By Martin Kelly
Campaigners have expressed their disappointment in two Labour MSPs after both failed to back plans to provide additional funds for people who fall victim to the bedroom tax.
The two MSPs, Margaret McDougall and Hanzala Malik, refused to back a Scottish Government proposal to increase Discretionary Housing Payment budgets by £20 million this September.
The extra funding was pledged in response to calls from Shelter Scotland in February for up to £50 million to be made available to help tenants affected by the legislation. Finance Secretary John Swinney responded by pledging £20 million, a sum said Mr Swinney which he could not legally exceed.
However after a vote in private taken by the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee during its budget scrutiny it emerged that Labour members of the committee had refused to support the transfer of the funds.
The news was met with incredulity by anti-Bedroom Tax campaigners who described the behaviour of the Labour MSPs as leaving a “bitter taste”.
Alan Wyllie, from the No2BedroomTax Campaign said:
“We are extremely disappointed to hear that two Labour MSPs voted against the Scottish Government’s proposal to increase Discretionary Housing Payment budgets by £20 million this September. This is a massive own-goal by the Labour party in Scotland.
“The call for increase DHP funding came from Shelter Scotland, the STUC and other civic organisations. It has been a positive and proactive attempt to mitigate the effect of the bedroom tax in Scotland and has been rightfully applauded.
“The bedroom tax a vile policy that has no place in a modern society. It is having a devastating effect on our communities and is hitting hardest some of the most vulnerable in our society.
“The news that MSPs voted against increased funding for those affected by the bedroom tax will hurt and anger tenants who expected Labour MSPs to stand up for them against Tory policy from Westminster.
“We will be contacting the MSPs involved to ask their reasoning behind their vote.”
Jim Buntin, No2BedroomTax Co-Covernor added: “This is the second time Labour has let us down in the past few months and I find it so disappointing.
“Labour are supposed to be the party of the common people, standing up for the working class and fighting for social justice. Today’s news has left a very bitter taste in the mouth.”
Labour’s decision to oppose the Scottish Government plan comes after a recent House of Commons vote calling for the controversial policy to be scrapped altogether. Despite Labour calling for the vote, which was lost by just 26 votes, it emerged that 47 Labour MPs, including 10 representing Scottish constituencies, had failed to attend.
Despite opposition from Labour’s Margaret McDougall and Hanzala Malik, the committee gave its backing to the Scottish Government’s decision to transfer funds towards boosting Discretionary Housing payments by £20 million in order to help victims of the Bedroom Tax – the maximum legal support that can be given.
Also joining the two Labour MSPs was Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser and Green MSP Alison Johnstone. SNP MSPs Christian Allard, Chic Brodie, Mike Mackenzie, Dennis Robertson and Marco Biagi voted in favour.
Commenting, SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee said:
“Simply put this is Labour trying to stop cash going to those affected by the Bedroom Tax.
“Labour have once again shown their shameless hypocrisy when it comes to helping people affected by the Bedroom Tax.
“Their inability to put aside political posturing and help victims of the Bedroom Tax is an utter disgrace. Coming so soon after their MPs failed to show up in a close vote to scrap the policy altogether, it shows that Labour simply does not regard helping people affected by the Bedroom Tax as a priority.
“Labour seems to regard this issue as a convenient political football when the fact is that it is having a devastating effect on tens of thousands of households across Scotland.
“The Bedroom Tax is a disgraceful policy that has no place in Scotland and the SNP has given a firm commitment to scrap it in the first year of an independent Scotland.
“A Yes vote next year is a vote to rid Scotland of the Bedroom Tax once and for all and ensure that such disastrous measures can never again be imposed on Scotland by Westminster politicians.”
The vote was taken on the following conclusion:
“The Committee is disappointed that factors outwith the Scottish Government’s control have delayed certain aspects of the Home Energy Efficiency Programme. Whilst we acknowledge the importance of funding energy efficiency measures we support the Scottish Government’s proposed budget transfer from the Home Energy Efficiency Programme (coupled with savings from the enterprise bodies and other budget lines) to provide support to people as a result of the impact of the UK Government’s under occupation of social housing charges (“the bedroom tax”).