By a Newsnet reporter
Information on the rules surrounding the Bedroom Tax which David Cameron gave to MPs during Prime Minister’s questions has been directly contradicted in a letter from David Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform at the UK Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
Opposition parties and organisations representing people living with serious and incapacitating illness have described the UK government as “out of touch” with those who are suffering.
Earlier in the summer when asked at Prime Ministers Questions about the impact of the Bedroom Tax on people with serious and terminal illnesses, the UK’s Tory prime minister claimed:
“Anyone who needs to have a carer sleeping in another bedroom is exempt from the spare room subsidy.”
SNP MSP Christina McKelvie then wrote to the PM for clarification of this statement. She received a response from Mr Freud, which directly contradicted the PM’s claim. Formerly an investment banker, Mr Freud is a political appointee who sits in the House of Lords as Lord Freud. He was given his seat in 2006 by the former Labour government after Tony Blair brought him into government to advise on the benefits system. Mr Freud then switched his support to the Conservatives and was appointed as Minister for Welfare Reform by David Cameron.
When asked how the bedroom tax would affect sufferers of Motor Neurone Disease (MND), which often results in the death of the sufferer within a few years of diagnosis, Mr Freud explained that there are no plans to remove the threat of eviction for those with MND if they are living in properties with a spare room.
Mr Freud went on in the letter to say that those affected by conditions such as MND may wish to consider “taking in a lodger, finding work or increasing their hours of work” to escape Bedroom Tax eviction.
Lord Freud’s response is in direct contradiction to the Prime Minister’s remarks and reinforces the findings of MND Scotland of the unjust impact these reforms will have on the terminally ill.
Motor Neurone Disease is a neurological disorder which affects nerve cells controlling voluntary muscle activity including speaking, walking, swallowing, and general movement of the body. The disease is generally progressive in nature, and causes increasingly debilitating disability and eventual death. The cause of MND is unknown. Half of those with the illness die within three or four years of diagnosis, the great majority of the remainder die within 10 years of diagnosis.
MND Scotland’s Chief Executive, Craig Stockton said:
“To ask those who are trying to live with a rapidly progressing, terminal illness, to take in a lodger or increase their hours of work, shows a complete lack of understanding by the minister of the impact that this life limiting condition can have.
“MND Scotland continues to call on the DWP to exempt from the bedroom tax those who are unable to share a bedroom with their spouse/partner due to an array of medical equipment necessary to keep them safe at night; and those who have had their homes significantly adapted to meet their needs.
“If not, local authorities will potentially be meeting the cost of their housing several times over – to adapt their homes in the first instance, provide them with a Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) to offset the loss of housing benefit or find them a smaller home that would need to be specially adapted all over again. The government needs to think again about how this reform is hitting those with conditions such as MND.”
Commenting, Ms McKelvie said:
“David Cameron has incorrectly advised the UK parliament on the rules surrounding evictions for people with terminal conditions and the unfair Bedroom Tax. The contradictory response I’ve received shows just how out of touch his Westminster Government is with those suffering as a result of his actions.
“The last thing somebody needs when they are terminally ill is the threat of being evicted – and this is exactly what the UK’s Bedroom Tax is doing.
“The audacity the UK government has to suggest that those suffering from MND must rent out a room in their house or face financial penalty is a draconian policy at best and is no burden that any person in such circumstances should have to bear.
“All Mr Cameron has displayed from his comments on the Bedroom Tax is that he lacks understanding and compassion, which is typical of the archaic Westminster system. The Prime Minister should apologise to the House of Commons and correct his error for the record.
“The SNP is the only party that has committed itself to abolishing the Bedroom Tax but to do that we need the powers of an independent Scotland that only a Yes vote in next year’s referendum will secure.
“An independent Scotland will have its own welfare policy– something which offers a real alternative to Westminster’s cuts agenda and which will be a major factor in motivating people to vote Yes in next year’s referendum.”
Beat The Bedroom Tax campaigners have begun a tour of Lib Dem seats in Scotland to highlight the role of the party in introducing welfare cuts, and calling on them to rethink. The group will hold a march and rally at the Lib Dem party conference in Glasgow on September 14.