Eamonn McCann - What price family values?

The Tories never give over about “family values”. Then they bring in measures which put small value on family relationships.

One of their housing wheezes has been to slash benefits by £14 a week for every unoccupied room in a house. Among the casualties will be people, mainly in middle age, with grown-up children who have moved on.

There are some who’d have no problem taking a hit of £14. But there are many others on the poverty line who are likely to be dragged under.

Just as important: it’s increasingly common for children who have left home to move back, and probably then move out again. Some might be returning from a stint abroad, or they have lost a job, or their relationship has broken up, or their home has been repossessed, or their circumstances have changed so they can no longer afford the rent.

Moreover, all the evidence shows that being able to call in, and call on, the parents/grandparents is important for the well-being of a new family, particular a single-parent family. A place to drop into or where the kids can be left for an evening or occasionally stay over can make the difference between contentment and constant anxiety.

And anyway, are working-class people not entitled to a spare room in their home in the second half of their lives, for relatives to stay in long or short-term, or for any other reason that might crop up?

Why should this cost them dear at this stage of their lives?

To Cameron, Osborne, Clegg, Duncan Smith and the rest of that crew, these will seem strange considerations. Cameron and Osborne didn’t grow up in homes with spare rooms but with spare wings. Cameron lived in a mansion set in its own grounds, attended a £23,000-a-year public school, married an heiress who also earned £300,000 a year with whom he now shares a home worth £2.7 million where they can while away their evenings looking forward to a joint inheritance of around £30 million.

You’d think people of such privilege might hesitate before warning that unemployed youngsters will have to be disabused of their “sense of entitlement”, or complaining about people living in houses with rooms they “don’t need”.

The purpose of this specific attack on housing benefits is to drive middle-aged couples into one-bedroom social accommodation. Of which there is virtually none around. But that’s not Cameron’s problem.

The measure will come before the Executive for endorsement in September. Maybe the local parties will tell Cameron to get lost. We shall see.