The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives clash over a Commons bill that is seeking to reform the government’s so-called “bedroom tax”.
The private member’s bill, proposed by Lib Dem MP Andrew George, is supported by his party’s leadership and the Labour party, but opposed by the Lib Dems’ Tory coalition partners.
The coalition government’s “spare room subsidy” – or “bedroom tax“, as critics have dubbed it – is designed to clamp down on social housing tenants on housing benefit living who are living in homes that are deemed too big.
People in this situation are meant to have a choice: they can stay put but have their housing benefit cut, or move to a smaller property. The problem is that there is a shortage of smaller homes in the social housing sector.
Mr George’s bill would mean that those who cannot be found a smaller home would be exempt, as would disabled people who live in adapted properties or need a spare room. It cleared its first Commons vote on Friday, with a majority of 75.
The Lib Dems argue that people should only be penalised if they reject the offer of a smaller home, while Labour wants the “spare room subsidy” scrapped.
Ahead of their annual conference, Lib Dem activists have drawn up a motion calling for a new approach to welfare in the party’s 2015 election manifesto, with calls for the “bedroom tax” to be scrapped.
Private member’s bills have no chance of becoming law unless they have government backing, but Mr George’s proposed legislation puts pressure on the Conservatives to amend the “bedroom tax”.
Tenants with a spare room have seen their housing benefit reduced by 14 per cent; those with two spare rooms have had their benefit cut by 25 per cent.
The government’s rationale is that action is needed to free up larger properties for families on housing waiting lists, and that changes would cost large sums of money at a time when public spending cuts are needed to reduce the deficit.
Speaking in the Commons, Work and Pensions Minister Mark Harper told Mr George: “The government’s estimate is that the bill would cost around £1bn of public expenditure, so I’d be grateful in your speech if you’d let the house know what spending cuts or tax increases you propose to put before the house when it makes its decision.”
Mr George said these estimated costs were “speculative” and accused Mr Harper of “spouting” a figure” without any evidence”.