Bedroom tax’s rural penalty

THE reason for the coalition’s so-called ‘bedroom tax’ is a simple one; the failure of successive governments to invest sufficient sums in social housing following Margaret Thatcher’s right-to-buy revolution 30 years ago.

It is a failure which has been exacerbated by the recession – far more families are simply not in a position to afford accommodation of their own – and the fact that long-standing tenants are still living in council houses which no longer reflect their family’s needs.

As such, it does make sense to incentivise these families to move to smaller properties, though safeguards are still needed to protect those vulnerable people with specific care needs which require the use of any spare room.

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Yet the challenge, as is so often the case, is one of implementation. Such a scheme may work in those towns and cities where there are still a considerable number of council or housing association-run properties – but it is proving impractical in many of Yorkshire’s rural communities where the shortage of public housing is even more profound.

It means the hard-pressed tenants concerned having to pay the ‘bedroom tax’, or having to move away from the villages where they were born, their children attend school and which they regard as ‘home’.

This would be unacceptable to many MPs and councillors representing urban constituencies – and it is unfair to expect rural residents to pay an unfair price for Westminster’s reluctance to invest in a new generation of social housing.

In short, this report by Action with Communities in Rural England needs to prompt Ministers to pay greater heed to the specific social policy challenges facing remote areas across Britain and whether the implementation of the bedroom tax can become more flexible.

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This need is made even more urgent by the Adam Smith Institute’s projection that the Government’s new Help To Buy scheme will drive up house prices and make it even more difficult for first-time buyers to gain a foothold on the property ladder. While a rise in property prices will be welcomed by existing homeowners, it offers little salvation for the low-waged – and especially those living in rural areas where the iconic imagery masks hidden pockets of poverty.

Price of justice

AS Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling has one of the toughest jobs in politics. He needs to cut levels of reoffending – a factor behind 90 per cent of all crimes – while also reducing the judiciary’s running costs.

It is not easy – many, including the Labour opposition, believe that more money needs to be spent on the rehabilitation of serial offenders if today’s criminals are to become tomorrow’s responsible citizens.

Given this, it is reassuring that Mr Grayling, one of the coalition’s more effective communicators, is prioritising this issue and is fully committed to ensuring that there are adequate policies and incentives in place to change this costly culture. His predecessors have been allowed to play ‘lip service’ to this issue on too many occasions and he needs to ensure that his strategy delivers real results in the years ahead.

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The same applies to the Minister’s wider approach. He has to be certain that efficiency savings do not compromise the need to put victims first at all times, whether it be specialist training for those judges and barristers handling sensitive child sex abuse cases or his review into the use of police ‘cautions’ to clear up crimes.

Mr Grayling remains convinced that there is no link between the fall in crime and increase in the number of ‘cautions’ issued. Others are less charitable. Either way, his first and foremost duty is to ensure that the pursuit of justice is never compromised by financial considerations.

The Real deal

IF world record signing Gareth Bale is worth the £85.3m that Real Madrid has just paid Tottenham Hotspur for the young wing wizard, just how much would Leeds legend John Charles, for example, be worth in today’s super-inflated football transfer market?

Like the buccaneering Bale, the legendary Charles, affectionately remembered as the Gentle Giant, was a proud Welshman who made transfer history of his own when he became Britain’s first £50,000 player in 1957 following his transfer from Leeds United to Italian giants Juventus.

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Many then thought that a player of Charles’s classy calibre was not worth the £65,000 paid by Juventus.

Yet, despite the Spanish economy’s chronic indebtedness, Real Madrid have paid 1,312 times more than the amount Juventus forked out for Charles six decades ago.

Can one player really be that much better than such illustrious predecessors, in spite of the genetic make-up of players changing with new fitness and dietary regimes, and the transfer window changing the dynamics of football’s finances?

Real Madrid certainly think so. But it should be remembered that one Harry Redknapp was trying to offload football’s first 100 million euros player around three years ago because he did not think that Bale was good enough. It’s proof – if any were needed – that football is now even further divorced from the priceless era when its star players were worth every last penny.