What’s in a name? Routinely, the opponents of the cut in the spare room subsidy describe it as the “Bedroom Tax”. They know the term is dishonest. Has there been any serious attempt to justify the word “tax” as accurate in this context? But it is a pithy term. It had nearly two million hits on Google when I did a search – against under half a million for “spare room subsidy”.
I did some media interviews this week on my research into the impact of the spare room subsidy cut. In these interviews, there would be a tedious awkward preliminary, the disputed name, before being able to get to the substance.
The Left’s hegemony over language gives them the most astonishing advantage in the debate – or rather the advantage of avoiding the need to bother with a debate.
“Bedroom Tax” is not the first instance of this, of course. If you call public spending – current spending as well as capital spending – “investment” then who can object to such a positive notion? Investing in children? Investing in people? Investing in parks, libraries, housing, etc? I’ve been at meetings where the then Hammersmith and Fulham Council leader, Stephen Greenhalgh, would give short shrift to any bureaucrat lazily equating spending and investment. But how many politicians have the determination to confront such sophistry once it has become ubiquitous? It is so much easier and more polite to let it slide.
Or there is that absurd term “affordable housing” – meaning subsidised housing. The implication is that any new housing which isn’t “affordable” (subsidised) is worthless. Never mind that the rest of the housing must be affordable – and much needed – by someone or the property developers would be in difficulty.
The “Bedroom Tax” label rigs consideration unfairly against this reform being considered on its merits. But it also entrenches the most disastrous mentality of those who are stuck on welfare. That is the “sense of entitlement”, that the world owes them a living. The idea is that having a spare room and all their rent paid by the state is their due. It follows that if they are asked to pay even a modest proportion of their rent, out of their own money, that this is a special imposition, a “tax”. Persuading people to wallow in victimhood may suit the cynical electoral interests of the Labour party but it does no favours to those concerned. Nor does the false kindness that often goes with it that those affected should refuse to pay and build up rent arrears rather than come to terms with the responsibility of making a contribution.
Lynsey Hanley in her book Estates describes growing up on a council estate and how, even when leaving it, the lack of “social capital” remains. She compares it with the east Germans who even after the Berlin wall came down still had the “die Mauer im Kopf” or the “wall in the head”. Cutting the spare room subsidy gives a financial reward for work, and reminds people that resources are scarce. Peddling grievance does not help those concerned to embrace a shift to independent living. Telling people they are paying a “Bedroom Tax” and should feel resentment just holds those people back. It is the “wall in the head” which is thwarting aspiration.