The latest ruling in the Supreme Court has found in favour of two families who were challenging the Tories and their much-hated “bedroom tax”. Corbyn and the other leaders of the labour movement must now go on the offensive and use this case as a spearhead to attack the Tories and their whole austerity programme.
Earlier this year in January, following a legal challenge at the Court of Appeal, the Tory government’s much-hated “bedroom tax” was ruled to be discriminatory. The legal challenge came from two of its victims – a domestic abuse victim and the grandparents of a disabled teenager. The ruling exempted both these groups from a reduction in housing benefit. The Tories, keen to remove any barriers to their austerity programme, weren’t willing to be shown up by their friends in the courts. Naturally, they appealed the decision and the final verdict was to be taken in the Supreme Court.
This November, seven claimants went to the Supreme Court to seek justice for their situation, where the Court found in favour of two of the families. The ruling stated that the housing benefit regulations allowed claimants to have additional bedrooms for children who require a separate room due to their disability. It also stated that this regulation should apply to adults too. This was the case for the other family, as husband and wife had to sleep in separate rooms due to the latter’s disability. The cases of the other claimants were dismissed, but the judges extended their “profound sympathy” for the cases – unfortunately for these suffering families, however, sympathy isn’t legal tender. One of these was the case of the domestic abuse victim from the Court of Appeals case.
The Tories are looking to save £480 million per year from cuts to the housing benefit bill. The cuts to the housing benefits are affecting the most vulnerable members of our society. Apart from the disabled, the hardest hit will be women and children – especially those women who have been victims of domestic abuse and who have had specially purposed housing. They will be forced to move into smaller accommodation as a result of their reduced housing benefits, which cannot cover costs. This is assuming they can even find accommodation.
As for children, statistics released by the End Child Poverty Coalition show that nearly half of children in the major cities (Birmingham, London, and Manchester) live in poverty. Added to this is the rising number of food banks, with 1.1 million food packages handed out last year according to official estimates. The Trussell Trust has also stated that its food banks are on course for distributing more packages this year than they’ve ever done before. The deeper and harsher cuts to housing benefits will only exacerbate these problems.
This is an important victory for those families who the court ruled in favour of and a clear defeat for the Tories and their reviled bedroom tax. There are, however, still many other vulnerable members of society that are falling prey to the cuts, pushing these groups further into poverty. It is vital, therefore, that Corbyn and the other leaders of the labour movement now go on the offensive and use this case as a spearhead to attack the Tories and their whole austerity programme.
At the same time, it must be stressed that the ‘logic’ of cuts isn’t purely a product of the spiteful Tories, but the product of the system they defend: a system that is unable to provide a decent living standard for the vast majority. Indeed, capitalism in crisis demands that the gains won by previous generations be eroded away in order to increase profits. This is the real meaning behind austerity and the attacks on the welfare system, as have been heart-wrenchingly rendered in Ken Loach’s new film, “I, Daniel Blake”.
This court ruling, meanwhile, like the previous ruling, highlights the divisions in the ruling class over how to proceed. A section of the Establishment is wary of the social pressures that are accumulating as a result of the cuts. Even some Tory MPs have expressed concern over the level of austerity proposed in previous budgets. It is clear that, despite years of austerity cuts by Cameron and Osborne, the economy still in dire straits; the uncertainty over Brexit only adds to the economic worries. Hence the shift to a more Keynesian programme of greater government spending by the new Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, at the recent Tory Party conference. These divisions and U-turns are continuing to intensify as each section of the capitalist class and its representatives attempt to find a way out of the crisis – all of them reaching a dead end.
The court rulings, whilst much welcomed, are only temporary gains; they can – and will – be cast aside as the crisis continues and ruling elite becomes increasingly desperate. The only way to guarantee an end to the bedroom tax and all the other reactionary counter-reforms of the Tories is to overthrow the decaying capitalist system they defend and replace it with a socialist society. Only on the basis of a rationally and democratically planned economy can decent housing be provided to all.
Top page image by Stuart Crawford on Flickr, CC-by-2.0