Op-ed: Poorer pensioners in Tory Britain are set to take a financial hit and it could be a life changing one for some.
After earlier promises made by former elected Tory party leader and Prime Minister David Cameron that pensioner incomes would be protected by a "triple-lock" until at least 2020 unelected Tory Party leader and Prime Minister Theresa May looks set to extend the Bedroom Tax to include the poorest pensioners.
This tax has already been condemned by many and has resulted in trauma with people uprooted and forced to move away from family, friends and their roots.
The Independent reports Saturday "Thousands of poorer pensioners will be hit by a new “bedroom tax”, despite the Government’s promises to protect the elderly from the hugely controversial benefit cuts. They are poised to lose at least £300 a year because their homes will be deemed to be “underoccupied”, slashing their incomes or forcing them to move – away from family and friends, or to flats that are unsuitable for older people.In some cases, the financial pain will be greater – one housing association has identified pensioners in part of the North who are set to lose a staggering £1,700 a year."
Just read that quote again and let it sink in.
The new measure will come into force in April 2018 for new tenancies starting after April this year so beware if you are about to move house.
One old couple living in under-occupied properties and receiving money from the state will not be affected - the Queen and her husband who are set for a huge increased hand out.
A look back to 2015
In February 2015 ahead of the General Election we wrote "Political pensioner promises like the Bedroom Tax" and it seems we were right to be concerned.
We asked what about the infamous bedroom tax which in 2015 only affected people of working age?
"While that distinction may seem unfair to some do we really want older people in the UK to have their incomes slashed because of the bedroom tax possibly facing eviction or an increase in debt? If we do then the UK, which used to be regarded as a philanthropic nation, has sunk to the depths. Those who would be affected are people living in social housing or presumably elsewhere if they need to claim housing benefit."
Welcome to Theresa May's cruel, vindictive Tory Britain 2016.
So what about pensioners and why should they be excluded?
"Pensioners in the UK have usually paid into the system for years on the promise that in old age the state will help them if needed. If the government withdraws any help pensioners have nowhere to go. Younger people at least have the chance to earn a living or at least that is the basic theory; this week [February 2015] however UK PM David Cameron, Tory, once again promised to protect all pensioner benefits for the next five years if the Conservatives win an election victory. That could mean free bus passes, winter heating allowances and free prescriptions but in the case of the Tories for all elderly people."
So was it an empty election promise after all?
That promise means wealthy people still receive the meagre winter fuel allowance and some give it away or even donate it to the Tory Party. A sensible way forward would be a generous means-test which could save the treasury millions.
But instead it is likely to be scrapped although for now the government looks set to simply hit poor-income pensioners with the bedroom tax.
That will be its test, expect the rest to follow.
Free bus passes could also be axed but they are cost effective. They enable many older people to get out each day, meet up with freinds and family, retain independence and keep healthy. They enable my neighbours, he 93, she 85, to do just that.
But if Theresa May and her government extend the bedroom tax to include the elderly poor and vulnerable it means more broken Tory promises.
She may not have been PM when Cameron promised protection for pensioners until 2020 but she was part of the government team that crafted the Tory manifesto.
Notice Cameron, May and the Tory party in general disregard election promises when it suits. Of course the EU referendum promise had to be met to appease the fractured Tory Party and keep UKIP at bay.
The Tories usually look after the so-called grey vote but only the wealthy grey vote.
As a home-owner the bedroom tax does not affect me. I have no doubt if the Tories can think of a way to hit my pensioner income though they will. I am not a wealthy pensioner nor a Tory voter so they will not care. In the end it is all about protecting and increasing the income divide.
Triple locking pensioner benefits did anger some younger people but why?
Pensioners have paid for their state pension and it is far from generous. It is not a hand out but earned and paid for over many years. Check out the government website and take a look but remember there is now a two-tier pension system which means many of those already retired are on a less generous payment.
And we are all old some day unless we go to an early grave.
A look back to our earlier reports re pensions in divisive fat-cat Tory Britain:
A few facts from Age UK
Ultimately she received an eviction notice on her property but days later her body was found hanged in the garden of her home; she too had committed suicide.
McCormack had worked on suicide prevention locally following the death of her son and living in an area with a high rate of young suicides.
Close by was a letter which in part was addressed to UK PM David Cameron.
A coroner this week noted that the letter was dated before the eviction notice was received; perhaps she planned to send the letter to the PM but the eviction notice was the final straw for Mrs McCormack; we will never know.
The coroner decided that while she may have intended to kill herself it is just as likely that she wanted to send a powerful message to the authorities but something went wrong.
