Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘bedroom tax

MP lives on £18 a week food bill, and we love her for it

Gareth On March 1, 2013 REVIEW OVERVIEW

A rare breed.
Could you imagine Boris (Johnson) and DavCam shopping around for food on £18 a week?

That’s why we love Helen Goodman, who did so during parliamentary recess to better understand her constituents.

It’s not often we find an MP we like. More often than not, we’re found frothing at the mouth about some tosspot who’s calling for poor people to be shot, or for millionaires (“wealth creators”) to receive tax cuts – often at the same time.

Wealth creators lavish money upon poors, it’s a well-known fact isn’t it?

But sometimes, we find someone who DOES THEIR JOB, and what’s more, goes beyond it.

Let’s all meet Helen Goodman, then, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, who decided to live on £18 a week for food during the recent recess.

Yes, while DavCam and Boris were stuffing their porky pink faces full of fondue in Switzerland, one of our MPs was living like her constituents.

While David Cameron was, probably, supping on oysters and complaining about the bits of caviar in between his pearly white, recently treated teeth, Helen Goodman was suffering from headaches due to not having eaten enough.

Shocked at the bedroom tax and the other methods your government is using to basically pay for its millionaires’ tax cut and the RBS bonuses, she did what every MP should –tried to understand what her constituents are going through.

Never mind what we have to say, we could blather on all day about what fuckwits most MPs are – here’s the official extract from the Hansard. In full.

Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland

I was so shocked when I read what my constituents wrote to me about the implications for them of the bedroom tax, and about how little they would have left to live on, that I decided during the week of the recent recess to see if I could survive on £18 a week, which is what they will be left with to buy their food after 1 April.

That figure of £18 is entirely based on the experiences of my constituents, in particular women on employment and support allowance who are about the same age as me, but who had to stop working owing to chronic health conditions, perhaps after 20 years of working life.

Out of their £71.70 in allowance, they have to find £10 for electricity, £20 for heating—gas or coal—£6 for water rates, £4 for bus fares in the case of those who live in villages and have to get to the main town, and £10 for the bedroom tax, which left them with £23 for weekly living expenses.

That £23 has to cover more than food, of course. We did a calculation, and set aside £5 for all the non-food things everyone has to buy—soap, washing powder, washing-up liquid, toothpaste, loo paper—plus a small amount in order to save £50 a year for clothes or a pair of trainers, or in case the iron breaks. That leaves £18.

I therefore took up the challenge of trying to live on £18, and I want to tell Members what it is like. It is extremely unpleasant. I had porridge for breakfast every morning, as I usually do, but I make my porridge with milk; now I was making it with water.

I had to eat the same food over and over and over again. Single people are hit particularly hard, because cheap food comes in big packs.

I made a stew at the beginning of the week, and I ate the same food four nights a week.

I had pasta twice a week. I had baked potatoes.

I had eggs on six occasions.

It was completely impossible to have meat or fish; that was out of the question. It was also impossible to have five portions of fruit and vegetables a week.

I therefore also have a message for the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Anna Soubry, who is responsible for public health. She was criticising people on low incomes for obesity.

Of course people on low incomes are more likely to have that problem; they have to fill up on toast and biscuits.

I found myself waking up in the middle of the night absolutely ravenous, having to make cups of tea and eat biscuits.

I had a headache for five days in that week, and I was completely lethargic and exhausted by 4 pm.

Some people are on jobseeker’s allowance and are looking for a job. Looking for a job is a job in itself; it takes time and energy.

The people whom DWP Ministers want to do workfare are being expected to work 30 hours a week, yet they are not going to have enough to eat properly.

Most shocking of all was the fact that come Sunday I ran out of food—there was literally nothing left to eat that night.

If Ministers are happy with the notion that 660,000 of our fellow citizens are literally not going to have enough to eat by the end of the week, all I can say is that I pity them because they have no pity and no conception of what they are going to do to the people in our constituencies who will be faced with this bedroom tax.

