Nick Clegg should follow Labour and support a complete reversal of the bedroom tax. Photo: Getty
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Why the Lib Dems should back Labour and completely oppose the bedroom tax

The Lib Dem's "u-turn" on the bedroom tax isn't enough; they should come out completely against the policy.

Following the announcement by the Lib Dems that has been widely interpreted as them wanting to "axe" the Bedroom Tax the party is likely to soon be left in a dilemma.

What they are actually calling for is in line with the policy that the party's activists voted for at their conference which is to reform the hated policy. The changes proposed would see only those who were offered a smaller house who then refused it penalised and disabled people would not be expected to move if they needed the extra room.

So far so sensible. The problem is that after the coverage and the way the Lib Dem leadership has allowed this hare to run they will be in real trouble if as expected Labour manage to table a vote to scrap the Bedroom Tax altogether.

This would yet again leave the yellows in an excruciating position. In order to maintain governmental coherence and collective responsibility under these sort of circumstances you would expect a party of government to back the agreed and already voted on, established policy. But we've just had days of headlines about how Clegg wants to "axe" it which they are reportedly happy with (as they consider their policy tantamount to scrapping it). It will of course look ridiculous to most people if just days after this "u-turn" the party appears to then "u-turn" again and vote for the policy they just told us they were against. After they were for it before.

Let's just pause for a minute here. Nick Clegg can be accused of many things and regularly is but I think lots of people recognise he has been on a sticky wicket since May 2010. However one criticism I think it fair to level at him is that he seems incapable of looking more than a couple of moves ahead in the political chess game. We have seen this time and again. If he had properly considered what was going to happen if the Lib Dems ended up in government in 2009 he would never have urged his PPCs to sign the (now disastrous) tuition fees pledge. If he had thought long enough about how to get meaningful electoral reform through in this session he may well have decided getting some form of PR for local council elections may have been doable and even palatable to some Tories living in areas dominated by Labour councillors instead of the huge defeat AV was.

And we see the same pattern played out again here. Shouting loudly about how much the party now dislikes the bedroom tax is all well and good but where's the beef? It did not take a strategic genius to work out that Labour would take the opportunity to try and embarrass the Lib Dems (yet again) by calling for a vote to scrap it (yet again).

The Lib Dems have been in an impossible position for years. They are unable to get all the policies they want to in government and as a result they have been "punished" by the electorate. They are to an extent authors of many of their own misfortunes but the electoral system is against them, collective responsibility is against them and almost all the press is against them.

Enough is enough.

The time has come for the party to do something completely left field. If Labour do bring forward a motion to scrap the bedroom tax, Clegg should instruct his party to vote for it. It may not be exactly what party policy is (they want to improve it but keep the essential principle) but frankly the Tories will never allow what the Lib Dems want while they're in government anyway. So what Labour would be proposing is close enough.

Of course there will be consequences from this. It could conceivably bring down the government. At the very least it could make things difficult for both coalition partners.

The issue has become so totemic to so many people that a totemic response is required. If it brings the coalition to a premature end then so be it (although once his bluff is called I expect Cameron will ultimately not force this). At least Clegg will have done this on an issue worth fighting for. The alternative is to yet again be cast as unprincipled, untrustworthy and essentially a liar.

Oh and to those who will claim I am politically naive to even suggest this or that it would be too damaging to the running of government I will just remind them that a few weeks back when the Tories wanted to get a policy through on knife crime that their coalition Lib Dem partners did not want what did they do? They teamed up with Labour to push it through anyway.

Clegg should bear that fact in mind when deciding whether to stick to "the rules" that only ever seem to shaft his party.
 

​Mark Thompson (@MarkReckons) is a political blogger and commentator who edits the award-winning Mark Thompson's Blog.

He is also co-host of the House of Commons podcast.

Photo: Getty
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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.