The letter laid bare the financial burden the bedroom tax often places on the most vulnerable and poorest people living in the UK.
The work of a school cook tends to be part-time and the 14 per cent reduction in housing benefit she experienced following her son's suicide may have hit her income hard.
Tory ministers who try to justify the bedroom tax tend to live in a financial bubble:
Then there are members of the British Royal family who have personal wealth but are also subsidised by the ordinary population; they too have under occupied properties, and some.
How did the people of the UK ever allow such an in balance and an unfair tax to be sold to them?
More importantly how come these same politicians were voted back in government in May 2015?
Find Part one here - No room at the Inn for autistic man at Christmas - spends five-weeks in jail.
“When it comes to cuts, we want the pain to be out of the way long before the next general election. “Without the restraint of the Lib Dems, it means we can go further and faster when it comes to controlling the welfare bill.”
Increasing the benefits cap, freezing other benefits and broadening the bedroom tax will bring in revenue to the Treasury but sadly at the expense of the most vulnerable in the UK.
As Labour begins the search for a new leader in-fighting begins and interference by former PM Tony Blair and cronies such as Peter Mandelson is not constructive.
Blair's advice may be for Labour to aim for a central playing field in politics but the people do not need another middle-of-the-road right leaning party.
They will no doubt have to make changes in order to become an effective opposition and ultimately win a future election but those attached to 'New Labour' need to butt out. Times change and in 1997 years of a Tory majority finally pushed voters over the edge and into Labour's hands; that could be the case in 2020.
But a return to New Labour will not work a second time around.
Daily Mirror 'Pure evil' Bedroom Tax will hit one million more people as Tories launch 100-day welfare blitz
Mirror 100 days of Tory cuts carnage as George Osborne plans to fast-track £12BILLION in savings
The Tory led coalition's welfare reform plans hit poorly paid workers in the UK, as much as the jobless.
Yes, as Deputy PM Clegg says, harping on, the personal tax allowance improvement has taken many people out of paying income tax, but any money gained has been quickly grabbed back by other means. VAT remains excessively high, for example.
Overall many people have taken a financial hit with indirect taxation
The simplistic approach though often serves a right-wing government well and, make no mistake, the UK ConDem coalition is a right-wing government. Cameron may be less extreme than other potential Tory leaders but he still favours the City of Westminster and its banking sector, rather than the people of the UK.
Cameron's Liberal Democrat partners are allegedly middle-of-the-road, as far as politics goes, but they no longer lean to the left. Add to this the fact that they hold a minority position in government and their political strength is questionable.
According to the coalition the UK is facing a housing shortage, and the bedroom tax is somehow going to help fight this
Well Tories of course know that there is a shortage first-hand as it was instigated by Tory PM Maggie Thatcher, when she allowed the wide-scale sell-off of council properties to occupiers. The 1980 Housing Act gave 5,000,000 council house tenants the right-to-buy. People were able to buy their council home at a reduced rate, which initially was very appealing to many tenants.
But at the same time Maggie's administration put a halt on councils building new properties. This by the way is not merely a leftist rant with no substance as this writer worked administrating housing benefits during this time. She experienced the rates, the poll tax, the community charge and the council tax first hand and soon realised that only the first one helped the vulnerable in the UK.
Housing stocks were quickly depleted. In time many people who purchased their council properties moved on, selling their home. On the surface this had been Maggie's dream, a nation of homeowners but the reality was rather different. A great deal depended on who bought the property.
Suffice to say there are now a range of dodgy landlords owning former council properties, all making money out of the flawed system. During an episode of Question Time, on the BBC, in March 2013 ahead of the bedroom tax, there was a slightly veiled accusation that some Tory ministers are the personal landlords of some former council houses. The fact this was unchallenged by panel member Tory MP Ken Clarke said it all.
As Maggie's government deregulated housing to a greater degree, fair rents became a thing of the past. Further along the line tenancy rights dwindled and many tenants now have short-term leases, six months being good in some cases.
Welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax are acting as a form of ethnic cleansing in British cities, London in particular
Consider the following
You live in a large property in London. Your children have left home and your husband dies. You are still relatively young and have little money in savings. Ill health prevented your late husband working for the last two years of his life meaning what money you had saved has gone. You need to claim housing benefit to survive. You are working but your work is poorly paid.
From April 2013 your housing benefit reduced according to the number of spare bedrooms in your home. Cameron's advice is take in lodgers or move; both, he claims, will help alleviate the housing crisis.
