this cruel and unfair tax.”

Rachel Reeves said: “Around half a million people have been hit by the Bedroom Tax, forcing many into debt and to rely on food banks. It’s a cruel, unfair and costly tax with two thirds of those affected are disabled. Let’s scrap the Bedroom Tax and get rid of this failing policy which is leading to more Tory Welfare Waste.”

1. Latest DWP figures on number of people hit by the Bedroom Tax:
NORTH EAST – 36,126
NORTH WEST – 74,031
YORKSHIRE AND HUMBER – 46,591
EAST MIDLANDS – 31,645
WEST MIDLANDS – 46,573
EASTERN – 30,036
LONDON – 48,247
SOUTH EAST – 32,232
SOUTH WEST – 24,896
WALES – 31,217
SCOTLAND – 70,291
TOTAL – 471,887

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/number-of-housing-benefit-claimants-and-average-weekly-spare-room-subsidy-amount-withdrawal

2. Two thirds of households affected by the bedroom tax cannot find the money to pay their rents, according to new research from the National Housing Federation. Source: http://www.housing.org.uk/media/press-releases/two-thirds-of-households-hit-by-bedroom-tax-are-in-debt-as-anniversary-appr#sthash.Ljy35ky2.dpuf

3. Housing benefit set to rise by £1billion over four year in March 2014 Budget (pg 132) http://budgetresponsibility.org.uk/economic-fiscal-outlook-march-2014/
Figures contained in the Budget have shown the housing benefit bill will continue rising not falling, with an increase of £1billion forecast over the next four years.

Press release: Labour’s Julian Ware-Lane welcomes blow to hated bedroom tax

Labour MPs have won a victory in Parliament against the coalition’s Bedroom Tax. Andrew George’s private member’s bill, backed by Labour MPs, could be the first step to ending the misery inflicted on the poor and vulnerable.

In the East of England region, over 30,000 people have been impacted by the Bedroom Tax, but in too many cases there simply aren’t smaller houses for tenants to move into. In other cases the disabled face being forced from adapted homes into unsuitable accommodation.

Julian Ware-Lane, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Southend West, said: “I have seen first-hand the misery the Bedroom Tax has caused, often forcing very ill people into making very difficult choices. It is an unfair policy that causes misery to thousands of people. This vote will not abolish the Bedroom Tax, but it is a step in the right direction and a glimmer of hope for many.”

“The Liberal Democrats voted with Labour on this occasion. However, the Bedroom Tax exists because the Liberal Democrats backed the Conservatives when it was passed into law. Only by electing a Labour Government next year can we guarantee that the Bedroom Tax is repealed.”

Compare and contrast

Those who cheat must be punished. Obvious. Somehow, though, it seems to depend on what type of cheat you are. The media appears to revel in the telling of those who swindle the benefits system. This does matter, every penny of tax dishonestly acquired denies that penny to the truly deserving, or to the NHS, education, etc. However, to butcher a Stalin maxim, to cheat a penny is a tragedy, to steal a million is a statistic.

Look at this: Benefit cheat swindled £13,000

And then this: Council legal battle to wrestle back £50,000 from Lord Hanningfield to be shelved

One cheat, a mere commoner, is to repay all that she fiddled. Another cheat, a peer of the realm, somehow evades repayment (and will return to the House of Lords after a year’s ban).

Brought up on benefits

My birth certificate shows my father’s occupation as ‘toy retailer’. Dad had a market stall selling cheap toys. By the time I had started school in January 1965 he had given that up and was a window cleaner. A year or so later he was sacked from his job, and never worked again; he was 52.

His career, if it can so be described, up to my birth appears to be an assortment of odd and badly paid jobs. He left school at fourteen and suffered with ill health, brought on largely by malnutrition. Times were hard in the 1920s and 1930s, and the first of my father’s two arrests came about as a result of his participation in a bread march. He claimed he was nicked to fulfil some sort of police quota; whatever, the fact that these sorts of protests existed is a testament to the grim times and grinding poverty endemic in many parts of the country at that time.

