17 Jul 2014

Clegg’s U-turn on ‘bedroom tax’ is ‘not a clear climb-down’

Nick Clegg voted for the so-called “bedroom tax” more than two years ago. But he’s since changed his mind. Cue cries of “unbelievable hypocrisy”.

This week, as David Cameron was busy reshuffling his cabinet, an internal government review revealed the true impact of the cuts in housing benefit outside the Westminster bubble.

A total of 522,905 households were affected by the spare room subsidy in August 2013. A staggering 60 per cent were in arrears as a result of it.

Read more: 'Bedroom tax' study raises serious questions

Nick Clegg now says he is prepared to reform the policy in the next Liberal Democrat manifesto and will lobby Conservative colleagues.

Under the Liberal Democrats’ plans, disabled people would be exempt from the penalty, and no one would have to pay unless an alternative home could be found for them to move into and they turned it down.

But Clegg’s U-turn is too little, too late for some.

Take 37-year-old Wayne Blackburn, who lives with his wife, Laura, in Nelson, Lancashire. Wayne suffers from a condition, which leaves him in almost constant pain. He has already been forced to downsize to what he says is an “unsuitable” one bedroom flat.

He told me: “The impact the bedroom tax has had is there for all to see – and he’s done nothing. From my point of view it’s electioneering at it’s very worst. He’s simply preparing for a break from his coalition partners. I’ve already downsized, and it’s caused a lot of stress and hardship.

“We ended up being worse off financially, and we got no help with the move.

“I have severe mobility problems and it’s been very difficult for me and my wife.”

The controversial reforms see council tenants only receiving housing benefit for the number of rooms they need, meaning tenants with spare bedrooms receive less money.

The government argues that the policy is necessary to bring down Britain’s housing benefit bill, and free up larger houses for families.

Today’s back-track from Clegg is not a clear climb-down. It got a grudging welcome from his Lib Dem colleague Adrian Sanders, who tweeted: “Good news Clegg’s caught up with those of us who voted against this in 1st place.”

For his coalition colleague, William Hague, it was an easy opportunity to ridicule the Liberal Democrats.

To a chorus of guffaws, the newly-installed Leader of the House told MPs: “I don’t think that we’ll be able to have an emergency debate on every occasion that they [the Lib Dems] change their policy”.