Need An Extra Tax For The Poor? In The UK It’s ‘Too Many Bedrooms’

A bed against the wall with a headboard of christmas lights and only a teddy bear in a toque under the covers
Bedroom photo by ilovebutter is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Whoa! Check out the empty bedroom. There's a tax revenue stream, right there!

Considerations of what not to do in a coming future of more plentiful social housing. 

What better time to be thinking about a better social housing future than standing in a quicksand of failure from the past?

Even before nations were mired in a COVID-19 crisis, there has been renewed interest in the potential of long-shunned social housing.

Why?

The housing industry itself has been focused on any kind of affordable housing that isn’t really affordable, as long as it’s profitable.

Governments have grudgingly subsidized symbolic handfuls of truly affordable housing to earn whatever muted praise they can reap from largely symbolic gestures.

Meanwhile, commodification of housing is driving both rental and mortgage costs beyond the reach of most low income individuals and families.

Social housing, which holds homes away from the free market, is getting a healthy second look from many governments. (Post-COVID-19, it has a particularly timely extra added attraction: large government-fuelled social housing construction projects could well be — as they have been in the past — a quickstart for a flattened construction industry.)

Still, everyone is uncomfortably aware that social housing has had more than its share of problems over the years. Casting eyes beyond national failures, however, reveals social housing success stories in other nations that have been downright spectacular.

This post, however, is not about doing ‘right’ things with new social housing. It’s instead learning from past failures to avoid them in the future.

Take a bedroom tax. It’s a fine idea for a future that has not yet arrived in most places. Unfortunately that hasn’t prevented its implementation.

When the fledglings leave the social housing nest, empty bedrooms become available. Why not encourage the empty-nesters to move into a smaller social housing unit. And why not prod them to do so by imposing a bedroom tax?

Except . . . with social housing waiting lists running to the tens, hundreds, even thousands of thousands of people in various jurisdictions, just where are the ‘smaller’ social housing units? By and large, they aren’t. Which means that empty-nest adults find themselves stuck with unwanted bedrooms while having tiny incomes brutalized by government in the name of efficiency that isn’t.

Read more about the UK’s experience of this great social housing idea that is distressingly ahead of its time, in LEFT FOOT FORWARD: The Tories Want You To Forget About The Bedroom Tax – But It’s Still Hurting People