Smash the Bedroom Tax - Cut the Bloated Bankers

From 1 April, the ConDem coalition assault on the working class reaches a new pitch. This month sees the introduction of the bedroom tax and massive cuts in council tax benefit. Benefits will be uprated by a miserable 1%, a cut of 2-3% in real terms. The Welfare Reform Act comes into effect, cutting disability benefits by 20% and imposing a ceiling on the benefits any family can receive. The Health and Social Care Act comes into effect, catapulting the NHS into chaos. On top of this a third round of council cuts will slash services for the poorest and put tens of thousands out of a job. Robert Clough reports.

We know the Tories will attack the working class, but those who are calling for support for Labour Party at the next general election should note that none of this could have been achieved without Labour’s complicity. Labour will retain the bedroom tax. Labour supports the attack on benefits with its reference to ‘shirkers’. Labour wants to impose forced labour on those who have been unemployed for more than two years. Labour let through retrospective legislation to prevent those illegally forced on to workfare schemes from suing the Department of Work and Pensions for recovery of lost benefits. Labour’s relentless privatisation programme paved the way for the destruction of the NHS at the hands of the coalition. Not a single Labour-run council has refused to implement the cuts demanded by the government. Labour is a party of class enemies.

Nor have the trade unions mounted any serious resistance. Their days of action came and went without any effect. Their opposition to public sector pension cuts amounted to no more than gestures. They have done nothing to prevent the privatisation and destruction of the NHS. They have failed to resist the loss of nearly 400,000 public sector jobs or the torrent of cuts in local council services. Their priority has been to negotiate voluntary redundancy deals, sacrificing the interests of the many for those of a few. In March 2011, the then TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber told us that the phoney war was over. This was just a lie: the trade union leadership never had any intention of fighting back since it would have had to challenge the anti-trade union laws. The trade unions are not fighting organisations of the working class.

However, despite every effort of the Labour Party and the trade unions, resistance to the ruling class onslaught on the working class has started, a resistance rooted in many working class communities and which has sprung up in opposition to the bedroom tax. Up and down the country, working class people have decided that enough is enough, that they are no longer going to accept the ceaseless attacks on their living standards. Instead they have started to hold meetings and set up groups in housing estates to enable people to fight back. These initial steps must become the seeds of a real movement, one which can embrace the mass of the working class.

The key to the future is political organisation. The Labour Party and the trade unions will do their best to squash these new developments. That is why Labour organised rallies against the bedroom tax in cities up and down the country on 16 March. These rallies were designed to exclude anyone who was actively campaigning against the bedroom tax. Only hand-picked individuals and Labour councillors and MPs could speak. These politicians lied that Labour opposes the bedroom tax when Shadow Cabinet member Helen Goodman says that ‘the bedroom tax should only apply if people have been offered a smaller place to live and turned it down because, obviously, it is better to use the housing stock more efficiently.’ In other words, families in social housing will never have a permanent home: they will only ever have time-limited accommodation whose size is dictated by their landlords.

The new movement will only develop if it engages in a relentless struggle against the ruling class Labour Party. The Labour left has announced a further round of demonstrations against the bedroom tax on 30 March. The protests at its rallies on 16 March have forced it to open up platforms to others. Its plan is to contain opposition: a protest against the bedroom tax costs it nothing and will be used to divert attention from the role Labour councils are playing in forcing through their savage cuts. There can be no concessions about this: no Labour councillor or MP should be able to stand unchallenged on an anti-bedroom tax platform.

Already the opportunist left organisations who support the Labour Party are trying to limit and undermine these new developments. Incapable of independent action, they tell us that nothing can be achieved without an alliance with the trade union movement, or without engaging with the Labour left. Since trade unions are incapable of fighting for their own members, let alone anyone else, the only purpose of seeking an alliance with them today is to stop things dead while the Labour left is completely without influence.

The job now is to build the local anti-bedroom tax organisations as the nucleus of a real struggle against the ruling class onslaught, and fight any attempt to fetter them to the forces of the past. Key to this will be a political struggle against those who would divert it into harmless channels: no deals behind closed doors, no surreptitious watering down of demands to accommodate the narrow self-interests of Labour politicians and trade union leaders. The aims must be clear: Smash the bedroom tax – Can’t pay, won’t pay!

Bedroom tax

The motivation for the bedroom tax is entirely ideological: it is aimed at breaking up working class communities and completing the destruction of the social housing sector.

Under new size criteria, claimants with what is assessed as one spare bedroom will have their housing benefit cut by 14%; those with two or more spare bedrooms will face a 25% cut. The cuts, averaging £14pw, will affect an initial estimate of 660,000 working-age social housing tenants, 31% of those claiming housing benefit. More will be hit as they are thrown on the dole. These rules are just calculations devised by the ruling class to impose misery on as many working class people as possible. They do not take into account the real situation of any family, how it uses the rooms in its home or how it organises its life. From now on, claimants will receive housing benefit on the basis that they can have one bedroom for each adult or couple living as part of the household. Their children will be expected to share a bedroom, however small, up to the age of ten, and up to 16 if they are the same sex. Disabled people may retain an extra bedroom for a paid carer, but not for an informal carer such as a family member.

There have been widely-publicised last-minute exemptions for families with members serving in the armed forces overseas and for carers who would not have been allowed bedrooms for foster children: these will affect fewer than 10,000 families. A further 50,000 families may be exempt if one or more child is deemed to be too disabled to share a room. That will still leave 600,000 families having to find £14 a week on average if they are deemed to under-occupy by one bedroom, and £25 if they under-occupy by two.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 232 April/May 2013