Ed Miliband has finally come off the fence and announced Labour will abolish the bedroom tax if it wins the next election, the day after I spoke on Question Time about it!
I have just posted the following comment to this Guardian article:
I can’t help thinking that the timing of Ed’s announcement (inevitable as it was) was influenced by Harriet Harman’s strong arguments against this vicious measure and my question from the floor, on Thursday’s Question Time from Rochdale.
I said: “I’d like to ask Harriet Harman whether she would call on Labour councillors not to evict people from their homes, especially if they are on Jobseekers Allowance because you get a situation where people on JSA get a letter saying they are allocated the minimum amount to live on yet they are expected to pay bedroom tax and council tax. I know in this area, Rochdale council is charging people 25% on a Band A property of their council tax…” At this point, David Dimbleby interrupted me to ask if Rochdale is a Labour-controlled council, and I replied “It’s a Labour-controlled council, yes.” at which point he called Harriet Harman in to respond.
The official Labour position of expecting people to wait to see what the manifesto at the next general election says, not to mention having Labour councillors evicting non-payers (which would cost far more than it saves), that Harman unfortunately put across, was proving increasingly untenable.
[EDIT 31/10/13: This is out-of-date, see comment for how you can view the debate on YouTube.] You can watch repeats of that episode of Question Time on BBC2 at 2:10am this morning (Saturday 21 September in Sign Zone) or at 6pm on BBC Parliament tomorrow (Sunday 22 September). You can also watch it on BBC iPlayer at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b03bdvsv/Question_Time_19_09_2013/. Debate on the bedroom tax starts 32 minutes in, I spoke 37 minutes 50 seconds in.
Hattie Harperson (as Private Eye calls her) hung around after the programme and I explained that my question wasn’t personal, but that it would put pressure on Labour at their conference next week. At the time, it was still unclear whether Ed Miliband would announce that Labour will abolish it (although a Sunday People article on 1 September suggested he would make such an announcement at that conference which confirmed a tweet I saw previous to that from “a source close to the two Eds” that Labour would announce such a thing in September).
[I wondered a bit why I was so diplomatic with Ms Harman as a member of a much more left-wing organisation (Left Unity), but politically it’d be much better if Labour spends more effort opposing the ConDems rather than copying them, and the main enemy at such a mainstream programme is the government, whose arguments got well and truly demolished on that episode of Question Time. This friendly brief chat I had with her, even handing her one of my cards (promoting this blog as well as some other sites of mine) which she’d seen me distribute to some members of the audience. However, this was more than justified by the response of Ed Miliband! Incidentally, Laurie Penny, a New Statesman columnist and on Question Time for the first time, was better generally than the other panellists though she admitted on Twitter before the programme that she was really nervous!]
I must mention someone (who doesn’t want to be named) who I met in Manchester where thousands of people were being taken through the magistrates’ court (with a very small percentage turning up) for non-payment of council tax. He showed me his JSA letter which states that it is “the minimum required to live on”. The Greater Manchester Anti-Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice Federation is encouraging those on benefits to appeal the decision made by their council to charge the council tax since councils have ‘discretion’ on whether or not to do so. We suggest writing to the council tax department and ask that they use these powers of discretion and waive the council tax bill on the grounds that you are currently living on means tested benefits, set at a level considered in law to be the minimum required to live on, and to now pay the council tax would mean that you would have to live on less, making you a ‘vulnerable adult’.
Finally, let me point you to an earlier blog entry I wrote (Non-payment advice) containing advice on non-payment of the bedroom tax and council tax (called by some including me “the new poll tax”) from a legal briefing held by the Greater Manchester campaign. Note that I am not legally qualified but I have tried to accurately report on advice from those who are in that blog entry and this.