Pat Keenor: The Bedroom Tax
THE Government is hell bent on cracking down on scroungers and benefits cheats.
I don't mind that. I get hot under the collar reading about people who claim a bad back and are then photographed lifting three bags of cement and a small child; and those able-bodied layabouts who choose not to work but slob about all day smoking fags, drinking Special Brew and watching Jeremy Kyle on satellite TV. Then there are the moonlighters who claim benefits while trousering thousands of pounds in cash.
It's enough to make us law-abiding, tax-paying, hard-working people spit.
Now the government has set its sights on that most heinous section of the community – people living in social housing who have a spare bedroom...
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What? Run that past me again.
Yes, if you are a housing association or council tenant claiming housing benefit you will have those benefits cut if you have "spare bedrooms" – a 14 per cent cut for one spare room and 25 per cent for two.
This is equivalent to between £40 and £80 a week. And if you can't afford to pay the extra money, you're out on the street – or at least back on the housing list.
It seems an extraordinarily cruel move, especially in North Devon. With high housing costs and high unemployment, social housing is often the only type of property people can reasonably expect to obtain.
I can see the point if you are a single person rattling around in a four or five-bedroomed house but a couple living in a two-bedroomed house who have the grandkids to stay during school holidays so their parents can go out to work will now have to pay up or move out.
Foster parents and young soldiers living at home were also included until the government bowed to pressure and exempted them.
There is still, however, some glaring inhumanity in this new law.
Take the case of 11-year-old severely autistic Logan.
He lives in a three-bedroom house with his mother. Their tiny third bedroom is used so a carer can come and stay three times a week, bringing much needed respite to mum Fiona and enabling her to go out to work.
It's that tiny third bedroom that's the killer. It's classed as a spare room and therefore must be paid for.
Fiona has been ordered to pay £60 extra a month for the home which has been specially-adapted so her son can receive round-the-clock care.
And if she cannot find the money, Logan may have to be parted from her and put into full-time residential care, which will cost the taxpayer up to £4,000 a week – considerably more than the £60 requested, obviously.
Disabled adults who need a room for an overnight carer would be exempt. But as Logan is a child, there is no exemption as the parent is considered the carer.
The alternative is to downsize and leave her specially-adapted home. Using savings and grants, Fiona has spent around £15,000 on the house. Doors have been adapted, and Logan's bedroom is fully padded so he can't hurt himself. There are CCTV cameras on the landings and in Logan's room.
But she may have to pay back grants if she moves because she has been living there for fewer than ten years.
Another mother of three who is paid a carer's allowance for looking after her severely mentally ill brother said he would have to go into a home as his room would now be counted as "spare" because a brother doesn't count as family.
But I have a cunning plan which will help raise money to pay off the country's deficit we hear so much about – that tax-subsidised House of Commons bar doesn't pay for itself, you know.
There are some 650 MPs and, I'm guessing, most of them have two homes (including the one in London that we taxpayers cough up for), and many have three or four – what with that little villa in the South of France and the flat for the mistress in Maida Vale.
Let's be charitable and call it an average of two and half homes each – that's 1,625 homes. Say they have around five bedrooms each, four of them "spare" that's 6,500 spare bedrooms, all owned by people who work in the small area of Westminster.
If no one "needs" a spare bedroom, then they certainly don't need three houses.
You MPs can move to a two-bedroomed terrace house and leave the mansion to the country or pay the Bedroom Tax on all those spare rooms.
How about it, my honourable friends. For Queen and country?