This is a letter to the Swindon Advertiser

You can’t fit people into homes that do not exist

Swindon South MP Rob Buckland recently wrote to a tenant explaining why he supported the ‘bedroom tax’. Considering all the resources at his disposal our MP doesn’t appear to have accurate information on the housing waiting list in the town. He reckoned there are “12,000 people on the Council waiting list for housing, of which 4,000 of those are in actual need”.

In fact if the MP and his well financed machine cared to look at the Council website they will see that in January of this year there were 15,093 households on the Housing List.  Of these 12,784 households were on the waiting list. To this must be added 2,309 households on the Transfer list which consists of existing tenants, both of the Council and Housing Associations. It includes families that are, according to the ‘bedroom standard’ over-crowded. 

Our MP tells me that the figure of “4,000 people” was given to him by “Swindon Borough Council  officials in conversations”. They are he admits not ‘official figures’ but are “broadly representative of the situation in the town”. In fact they are not. The January stats show that on Bands A (‘in urgent need’) and B (‘in need’) alone there were 7,010 households, the highest level ever. Even if you forget the Transfer List as our MP appears to have done, there were still 5,999 households of the waiting list.

Having got the numbers wrong by so significant an amount the MP suggests that “there are in fact enough ‘bedrooms’ to house everyone on the list. The problem is we have the wrong people in the wrong properties.”

This is an extraordinary statement both in terms of its factual inaccuracy and the attitude it expresses, as if tenants are units to be moved around at will. I asked him what evidence he had of this and he could give me none. It is an expression of contempt for tenants, who are, it should be said, humans beings with lives and homes. Mr Buckland and the government appear to conceive of them as pawns to be moved around at will, people to be blamed for the housing shortage because they are living in the ‘wrong’ home.

Examine the January list and you can see how ludicrous his assertion is that there are enough bedrooms to house everyone on the list. For instance, single people and couples only qualify for 1 bedroom. There are 4,362 single people or couples who qualify for 1 bedroom (leaving out 150 OAP couples who may qualify for 1 or 2 bed homes). There are over 600 current tenants subject to the ‘bedroom tax’ who would have to move to a 1 bed property to avoid paying. So there are 5,000 households who qualify for 1 bedroom properties that are not available. The Council gives out just over 100 of these a year, so it would take 50 years to accommodate all these people. How does Mr Buckland propose to move them into to non-existent properties? Does he propose to return to the 1930’s and make families share the same properties?

A friend of mine suggested that Mr Buckland perhaps had in mind the dispersal of children such as took place during the Second World War. Tenants could swap children so that the numbers of people fitted perfectly with the numbers of bedrooms. There would admittedly be a few logistical problems like parents wanting to hang onto their children (these tenants are so sentimental, with no sense of economic realism) and others who had them billeted on them complaining about little things like the cost of having to feed them.

Instead of facing up to the roots of the housing crisis and pressing for a new Council house building programme Robert Buckland’s strategy for tackling the housing shortage is to rearrange the tenants into different homes according to a ‘bedroom standard’ which takes no account of real life. That’s why he abandons his humanity in support of his government’s ludicrous housing strategy, putting support for his Party above the interests of his constituents. The only way to help the people on the waiting list is to start building new Council homes rather than blaming existing tenants for the housing shortage.

Martin Wicks

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group