The Coalition is not happy about the Bedroom Tax. And nor are several of its supporters. Because, they say, it isn’t a bedroom tax at all, because a tax is something that is paid on income, and all that they’re doing is reducing Housing Benefit payments to those who have spare rooms. So, instead, they assert that reference should be made to a Spare Room Subsidy.
This is, sadly, total crap: for starters, one does not merely pay tax on income, as anyone buying anything deemed to be luxury goods – including flavoured sparkling mineral water – will know. You also pay VAT on travel: if you avoid paying it on fuel for the car, you pay it on your train fares. But, the protests continue, it’s not money you ever see if it’s housing benefit.
And this much is true, but the Bedroom Tax meme has taken hold, and once that happens, any attempt to pretend otherwise generally fails. Changes to tax allowances that affect older people were instantly dubbed the “Granny Tax”. Rises in VAT on static caravans were the “Caravan Tax”. And VAT on hot snacks from Greggs instantly became the “Pasty Tax”.
What also reinforces names like the Bedroom Tax is when it is referring to something widely perceived as unfair. It’s all very well telling someone with a two bedroom home who only uses one of those rooms to downsize to a one bedroom place or take a housing benefit cut when there aren’t any one bedroom homes around. And that is where we are right now.
Further reinforcement of names like Bedroom Tax comes when the change only hits the less well off, and if we’re talking housing benefit reductions, that’s exactly who it will hit. And it’s not as if this hasn’t happened before: all those on the right who lionise the memory of Margaret Thatcher manage to miss one bad mistake she made, and which contributed to her downfall.
That mistake was called the Community Charge. What that? Well, like the idea of a “spare room subsidy”, the preferred name for this whizzo invention did not survive in the public consciousness. Few nowadays can remember the Community Charge. But they can remember the Poll Tax, which is what the Community Charge was almost immediately dubbed. And it stuck.
Not even Mrs T at her loudest and most insistent could hold back the tide: the riots in central London weren’t called Community Charge Riots, were they? This ill-advised reform of local Government finance, which helped The Iron Lady out the door of 10 Downing Street, and which was almost immediately ditched by her successor, got the nickname it deserved.
And so has the Bedroom Tax. Its effect on the Coalition may be equally adverse.