Bedrooms and brickbats
The bedroom tax will probably survive
ON A sunny spring morning, a small group of protesters wait at the Department of Work and Pensions with a giant card for Iain Duncan Smith. It is his birthday. But the card also marks a year since the introduction of the “bedroom tax”, as opposition politicians call the welfare secretary's scheme to encourage people in subsidised social housing to move to smaller properties. “One year on and still causing misery”, it reads.
Since 2010, the coalition has introduced plenty of changes to the welfare system. But few are as unpopular as the bedroom tax (officially, the “removal of the spare-room subsidy”). According to Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, it symbolises an “out-of-touch, uncaring Tory government that stands up for the privileged few”. In February the nationalists in Scotland triumphantly scrapped it. The Liberal Democrats are split by it. Yet despite the tide of anger, it will probably survive.
Before April 2013 tenants with spare rooms got enough housing benefit to cover their full rent. Since then, they have had to pay for them themselves. On average, that means finding another 14 per week, typically out of other welfare benefits—which are hardly generous to begin with.The government says this is fair because people “underoccupying” their homes are preventing larger families from using the space more fully. The charge encourages tenants with spare bedrooms to downsize—or to rent them out. It is also meant to cut around 360m per year from the benefits bill.
Whether it can do so depends largely on people being able to move. So far just 6% of those affected have done, according to a BBC survey. A high proportion live in post-industrial northern towns, where councils own plenty of 1950s and 1960s family homes but comparatively few smaller flats. In Liverpool, for example, 24% of social tenants are affected by the policy. In Westminster, by contrast, where there is enormous demand for housing, the figure is just 5%.
Yet the numbers of people affected is falling. When the policy came into effect last April, 560,000 households were hit. By November, that had fallen to around 500,000. Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), a charity, explains the shortfall. Some people had found work; some had reached retirement age, whereupon the scheme no longer applies. And more may now be moving. Mutual exchanges—where tenants swap council homes with each other—appear to have taken off. Meanwhile, some housing associations and councils are buying smaller homes and selling large ones.
Scrapping the tax outright could undo some of these improvements. Steve Wilcox, the author of the JRF's report, suggests tweaks that would make it work better. Exempting tenants with severe disabilities, who may need a room for a carer or equipment, would help. They currently have to apply for emergency funds from local authorities: a messy, bureaucratic process. So too would boosting that pot of money.
Such pragmatism will not appeal to the Labour Party. For Mr Miliband, the bedroom tax is a helpful springboard for a wider war on welfare reform. Yet if elected in 2015, he too will want to cut the deficit. Tweaks might then be welcome.
但这些实用主义的策略对工党毫无吸引力。对文立彬来说，睡房税是就福利改革问题进行更大规模的斗争的一块有利跳板。但如果2015年能竞选成功，他也会削减赤字。那时改进措施可能就会有支持了。 翻译：王化起 校对：邵灵玲
1.move to 搬到；移动到
例句:They are selling their house to move to a smaller one.
2.plenty of 许多；大量的
例句:There were plenty of servants to wait on her.
3.stand up for 支持；维护；拥护
例句:She'd learnt to be herself and to stand up for her convictions.
4.begin with 以…开始， 从…开始
例句:It was great to begin with but now it's difficult.