The Minister has been very free and easy in talking about all these wonderful alternatives, such as the fact that people can move.

In my constituency more than 1,000 people will be affected by the bedroom tax, but there are fewer than 100 smaller properties to which they could move. In my constituency, it is not possible for all these people to increase the number of hours they work, as 7 people are chasing every job;

People are in part-time work because they cannot get full-time work. Government Members have shown their complete ignorance of the benefits system by saying, “You just have to work a couple of hours a week on the minimum wage.

Of course that is not true, because these people would get then into the tapers and the disregards, and their benefits would be cut or they might find themselves paying tax. The numbers simply do not add up.

Of course some individuals or couples have properties that are larger than they need, but the so-called under-occupancy is in one part of the country and the overcrowding is in another.

It simply is not credible to suggest that all the large, over-occupying families in London will move up to Durham, particularly given that the unemployment rate there is more than 9%. What would they be moving to? What would they be moving for?

I made a video diary of my week, so I got a lot of feedback from people affected by this policy. Interestingly, they said, “Yes, this is the reality of our lives. We are not able to survive properly now and things are going to get worse to the tune of £10 a week from 1 April.”

In 2006, I did the same experiment under the previous Labour Government, living on benefits to see what life was like for young people on the lowest rate of income support.

I found that difficult, but there was enough money to get through the whole week. I wish to point out to the Minister that we have reached a new low, because the £21 that people had in 2006 is equivalent to £28 now, and that should be compared with the £18 with which people are going to be expected to feed themselves.

The Minister has made much, too, of the discretionary housing benefits, which many hon. Members have questioned.

In County Durham, £5 million of income will be taken out of people’s pockets and out of the local economy. The size of the discretionary fund is half a million pounds, so once again there is a huge gap between actual need and the resources being given to people to deal with it.

Many hon. Members have pointed out the unfairness of the policy for people who are disabled and need to sleep separately, be they adults or children; people who have children in the Army; foster carers; and separated parents.

This policy is a fundamental attack on the poorest people in this country. People are going to lose between £500 and £1,000 over the course of next year, through no fault of their own.

But the really disgusting thing is that on the same day that the bedroom tax is being introduced millionaires are being given a tax cut that will be worth £1,000—not over the year as a whole, but every single week.

Note: In Lebanon with have No allowance for the needy people: They have to manage any which way

Is peaceful protest a waste of time?

To better comprehend Gandhi’s civil protest movement, read link in the note.

Vanessa Baird posted this Oct. 13, 2013:

We were proud.

On 29 September, more than 50,000 of us marched in the Manchester sunshine, fighting to save the NHS and other public goods.

In spite of our vast numbers, it was an intelligent, good-nature protest, without any incidences of violence or public disorder.

And with hardly any coverage in the national press either – even though we were taking our protest right to the journalist-packed heart of the problem, the Conservative Party at conference.

2013-10-11-climate.jpg [Related Image]
The G20 climate camp shut down the City of London and generated a lot of attention before it was broken up by riot police. Les Hutchins under a Creative Commons Licence

Was it a waste of time?

Not in terms of building solidarity and showing support for health workers struggling to save the NHS as the government dismembers it, selling bits of it off under the fig-leaf of austerity.

Not if you think of all the families with children or elderly and disabled people who could march freely in a police-light environment, without fear of being kettled and baton-charged.

And if the purpose was to show, through numbers and the sheer ordinariness of the people protesting, the extent of public concern and unwillingness to be taken in by coalition spin.

But in terms of rattling the cages of policy makers and getting them to rethink the damage they are doing, it was a gentle rattle, easily ignored.

If I think of successful protests that have commanded attention – the Poll Tax riots or the Kingsnorth climate camp actions, for example – these have been far more raucous and disobedient affairs.

Even the recent UK Uncut action that blockaded roads in protest against legal aid cuts, though it involved only 500 people or just 1% of the number that marched in Manchester, got more news coverage.

The reason is simple. There was disruption – there was fear of danger and potential violence.