You and your husband have worked for twenty years since leaving school but in poorly paid jobs. Never forget we need people to do these jobs. So should you, in your hour of need, be faced with such choices as give up your home, take in lodgers or receive a reduced level of housing benefit?
If your property is council owned you can contact the authorities in order to move to a smaller home but good luck with that one.
What a good way for the government to move "unwanteds" from the city of London allowing fat friends to make a killing
Many people are being told they will have to relocate to another part of the country but obviously that is not always practical. In this writer's part of the UK, Yorkshire, one council went on record as the bedroom tax was launched to say that they had no properties available.
In April 2013 many people, thousands, deemed to live in under occupied properties faced a reduction in housing benefit or a need to move, but councils had nowhere to rehouse them.
The only conclusion is that the bedroom tax is another ill-thought Tory government policy which hits the vulnerable in society in many ways and it is not workable
The problem however is that should the next government see sense and re-think the bedroom tax where will the shortfall in revenue come from? If it is a Labour government it will not come from those already struggling to make ends meet.
Having wasted time, effort and money creating the bedroom tax Messrs, Cameron, Osborne and Clegg worked budgets out on potential revenue raised. If the bedroom tax had been scrapped we could all guess the trio's next target?
But we suggest that Ministers should be the alternative target
In the last couple of years the UK has had more than one expenses scandal involving MPs. It became clear that most were using legal loopholes to claim unnecessary expenses. Then of course there were more than a few who were abusing the system.
Some allegations resulted in court cases and jail terms. Allegedly MPs expense regulations were tightened to prevent abuse. Whether that is true or not, slashing Ministers expenses and perks to the bone would be a good place to start.
The well-stocked publicly funded restaurant and bar in the Houses of Parliament should be privatised, as after all the Tories love privatisation. The contract should, however, go to a co-operative rather than big business. Perhaps MPs could pay a subsidised price for nourishment in line with workers who use staff canteens around the UK?
MPs second home allowance
If you are an MP in the North of England it is acceptable that you may need other accommodation in London for those times you attend Parliament. The expense scandal uncovered cases of Ministers, though, buying homes in London, selling them to their parents for a reduced rate and then claiming extortionate allowances for rents and the like.
In some cases the second homes are empty more often than not.
If the government is so concerned about under occupancy here is a good place to start. Scrap the second home allowance and replace it with a basic hotel expense allowance. This would prevent claims for furniture, duck-houses, videos, painting and decorating and more.
One prime example of government hypocrisy, Tory Lord Freud
In January 2013, again ahead of the bedroom tax, the Daily Mirror wrote a damning report of Tory Lord Freud. In the report they said, The Tory lord plunging 95,000 people into poverty with his “bedroom tax” stays in an eight-bedroom country mansion ... when he’s not living in his £1.9million London home, the Sunday People has revealed.
Lord Freud was accused of being an out of touch hypocrite after provoking a storm of criticism by defending the bedroom tax which has hit some of Britain’s poorest families.
"Lord Freud owns a huge, historic country pile – one of the oldest in England – in Kent, which he uses for weekends and holidays. During the week, the father of three, 62, whose children have grown up and moved out, lives with his wife Priscilla in a four-bedroom townhouse in Highgate – that’s three MORE spare bedrooms – while working as David Cameron’s Welfare Minister on the front benches of the Tory party."
In November 2012 MPs demanded a 50% rise in second home allowances, to prevent them using public transport. MPs get a monthly allowance, from taxpayers, of up to £1,450 for a second home in London but it costs £750 a month more to rent a typical one-bedroom flat within walking distance of Westminster. They could rent cheaper flats a little further away but would then be faced with commuting on public transport with regular Londoners. Heaven forbid that; instead they opted to complain to their watchdog.
In November the Mirror reported that previously secret records "Showed that six former MPs are letting homes to politicians who are still in the Commons. And Madeleine Moon was named as the third serving MP to have rented property to a colleague in a list of landlords released by watchdogs. Two coalition peers were also revealed to be letting out properties to MPs while claiming thousands of pounds from the House of Lords’ attendance allowance. There were claims of a cover-up because at least one other current MP who lets to a fellow politician was among 50 landlords whose names were censored. The politicians involved are not breaking Parliamentary rules." Ordinary British citizens may disagree with that last statement.
Scrap the bedroom tax and the second home allowance for MPs
The bedroom tax remains in the news in the UK following its implementation. It took some people time to cotton on to the "nastiness" of this tax. Remember people's circumstances can change at the drop of a hat and you could be the next Tory victim.
