Tuesday, 06 October 2015

Opposition MPs fail in bid to scrap bedroom tax

A last ditch attempt to derail the government’s ‘bedroom tax’ has failed.

MPs from Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and the Green Party called an opposition day debate yesterday on the under-occupation penalty, calling for it to be abolished. The motion was defeated by 265 votes to 224 after a heated five-hour debate.

Under the penalty working age social housing tenants who are receiving housing benefit will have their payments cut if they are deemed to be under-occupying their home. The policy is due to be implemented on 1 April.

Liam Byrne, shadow work and pensions secretary, described it is a ‘policy that is unique in its cruelty’.

He argued people will not be able to move to smaller properties, because there are not enough available, so will be forced to cope with reduced payments.

‘About £490 million is earmarked to be saved by this policy over the course of this year, but it will be saved only if 660,000 households are hit for £14 a week for 52 weeks a year,’ he said. ‘That is how those savings will be delivered. This is not about bringing spare bedrooms on to the market; it is about hurting vulnerable people and asking them to pay extra.’

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith responded by blaming the lack of suitable homes on the previous Labour government.

Earlier during prime minister’s questions, David Cameron was also forced to defend the policy. He repeated his claim that the penalty is ‘fair’ and £50 million of discretionary housing payments will help the most vulnerable people who are affected.

‘Of course we need to build more social homes, and we are doing exactly that, but in the meantime we should do everything we can to make sure those homes are used in the most efficient and fair way,’ he said.

He also suggested Labour might have introduced a similar policy, but ‘now that it is in opposition, all we get is rank opportunism and irresponsibility’.

John Healey, a former Labour housing minister, said the prime minister was ‘wrong to hide behind the fig leaf of the discretionary payments fund’ and called the policy  ‘callous and reckless’.

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