Getting into the news isn’t everything, unless you are protesting about something it is pretty important.

By and large, the public prefer peaceful demos, and complain when actions have been hijacked by ‘mindless thugs’.

Chances are that those complainers would not have heard of the protest had it lacked that vital newsworthy ingredient – a bit of civil disobedience, a touch of criminal damage, some arrests.

As a journalist, I recognize that people marching from A to B and then having a rally at the end – even if there are lots of you – is not a great news story in the conventional sense.

As I wrote a recent blog about the Manchester march I have to admit that, enthused as I was by the event and what it represented, making it interesting to readers was a bit of a challenge.

I believe that resisting austerity requires a wide range of tactics.

And although I tend towards the peaceful ones, I increasingly believe that it’s the actions that seriously disrupt which bring us face-to-face with what is at stake. This is especially pertinent when acts of criminal damage or violence against property are done to prevent a greater violence – that against people.

This is the violence that is happening right now. Kill the NHS and you kill people.

Take disability benefits away from people who depend on them for their lives and you are encouraging them to commit suicide.

Force people out of their homes because they cannot pay ‘the bedroom tax’ and you are making them homeless and knocking years off their life expectancy.

Take legal aid away from those who cannot afford lawyers and you kill all hope of justice. Ensure your policies make the rich even richer, and you are committing an act of the most grotesque economic violence.

These are the acts of government violence that are happening right now in every part of Britain.

This is what we need to expose and resist. If a bit of serious public disobedience creates the spark to crack open what increasingly feels like a closed debate, let it roll.

November 5 – Guy Fawkes – has been declared a Day of Civil Disobedience. Time to start plotting?

Find out how at the People’s Assemblies Network.

Note: Vanessa Baird lived and worked as a journalist in Peru during the tumultuous mid-1980s, and she maintains a passionate interest in South America.

She joined New Internationalist as a co-editor in 1986 and since then has written on everything from migration, money, religion and equality to indigenous activism, climate change, feminism and global LGBT rights.

Vanessa edits the Mixed Media, arts and culture section of the magazine. – See more at:


A life lived in tiny flats

The UK has some of the smallest new homes in Europe. How can people cope living in a small space?

Small is beautiful? Ask a studio flat dweller how beautiful he does feel.

The UK has a housing crisis. A shortage of homes has pushed prices out of the reach of many hoping to get onto the ladder. But once they get there, they may be disappointed – the UK has some of the smallest properties in Europe.

Research from the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) says that lack of space is the most common cause of dissatisfaction that people cite in relation to their homes.

Almost half of people surveyed (47%) said there wasn’t enough space for furniture they owned, 57% said there was not enough storage space and 28% felt they couldn’t get away from other people’s noise.

Tom de Castella posted on BBC News Magazine this April 19, 2013:

Interiors and exteriors of QB2

“There are minimum space standards for social housing, which covers council and housing association properties.

But while many people might associate London with tiny properties, the capital is the only place with minimum regulations for private new build homes.

Floorplans of two one-bed homes

Riba cited research showing that new homes in Ireland, Holland and Denmark were respectively found to be 15%, 53% and 80% bigger than those in the UK.

The average UK one-bedroom home is 46 sq m (495 sq ft), according to Riba. That works out at a mere 6.8m x 6.8m or 22ft by 22ft. And that’s the mean average. There are plenty of people living in smaller flats.

The 46 sq m figure is 4 sq m (43 sq ft) less than the minimum standards set by London.

‘Like Tetris living’

New-build always looks very shiny with designer kitchens and bathrooms.

It’s only when you unpack that you realize there’s nowhere to store things.

I had to give my CDs to my parents to look after and we sold our books. The bedroom was so small one of us had to sit on the bed if the other opened the cupboard.

It was like Tetris living, trying to fit things around other things. The living room and kitchen were open-plan and if I put on the extractor fan my partner couldn’t hear the TV.

The soundproofing was terrible, you could hear the neighbours walking around two floors up. We had to wait for them to go to bed before we could sleep.

