Protesters took to Cornmarket this Saturday, with various groups demonstrating against the Bedroom Tax. The gathering was fairly small, amounting to only about 20 people.
However, the demonstration still made an impression on passing shoppers. The protesters gathered around a double bed displaying the faces of Prime Minister David Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith tucked under a pink and white spotted duvet.
As well as brandishing a large banner reading ‘Axe the Bedroom Tax: Say No to Evictions’, protesters held placards, and offered spares to passers-by.
Although most placards were moderate in tone, some bore images of the mutilated face of Cameron, with the message ‘The Greatest Cut of All’.
The ‘bedroom tax’ came into effect in April, affecting over half a million households. The government estimates that savings to the taxpayer will amount to £505m in 2012-13, and £540m in the year after.
The new rules will affect housing benefit, usually amounting to between £50 and £100 a week, paid to poorer tenants. Families judged to have too much living space by their councils will receive a reduced payment.
Couples will be expected to share a bedroom, and children must share up to the age of ten, regardless of gender. If of the same gender, children must share a room until aged 16.
For families with a student staying away from home, there will be no penalty, provided the student sleeps at home for at least two weeks in a year. However, when the universal credit scheme is introduced this autumn, he or she will need to be at home for a minimum of six months to avoid a benefit cut.
In the event of bereavement, families will be given one year to rearrange their housing.
However, critics have said that the new rules disproportionately affect the vulnerable, particularly the disabled, and will cut the budgets of the poorest in society.
Most protesters hoped their efforts would put pressure on Oxford City Council to interpret the rules in a lenient manner.
Some cited the example of Leeds Council, who have reclassified extra bedrooms as studies or ‘non-specific rooms’, to avoid enforcing the measures.
The group was composed mostly of ordinary Oxford residents, as well as students from Ruskin College and Brookes. Additionally, there was a significant Marxist presence at the demonstration, with pamphlets from the Socialist Worker being distributed, as well as leaflets from local group Ox4Democracy.
The group was unusually depleted, protest organisers claimed, because some members of the group had been diverted to protest against an unrelated English Defence League wreath laying at a nearby war memorial, which coincided with the event.
Stephen, a local resident who attended the protest, commented: “The most vulnerable people in the country, who are already on the breadline, are being taxed further, and two thirds of the people are affected are disabled. Basically, the government is setting up this whole divisive strategy, trying to get people off benefits when they can’t possibly work, and we’re trying to pressure the council to do something about it.”
Adam Ramsford, a local resident involved in the protest, said: “The idea that the solution to the housing crisis, the solution to the banking crisis, is to cut benefits for some of the poorest people in the country is absurd.The idea that you can shift blame and responsibility for a set of very complex problems, in turn caused by a system successful in making a select group of people very rich, is awful.”
Whilst Oxford City Council voted in April to condemn the bedroom tax, as well as approving a set of measures to mitigate the practical effect of the new legislation, it is not yet clear to residents to what extent they will be affected by the changes.