Life on the dole in the 1960s was no picnic. There were four mouths to feed, and the Sunday roast lasted three days as the leftovers ended up in stews and as cold meat and mash. The cheap cuts of meat that we had to endure meant that this fussy eater had many miserable childhood mealtimes. We had no refrigerator, never had takeaways, no holidays, nights out, and much that I wore was either hand-me-downs, knitted, or bought at jumble sales. I recall shoes held together by string, often with holes. The one word description of the period for me would be ‘humiliating’.

Father, in the early days, applied for many jobs. The frequency of applications and interviews diminished over time as increasing age made dad a less attractive employment prospect. He was offered jobs, but since these paid less than what he received from the dole he declined them. My recollections are somewhat flimsy, but an idle father made for a bad-tempered one.

Of course we had some luxuries. We rented a black and white TV, we did have a football to kick about, and library tickets opened up all sorts of possibilities. We even acquired a second-hand gramophone in my early teens. Card games were de rigeur, as was the occasional game of chess (which was not enjoyable owing to dad’s failure to accept defeat, ensuring re-run endings until he found that move to defeat me). He even made a shove ha’penny board – something that I still own (with some real ha’pennies).

This was no existence of idle grandeur, no leisurely stroll at the tax-payers expense. It was grinding poverty, a humiliating struggle to eke out a basic existence. Our rented home had no heating, no hot water, no bathroom. The loo was either outside, or a bucket under the bed. The weekly bath was a shared experience – and the bath hung on a nail on the outside back of the house.

We felt poor, and whilst we lived in a poor area with poor neighbours somehow we felt poorest. However, whilst I was aware that most of my friends had more, none approached the apparent wealth of today’s generations.

I never believed I would grow up and not work, although I cannot pretend that I have done anything other than muddle through. I had no grand plan except to escape the stifling crampness that poverty brings. I recall no ambition, and on leaving home just before my seventeenth birthday I had nothing but rebellion in mind. I was angry with what life had dealt me thus far, but it would be a few years before I figured out how to fix it.

As bad as it was, my childhood was luxurious compared to my dad’s. He spoke of eighteen sharing two rooms in Peckham. He spoke of seasonal employment as a peanut vendor – goodness knows how he survived in winter. His radicalism, and ultimately mine, came from the injustices of those times. By the time I came along we had the Welfare State, and despite the stigma of living on benefits it did mean that we did not go hungry, or face eviction. It did mean we had clean clothes, a TV, a few books, and the occasional picnic. Despite its shortcomings, and I am aware that there are many, the Welfare State has made for a more civilised Britain.

Overpayments in housing and council tax benefit subsidy

At Audit Committee last week a number of reports were presented. Among their number was BDO: Grant Claims and Returns Certification Report for the Year ended 31 March 2013.

On page 5, under a section on Housing and council tax benefit subsidy is this:

Findings and impact on claim

The extrapolated errors all relate to over-claims of subsidy. If DWP decide to adjust for all of these extrapolated errors, then the total adjustment to the overpayments reported would be £236,921, resulting in a potential loss of subsidy of £716,043 because the Council would then breach the overpayments threshold within the scheme and therefore receive less subsidy. In total this represents a potential 0.6% reduction in subsidy.

This prompted me to ask some questions, and I summarise the responses here.

This loss in subsidy would be made up from reserves set aside for this purpose. These reserves could have been spent, as a one-off, on any other project of the council’s choosing. Since making no mistakes was considered impossible, the usual amount of error was quoted as around £200,000.

My interpretation then, is that the over-payments made in error are about half a million more than what is considered par for the course. That this will result in a draw down from reserves, reserves that could have been used in any special project, shows the real losers are Southend-on-Sea’s residents.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,793 other followers