Spare houses for the rich, no spare bedrooms for the poor

scan0008There were two items of news this week which seemed to fit uncannily together.

One of them was about the bedroom tax, one of the new raft of welfare reforms which are being brought in by this government to cut people’s benefits. There was a story about it in last week’s Whitstable Gazette: about Ian Salt, who will lose benefits because he keeps a kidney dialysis machine in his spare room.

How selfish of him. Doesn’t he know that in this new world of austerity it is a crime to be sick? After all, we need that money to pay for banker’s bonuses, don’t we?

But something occurred to me as I was reading the story. Spare rooms for kidney dialysis machines is one thing, but the very notion of the bedroom tax implies that people on benefits aren’t expected to have any kind of a life at all.

What about a spare bedroom for guests to stay in? What about spare rooms for the kids? Or aren’t the poor allowed friends any more? Aren’t the kids of poor parents allowed to play?

The whole philosophy is based upon the idea that the poor should only have a minimal existence. It is a return to the notion of the deserving and undeserving poor which guided the institution of the workhouse in the nineteenth century.

The second piece of news was about the right to buy scheme of the early 80s. This was the scheme, promoted by Margaret Thatcher, to sell off the nation’s housing stock to tenants.

It turns out that almost half of our old council houses are now owned by private landlords. So it’s all right for the rich to have several spare houses, but it’s not all right for the poor to have one spare bedroom.

The point about this is that a large proportion of our housing benefit over the years has gone to pay a premium to private landlords to pay off mortgages on buy to let properties; as a supplement to the private sector, in other words, rather than as a benefit to the public.

From The Whitstable Gazette.
The editor welcomes letters on any topical subject but reserves the right to edit them. Letters must include your name and address even when emailed and a daytime telephone number. Send letters to: The Editor, Gazette House, 5-8 Boorman Way, Estuary View Business Park, Whitstable, Kent CT5 3SE, email


  1. Wow , that is so shocking… I know of families with teenage children in 1 or 2 bedroom flats and the kids just get lost in the streets because there simply isn’t any space at home.


  2. Another point that seems to have been ignored by the government and also the media is the costs in moving. Many tenants will have been in their home for years, decorating, laying new carpets and curtains etc. Given that they are on the minimum survival benefit how are they to afford removal and fitting out their new smaller accommodation assuming of course they could find one?


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