Nick Clegg accused of hypocrisy after U-turn on bedroom tax
Lib Dem leader says party no longer supports policy in its present form in intensification of Tory ‘differentiation strategy’.
Nick Clegg moved to distance the Liberal Democrats from one of the coalition’s most controversial policies when the party announced that it no longer supported the “bedroom tax” in its present form. Labour accused the Lib Dems of “unbelievable hypocrisy” after the party intensified its so called Tory “differentiation strategy” by saying that it would call on its coalition partners to agree to an overhaul of the policy before the election.
The Lib Dems accept that the Tories are unlikely to accept the change to the policy, which would ensure that social tenants only lose their housing benefit if they refuse an alternative property. The likely Tory rejection means the Lib Dems will include their plans, which would also ensure that disabled people are exempt, in their general election manifesto.
Under the bedroom tax, introduced by the coalition as part of its deficit reduction plan, housing benefit for tenants in social housing is reduced if their house is deemed to be too large for their needs. The coalition said the policy was designed to bring social tenants into line with those living in privately rented properties on housing benefit. It was also designed to tackle the imbalance whereby 240,000 families live in homes that are too small for their needs while housing benefit is paid to families living in properties that are too big for theirs.
The Lib Dems, who have faced immense political grief over their support for the policy, voted at their autumn conference to review the tax. Tim Farron, the Lib Dem president, announced in April that he was withdrawing his party’s support for the measure on the grounds that it had caused “huge social problems”.
Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury, called for an overhaul of the policy after a report by the Department of Work and Pensions this week showed that only one in 20 claimants affected by the change had downsized their property. Under the Lib Dem plans, new tenants would receive benefits based on the number of rooms they need. But Alexander said that existing tenants “would only see a reduction in benefit if they are offered a suitable smaller home and, crucially, turn it down”.
In an article for the Daily Mirror, Alexander wrote: “The Liberal Democrats will make the case for these new, fairer rules, seeking to get them in place during this parliament. If we can’t convince our Conservative coalition partners, we will commit to these reforms in our 2015 manifesto.
“I want everyone to have the chance to live securely in a decent home. That’s why I’ve driven through measures that will deliver record numbers of affordable homes to help tackle the root cause of our housing problem, lack of supply. And it’s why our manifesto will set out plans to go further and deliver 300,000 new homes a year.”
Labour depicted the move as a cynical bid by the Lib Dems to distance themselves from an unpopular policy less than a year before the election. Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “This is unbelievable hypocrisy from Nick Clegg. The Lib Dems voted for the bedroom tax. There wouldn’t be a bedroom tax if it wasn’t for the Lib Dems. And in February when Labour tabled a bill to scrap the bedroom tax, the Lib Dems were nowhere to be seen. This just goes to show why you can’t trust a word the Lib Dems say – it is clear the only way to cancel the bedroom tax is to elect a Labour government next year.”
Lib Dem sources said they were simply acting on the basis of evidence after the government report showed the policy was not working.
- The Guardian,