5 Sep 2014

The end of the spare room subsidy? No

“The bedroom tax is on its way out,’ trumpets Labour’s Rachel Reeves on Twitter with no fewer than four exclamation marks!!!! But both her optimism and excitement are perhaps a little premature, even after today’s vote in parliament over reform of the spare room subsidy, to give it its proper title.

Labour joined forces with the Liberal Democrats to back a private member’s bill sponsored by Andrew George, the Lib Dem MP for St Ives.

If passed the bill would see key exemptions for those who cannot be found a smaller property and disabled people who can prove they need the second bedroom or whose home has been specifically adapted for them.


There’s no doubt it was a significant defeat for the government. The bill was passed by 306 – 231. The government can usually rely on a majority of more than 50. But here’s why Ms Reeves might have spared a few of her exclamation marks.

We’re getting close to an election. Many Lib Dems are getting ever keener to mark out the differences between their party and their coalition partners and where better to do that than with the hugely controversial – and actually not very efficient, according to recent figures – bedroom tax?

And though the Lib Dems have now made it clear they will look at some reform of this policy as a manifesto commitment, they’ve certainly not said they’re in favour of scrapping it like Labour (note: it took Labour a rather long time to come to that conclusion themselves, say critics).

The Tory position remains the same – it’s s a policy which is about fairness and they’re absolutely committed to it.

And for all those paying the spare bedroom subsidy or piling up the debt because of it (the Department for Work and Pensions’ own figures show more than half of all tenants charged with paying the subsidy are in rent arrears), this is another reason why the end may not be in sight.

This is a private member’s bill. Their passage through parliament is rarely smooth or quick. The chances of it being being “talked out”, running out of time before the election, are high.

So a blow for one of the government’s key welfare policies – but the end of the spare room subsidy? No.

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