Why Labour will consign the Bedroom Tax to the dustbin of history

For the vast majority of those affected, there is nowhere smaller to move to, leaving vulnerable people hit with extra costs through no fault of their own.

We Britons are proud of our national characteristics. Others might see them as foibles but we see them as qualities – doughtiness, support of the underdog, keeping a cool head in sticky situations. But our greatest quality is a sense of fair play. That’s the reason why the British people get so angry about the Bedroom Tax.

The Bedroom Tax is cruel and unfair. For those in social housing whom the government thinks have an extra room, it means paying up or moving house. But for the vast majority of those affected, there is nowhere smaller to move to, leaving vulnerable people hit with extra costs through no fault of their own. In my city of Edinburgh, vacant one bedroom flats are attracting over 200 applications each week.  The average family will lose £720 a year.

Families are facing a cost of living crisis. They’ve seen prices raise faster than wages for the last three years. They are on average £1,500 worse off under this government than under the last Labour government. This is something David Cameron and his out of touch ministers just can’t get their heads around. Even worse the Bedroom Tax hits over 400,000 disabled people hard. It's not just Labour politicians or campaigners who don’t like it, housing experts across the board condemn it. The Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation has described the policy as "an unfair, ill-planned disaster that is hurting our poorest families."

So it hurts people, but surely you’d think, at least it will bring in some extra revenue to the Treasury and help bring down this government’s borrowing? Well, you’d be wrong. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the Bedroom Tax could cost more money than it saves. The National Housing Federation have said the savings claimed by the government are "highly questionable", partly because those forced to move to the private rented sector will end up costing more in Housing Benefit. Housing Associations say that tens of millions are likely to be lost through the build up of arrears. And the National Audit Office have said that the government’s costing does not take account of the full scale of potential impacts and does not include the additional costs faced by local authorities.

Ed Miliband is crystal clear. The next Labour government will repeal the unfair and cruel Bedroom Tax. So how can this be funded? We need to do this by following our principles – a One Nation approach. David Cameron has cut tax for those who earn over £150,000 a year while raising it for everyone else. A classic example of him standing up for the wrong people.

We’ve been clear that we can’t borrow more to pay for social security changes. And we’ll take tough choices where necessary, including cutting Winter Fuel Payments for the wealthiest pensioners, and not reversing the cuts to child benefit for those on the highest incomes. But we’ll fund this change by getting rid of George Osborne’s tax loopholes, including the extraordinary tax cut for hedge funds announced in the 2013 Budget. We will also reverse his shares for rights schemem, which has been rejected by businesses and has, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, opened up a tax loophole of up to £1bn. And we’ll tackle tax scams in the construction industry. These changes will fully fund the cost of repealing the Bedroom Tax.

This is about taking a One Nation approach to deliver and run an economy that works in the interests of all the people, not just a narrow minority.
The Bedroom Tax is cruel, unjust, uneconomical and offends our sense of natural justice. The next Labour government will consign it to the dustbin of history.

Sheila Gilmore is Labour MP for Edinburgh East

Demonstrators hold placards as they gather to protest against the bedroom tax outside the High Court. Photograph: Getty Images.

Sheila Gilmore is Labour MP for Edinburgh East

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.