Seen and heard: Dispatches on the bedroom tax

Five things struck me watching the Dispatches documentary on the bedroom tax on Channel 4 last night.

First, it’s impossible for anyone to cover all the issues and angles in half an hour. That’s not a criticism of Channel 4 at all, more a comment on the complexity of the implications of the bedroom tax and the way that the effects vary around the country. I must have written thousands of words on the subject over the last two years and invariably have to cut something important or leave an angle untouched.

It sounds like lots of material ended up on the cutting room floor for last night’s programme too but, within the time allowed, it did a very good job of presenting the issue from the point of view of under-occupying tenants, social landlords and local authorities. We heard from Iain Sim of Coast and Country Housing on its 150 per cent increase in voids since April 2013 and a couple who were both in wheelchairs who face the bedroom tax on the ‘spare’ room in their specially adapted flat yet were denied a discretionary housing payment. The programme was also balanced enough to include two overcrowded families who have benefitted from larger homes being freed up.

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Benefits Street, The Spongers and welfare reality

This week’s final episode of Benefits Street made me go back and rewatch another programme with a provocative title about life on social security.

I was 17 when The Spongers was first transmitted in January 1978 and I still remember it as the single most stunning and harrowing piece of television I have ever seen. The 90-minute programme was a Play for Today – the famous series of one-off dramas that ran on the BBC in the 1970s and 1980s – and tells the story of Pauline, a single mother from a council estate near Manchester. It opens with the bailiffs arriving to seize her furniture because she is in rent arrears and upsetting her eldest daughter, Paula, who has Down’s Syndrome. That’s swiftly followed by a scene outside where workers are erecting giant heads of the Queen and Prince Philip ready for the Silver Jubilee celebrations. Cue the opening titles. You can watch it here:

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