Britain's "nasty party", the Tories, are running true to form as they campaign for re-election.
If they are successful the message from the people should be scrap MPs, taxpayer funded, second home allowances, ministers perks, and the legal loopholes some ministers manipulate so that the bedroom tax can be overturned.
But if you vote Labour Ed Miliband will at least scrap the bedroom tax.
Related: MPs criticised for taking extra public money so children can stay over - Bedroom tax MPs claim child housing subsidy
“The size criteria in the social rented sector will restrict housing benefit to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household, with the following exceptions:
All claimants who are deemed to have at least one spare bedroom will be affected. This includes:
How many people will see their benefit cut?
There are various reasons the government cite for the creation of this tax such as under-occupied social housing, which they claim to pay through the nose for, a lack of social housing in some areas and a necessary cut in the welfare reform budget. All of these appear admirable at first glance but bear in mind a couple of things.
You may be part of a hard working family-unit, that does not earn a fortune but is able to comfortably afford the family home, which is classed as 'social housing'. One member of the household becomes unemployed and you are now faced with a dilemma. You could either be faced with moving home or experiencing a reduced level of housing benefit, due to the 'bedroom tax'.
Of course social housing is in short supply which takes us back to Mrs Thatcher. Her Tory government halted social housing building projects in the public sector. They introduced the right to buy any council property you occupied. These two factors diminished housing stocks rapidly.
So you have lost your job and now face looking for the smallest property available or living on a pittance. You may be in your sixties but you could still be classed as working age. With a shortage of social housing stock good luck with your search!!
The 'bedroom tax' shows what the “condems” will do to balance the books whilst protecting the elite.
Note: Members of Parliament in UK often have more than one home. Many politicians claim expenses to run-second homes that are regularly unoccupied and nearly always under-occupied. MP's expenses are paid by UK taxpayers."
However vulnerable, poor and disabled people who are younger are penalised for having one spare bedroom so I get their point.
But the truth is that the bedroom tax or as the Tories like to call it spare bedroom subsidy could only have been created by a hard-hearted right-wing government.
In December as British parliament closed up shop for the Christmas recess they gave the poor of the UK a bah humbug Christmas present. MP's voted to retain the Bedroom Tax by a small majority ensuring more poverty for some of the poorest people in the UK. The vote was called by Ed Miliband, Labour leader, but defeated as coalition partners the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats closed ranks.
As we wrote at TEK Journalism UK in December:
Among those voting to keep the bedroom tax was the right-honourable Maria Miller.
Remember her? In December 2012 Miller denied allegations of wrong-doing and kept the support of Cameron but in the end resigned following "allegations that she claimed more than £90,000 in expenses for a second home which was actually the home of her parents. This so-called second home is a large detached property. Her expense claims were for the mortgage and other costs".
Nadhim Zahawi also supported the bedroom tax and thinks it should stay but he hit headlines in 2013 for the wrong reasons. His expense claims included "expenses for electricity to supply his stables and a mobile home in the stable yard"!
"Mr Zahawi claimed some £6,000 in the year up to March. Mr Zahawi said the watchdog, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, had included claims for the previous year and the figure was nearer £4,000. In a statement issued on Saturday, he said: "I have been looking into this matter further and can confirm that all claims for heating fuel relate purely to my second home. “However, I have made a mistake with my electricity claims".
"On investigation I have discovered that electricity for a mobile home located in the stable yard, and electricity for the stables themselves, was linked to my house. "Whilst a meter was installed in the stable yard, I have only been receiving one bill; it was wrong to assume I was receiving two and to have not checked this sooner. "I am mortified by this mistake and apologise unreservedly for it. I will obviously be paying back any money that was wrongly claimed immediately."
Remember Andrew Mitchell the man at the heart of Plebgate? He also voted to keep the bedroom tax.
In December police launched an investigation into House of Lords expenses after it was revealed "Tory peer Lord Hanningfield claimed a £300 a day allowance for days he merely showed up, briefly". And a week before our December report we learned members of the Lords were up in arms at the thought that their champagne budget would be cut -- Champagne Lords and Ladies give public the finger we wrote.
We could go on, and on but you get the point?
The conclusion has to be the Bedroom Tax is unfair from start to finish. Rather than consider applying it to pensioners scrap it once and for all, get some cheap social housing in place in London and house MPs there saving the country a huge amount of money.
No second home allowance, champagne budgets, cash-for-questions just a decent wage for a decent day's work.
"What if pensioners paid the bedroom tax? What if the Bedroom Tax is scrapped and politicians stop screwing the system might be a fairer question.
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