In 2012 the British government announced plans to introduce “shared parenting” and everyone thought, “Wow, what a breakthrough after all these years of lobbying!” Father’s Rights advocates and advocates for children had worked hard for years to get promises to help fathers from David Cameron’s party to help do more to make sure fathers were allowed to be a part of their children’s lives. When Cameron became Prime Minister, for the first time in 30 years it looked as if fathers would be able to have their children stay with them for several days at a time, i.e. “sleepovers,” and not just snatch a few hours with them during the day.
But then along came two torpedoes.
The first torpedo was that the promised “shared parenting” legislation turned out to be nothing more than the inadequate wording of the toothless 1989 legislation which in the end did nothing to improve fathers’ access to their children.
The second torpedo was the introduction, in these austere times, of “a bedroom tax” intended to lighten the burden on the taxpayer.
The “bedroom tax,” which will almost certainly become law this year, is not really a tax on all bedrooms – just as in the same way the Window Tax in the 18th century was not a tax on all windows. But reading British newspapers this is the impression given of the government’s new policy announcement.
The background to this class issue is very stark and it hinges on reducing the cost of the welfare state. Whereas the Window Tax was paid mainly by the rich, the Bedroom Tax will be paid only by the poor or those on low incomes.
The Bedroom Tax will affect the young and old; male and female, but it is especially pernicious for divorced fathers. Their hope of seeing their children during sleepovers, at school holidays, or at weekends will, in many cases, be dashed. Generally speaking it will not affect those in well-paid jobs or those living in their own freehold property.
In Britain, as in much of Western Europe, a “welfare state” has long been established – picking up on the relief and help for the poorer in society since 1945, at a point where FDR’s policies in the US were left to wither. Philosophically, one can argue that a welfare state gives “tax breaks” to the poor in much the same way as the rich always seem to get tax breaks.
The downside is that, like “Topsy,” some welfare benefits have just “growed and growed” out of all proportion – and one of them is Housing Benefit. This has significantly increased in recent decades. In 2001 the annual Housing Benefit cost was £11,688 million and by 2010 it had doubled again to £22 million [Ref. http://www.statistics.gov.uk/STATBASE/ssdataset.asp?vlnk=4007 and http://fullfact.org/blog/housing_benefit_abuse_cost_taxpayers-3224. In an effort to stem the tide Cameron Government has announced a cap, i.e. it will not pay over a set level for rents.
Housing Benefit is paid only to people who live in rented accommodation and who are either unemployed or on a low income. Housing Benefit is intended to pay for all or part of the rent charged. How much is paid depends on your income and circumstances.
Play your cards right and you can, as a single person, have the rent of a three bedroom residence financed by the Government or, more accurately, the taxpayer. So it might be that a divorced mother with two children gets more than a single person (a father), and so can afford to stay in 2 or 3 bedroom accommodation. Whereas, a single father with children who technically only ‘visit’ will have to make do with a single bedroom level of subsidy. That immediately puts “sleepovers”and shared parenting on a collision course with the bedroom tax.
Laudably, the Cameron Government wants to realign housing resources with housing need, but sadly, in the process some eggs will get broken, and many children who need their fathers in their lives (and who needs fathers more than children in low-income areas?) will be those eggs.