In January we moved to a 1930s semi-detached house. We’ve got rid of so much stuff that it looks cavernous.

Riba found the average three-bedroom home is 88 sq m (947 sq ft), which is 8 sq m (86 sq ft) short of the recommended minimum.

These may sound trivial amounts, but 4 sq m is equivalent to having a sofa and small computer table in your house, Riba argues.

And 8 sq m is big enough for a single bedroom.

In the current drive to create more homes, Riba president Angela Brady warns against builders producing “another generation of poor quality homes without adequate space and natural light”.

The UK’s reputation for cramped new homes has led to what the Daily Telegraph dubbed “rabbit hutch Britain”.

Edwin Heathcote, author of the Meaning of Home, says that the volume housebuilders “try to squeeze in” as many units as they can into urban sites.

And unlike other countries, houses in the UK are sold on the number of bedrooms rather than square footage, he says. The result is a lot of small rooms.

And UK consumers like gardens, which leads to smaller houses.

The rise of solo living is another factor. People wanting to live alone trade space for having their own flat.

Housebuilders reject the criticisms and claim that minimum space standards would push up house prices. “If you specify that rooms have got to be bigger you will drive the price up,” warns Steve Turner, from the Home Builders Federation.

Happily living in a small home is first of all about psychology, says Hannah Booth, homes editor at Guardian Weekend. “You can live without much more than you think.”

Apartment dwellers in New York and Japan know the secrets of this lifestyle, she says. “They’re the masters, they eat out a lot, spend a lot of time in the park. In the winter your home can be a nice little cocoon.”

Demonstration studio flat
A wide angle lens is crucial for viewing some properties

Once you’ve taken that on board you need to de-clutter. There’s no need for book- or CD-hoarding – many younger people have realised digital devices can cover that.

Booth is in favour of beds that pull down from wardrobes that are fully made up and ready to sleep in. Wooden drop-leaf and gate-leg tables – which date back to the 16th Century – are a testament to a historic lack of space in British homes. They’re still very popular now.

But while clutter is a problem, strict minimalism isn’t the answer, she says. A strategically placed rug or sofa will act as dividing line between kitchen and living area. A key tip is to show as much of the floor as possible – so chair legs are better than chairs with a chunky base.

Surfaces can be creative – chopping boards on oven hobs when the cooker is not in use. Light is important to creating a spacious feel so blinds are better than curtains. And it makes sense to paint above the picture rail in another colour – it creates a sense of airiness.


There are people who relish the chance of creating a small but liveable space.

Dr Mike Page, an engineer and psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire has created a prototype with this in mind. The QB2 is 4m long, 3m wide and 3m high. Designed for two people to live in, it will be available to buy.

Instead of lots of different rooms it has one multifunctional space. “I’m a sailor and boats are designed like that,” he explains.

Tips from the experts on making the most of small spaces

  • Use fold-up beds or divans with built-in storage
  • Decorate with light colours to give the illusion of space
  • Use mirrors to add depth
  • Build shelving up to the ceiling
  • Tidy up

There is an appeal to it linked to minimalism, he says. “Compact living will not appeal to everyone, but for me there is a beauty to be had in an efficient use of energy and space, a pleasure in being able to live comfortably in a sufficient space, constructed almost entirely from sustainably sourced materials.”

The government’s changes to housing benefit – nicknamed the “bedroom tax” by Labour – will raise questions about housing space, Heathcote argues. “Do you need spare rooms or space somewhere else?”

“The existential meaning of home hasn’t changed much. We still crave natural light, floors, doors and windows.”

What has altered is how we want that space divided up. He says it makes sense to prioritize shared spaces like kitchens where people now spend much of their time at home.

Heathcote is less keen on the rise of the multi-bathroom house. “There are too many bathrooms in modern houses taking space away from more important rooms.

“It’s completely insane when every bedroom has en suite and then there’s a family bathroom as well.” More:




September 2022

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