'Bedroom Tax'

Meeting: 
MQT on 2013-05-22
Session date: 
May 22, 2013
Reference: 
2013/1387
Question By: 
John Biggs
Organisation: 
Labour Group
Asked Of: 
The Mayor

Question

In most democracies, the higher taxes are levied on the rich and not the poor. In contrast to your support for tax cuts for the rich, you seem to support what is widely regarded as an additional tax on poor people. What representations have you made on this?

Answer

Answer for 'Bedroom Tax'

Answer for 'Bedroom Tax'

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Thank you, John. I cannot really agree with the thrust of your question about this because it seems to me that obviously there will be hard cases. It will be very important that people who have an extra bedroom that they absolutely need, and are facing this withdrawal or reduction in subsidy, should not be unfairly penalised and there should be ways of managing the transition. We have very considerable funds to try to help with the tougher cases. In the end, you have to face the reality that there are many, many people in London living in severely overcrowded social homes and also a considerable number of people living in social homes with more rooms than they need. You have to do something about that problem. That is why I think that managing this reduction in the spare room subsidy is one way forward which would be absolute folly to reject.

John Biggs (AM): I am implacably opposed to this policy for a number of reasons. If you sincerely believe that is the case, then one of the greatest groups of under-occupying people would be pensioners who are exempted from this policy. Can you rationalise that?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): The objective, obviously, is not to cause excessive hardship to people who are older and particularly vulnerable. The objective is to try to get a more equitable distribution of what is a public good, which is subsidised accommodation. At the moment there are many people who are facing real difficulties in housing themselves and their families, whilst other families who are receiving very considerable subsidies from the state are living in homes, leaving aside all the hard cases that we can easily summon up, with more rooms than they need.

The big answer is to build more affordable homes and to build more homes generally and that is what we are embarked on.

John Biggs (AM): Of course, you have not explained to the Londoners watching this how you have redefined the term 'affordable' so it does not actually mean affordable anymore.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): That is not true.

John Biggs (AM): Let us move on from that. It is a valid argument that housing which is subsidised is a commodity which needs to be managed thoughtfully. What you are saying, though, is that people who are well off in subsidised housing can be left alone but people who are on low incomes, most often through no fault of their own, should be penalised as a result of this policy. Can you just take me through the thinking that lies behind that rather convoluted process?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I do not understand the logic of what you are saying, John. That is not true. The intention is to try to resolve a painful imbalance in the distribution of what is a very expensive and very scarce resource, which is publicly subsidised housing. At the moment there is a problem which is that many thousands of families are living in grossly overcrowded homes and

John Biggs (AM): You do not need to repeat that because I think we all accept -- Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): If you accept that that is the problem and you accept the logic of what I am saying, then I am

Darren Johnson (Chair): Stop talking over each other.

John Biggs (AM): He needs to shut up so I can talk.

Darren Johnson (Chair): You need to be polite as well.

John Biggs (AM): Yes, OK. He needs to quieten himself, then, Chair, so that I can --

Darren Johnson (Chair): You will both behave. Can we have a question from Mr Biggs, please?

John Biggs (AM): Yes. If you stop interrupting me I will ask a question.

I am tempted to raise the Bob Crow [General Secretary, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers] example because he is clearly a man who does not need a subsidy with his housing and yet is in subsidised housing. This policy does nothing about that.

The question is about the priority you give to this. I got my researcher to look at the amount of attention you have given to tax cuts to the rich. We gave up on about the 500th article. In order to identify the anxieties you had expressed in the media about the effect of this policy on the poor, we considered getting Jodrell Bank [Observatory, housing several large telescopes] to try to look for evidence that there was anything you had ever said on this issue and we found very, very little. There has been a representation about foster carers which is welcome, although it is quite a complicated policy, but there are many other people affected by this. I have constituents whose reward for a child getting married will be a 16% cut in their housing benefit.

Can you answer a simple question? Do most people on the housing benefit fit the category of lazy scroungers or are they actually working people who are having trouble getting by given the high rent levels in London?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes. There are many people who are facing very tough times. The primary answer is to build more affordable accommodation and to build more homes and social rent for every type of affordable home. That is what we are doing. We have built record numbers and we will come on to that later in the discussion. I also think that you have to look at the inequity in the distribution of this public good which is heavily subsidised housing. An attempt is being made to try to sort that out and to try to reduce what appears to many people to be an unfair subsidy that goes to people who do not need the rooms they have.

There is a separate problem that you mention about Bob Crow. I am delighted that you mention that. I do not remember Labour campaigning on that much in the past, do you? I do not remember Labour campaigning on people like Bob Crow, Frank Dobson [Labour Member of Parliament, Holborn and St Pancras] and Lee Jasper [adviser for the former Mayor of London] living in social accommodation. This is news to me. If you want to come over and join us, John, on that point, then you are more than welcome.

John Biggs (AM): I am highlighting the intellectual poverty and inconsistency of your arguments, which I think is bordering on pathetic.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I think you are just resorting to common abuse. I have done my best to elucidate the matter. There is a serious failure of equity in the distribution of a vital social good. The Government is trying to do something about it. You should be in favour of equity. You should be in favour of fairness. That is the name of the game.

John Biggs (AM): I think the record shows that you are more energetic in standing up for your tax-dodging mates in business than you are for Londoners.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): No, I am not conscious of that.

Darren Johnson (Chair): I think it was a legitimate question of the Mayor.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Tax-dodging? By the way, I seem to remember there was a Mayoral candidate who did not -- whom you used to back.