Sunday, 12 May 2013

If it's not a bedroom tax then it's not a spare room subsidy policy either

The Six O'Clock News on Radio 4 today covered a story about a woman who killed herself and left a note blaming the government cuts to her housing benefit. I suppose I should be grateful that the BBC are reporting this story at all, because most people who get their news from the BBC would hardly know that cuts to welfare are even happening. However, I am furious about this story because of the way they phrased the report. Here's how they referred to the cuts:
"her benefits were being cut as a result of the coalition's spare room subsidy policy.
...she was facing financial difficulty because of what critics have called the bedroom tax"
This is repetition of government propaganda. True, the cut is not called the bedroom tax. Nor is it the removal of a spare room subsidy, because there never was any such thing, merely people receiving enough housing benefit to cover their rent in the available social housing. The official name of this cut in the legislation is the under-occupancy penalty. Because that's what it is - a penalty for having a spare room, even if you had no choice about the number of rooms in the home you were allocated or if you need that room for medical equipment or numerous other reasons. It was never, ever a subsidy in the first place to remove. "Removal of the spare room subsidy" was a name given to the cut by a panicking government because people were calling it a bedroom tax and that was too close to the truth.

That the BBC repeated the official government line and referred to a spare room subsidy when reporting a suicide is a serious problem. Of course I don't believe the BBC is unbiased any more; if anything the BBC follow a pro-government line no matter who is in power. But if the BBC won't call it a bedroom tax then they shouldn't call it a spare room subsidy either. They should use the official name of under-occupancy penalty, but they won't because the word penalty is too revealing about this government's actions when they are still claiming that this is not about money and that they are protecting the most vulnerable.

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