Bedroom tax encourages cannabis growing

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The word might be oops, although politicians might utter something stronger. The coalition government's increasingly disastrous tax on spare bedrooms looks like it might have another unforeseen consequence - encouraging the cultivation of illegal drugs.

It seems that some tenants, financially compromised by the new ruling, are renting out their spare rooms to criminal gangs to grow cannabis. The old-fashioned lodger has been replaced by something rather more 21st-century. The Birmingham Mail investigated the plight of the 14,500 tenants in the city whose income has been affected by the law. Many are turning to loan sharks to survive, others are looking for lucrative, if illegal, ways of paying the rent.

One council official quoted in the Mail said, "Things are tough and renting out rooms is becoming more common and so is using properties which have been abandoned by tenants. Tenants take the offer because they need the cash. There is also a suspicion that they are being pressurised into it to pay off a debt to their dealer or to a local money lender. The people we are talking about are often very vulnerable.”

Council officials believe the problem is escalating with up to 50 properties now being used as cannabis farms. In turn this is sparking conflicts between rival gangs breaking into properties to steal drugs.

The problem was there before the bedroom tax. West Midlands Police revealed it uncovered 145 drug factories each month, run by organised gangs using illegal immigrants as cheap or free labour. The bedroom tax has merely made it easier to find premises.

The bedroom tax is fast becoming David Cameron's version of the poll tax, that led, ultimately, to the fall of his heroine Margaret Thatcher. It is an unpopular and discriminatory tax targeted at those most vulnerable and least able to sustain any reduction to their income. If it turns out to result in a proliferation of street drugs it could inflict lasting damage on Cameron and his coalition government.

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