Making up numbers

Nothing provides more authority to a policy than supporting it with made-up numbers, it seems. Here is a shameless example:

The communities department estimates that it costs each taxpayer £35 a week to keep people in affordable homes, and it is argued the tenancy for life is an inefficient use of scarce resources. from the Guardian

I don’t know how much income tax you pay but I’ve just worked out – very roughly, based on the allowances and basic rates on the HMRC site – that a single person earning £20k a year pays £52.03 per week in tax. So, the Prime Minister is saying that 67% of this tax goes to “affordable housing”?

And £20k isn’t a great wage. (It’s slightly below the median wage but easier to calculate from.) But it’s much higher than minimum wage.

Millions of people earn minimum wage. A yearly minimum wage is £12,234.40 (from October 2010 anyway, when it rises to £5.93 an hour) So a single person on minimum wage will pay £22.53 tax a week. The magical £35 a week is 1 and a half times their entire income tax bill.

This doesn’t just defy credibility. It spits in its face with a mocking sneer.

These numbers seem to be targeted directly at that section of Middle England which expresses views of the kind that can be seen at their most typical on the brilliant Speak You’re Branes site. (Ie., people dumber than a box of nails. )

The imade-up numbers may be used to obscure the fact that Cameron’s plan actually implies evicting tenants if they have an empty bedroom or if they earn wages.

Cameron did’nt even bother to explain how this is supposed to cut down on the imaginary costs. In fact, he gave a pretend-egalitarian, justification for this mad policy: that there are millions of needy people on waiting lists. .. who would presumably then move into the vacated houses and … start eating up their own share of the taxpayers’ £35 a week.

This makes no sense at all as a deficit-reduction plan – even if the numbers were real. And even if the social consequences wouldn’t be predictably horrific.

Cuts in housing benefit – to a level lower than the “affordable” rents charged by many social and private landlords – already threaten to put thousands of unemployed and disabled people into serious arrears and to drive many into homelessness. When these people are joined by workers earning a bit more than minimum wage and older people whose children have left home or whose partners have died – i.e. the people Cameron is presenting as stealing taxpayers money – it looks as if tent cities will have to start springing up all over the country. We might then get to see what a truly “broken Britain” looks like.