We are seeing the perverse irony that the welfare bill is going up and up, with more people going into dependency, because the environment for job creation is not there. Meanwhile, the Government’s one-string solution is simply to give people less and less, when the focus should be on how to create new jobs, so that we can help people to get and sustain a job.
Another example—other than the targeting of under-25s who tend to have children and the escalation of child poverty into intergenerational poverty—is the empty bedroom tax. This is another horrendous idea whereby poor people—they are poor by definition as they are on housing benefit—who have an empty bedroom will lose about £7.50 a week, or £15 if they have two empty bedrooms. For example, a couple with two children, one of whom wants to go to university or get a job, will clearly have an incentive to say, “Don’t go to university,” or “Don’t leave home to get a job”—“Don’t ‘get on your bike’”, as Lord Tebbit would have it—“because, if you do, we shall end up being taxed £7.50 a week.”
A man who came to my surgery a couple of weeks ago told me that he was receiving disability living allowance, that he had a second bedroom—he used it for painting, as it happens—and that he did not have a job. Indeed, he was not a person who could have got a job. After he had paid his utility bills and all the rest, his disposable income was £20 a week. He will now lose £7.50 as a result of the bedroom tax, and next April the Government will cut the council tax rebate by 20%, which amounts to about £5 a week. His disposable income will then be down to £8 a week, which will have to cover his food, clothing and leisure.
This despicable and, in my view, socially criminal activity generates very little money from those who can least afford it, and one of the by-products will be mass homelessness. I have been a leader of a local authority, and I know that local authorities usually build family-size housing. Someone living in a two-bedroom flat or a three-bedroom house that ceases to be full when the children leave home will lose housing benefit and will then be evicted if he or she goes into arrears. Where do such people go when a local authority has not built enough one-bedroom accommodation because it is supposed to cater for families?
What if a child wants to come back from university, or to visit the family? What if there is a split in the family and the child needs to move from one place to another? The bedroom tax will cause massive disruption to communities in areas like mine throughout the country and disfigure the opportunities for us to create new jobs and get back on a sound track towards economic recovery.