By Martin Kelly
The UK Labour party has announced it is to scrap the Bedroom tax if the party wins the next UK general election.
The surprise announcement is a significant U-turn on the party’s recent statements and follows months of criticism of Labour’s stance after Ed Miliband repeatedly refused to be drawn on the issue.
In a statement released this evening by Labour, it reveals that Ed Miliband will tomorrow announce he intends to abolish the Bedroom Tax.
He will say: “The bedroom tax – not what the Tories call the spare room subsidy – the bedroom tax: a symbol of an out of touch, uncaring Tory government that stands up for the privileged few – but never for you.
“So we will scrap that tax.”
The issue of the Bedroom Tax has led to confusion within the Labour party north and south of the border with Scottish Labour politicians appearing to contradict one another over Labour’s stance.
The timing of the announcement appears to have caught Scottish Labour cold. Last week their welfare spokesperson Jackie Baillie claimed on Radio Scotland that the party would scrap the tax and that an announcement was about to be made.
However Ms Baillie was immediately slapped down by her party bosses in London who said her claim “goes against what we are saying – we haven’t made that pledge to date,”.
Appearing on Brian Taylor’s Big Debate on Friday, when asked about her comments last week, the Labour MSP appeared to back away from them saying only that Labour had campaigned against the tax and wouldn’t have introduced it and would scrap it if they were in power tomorrow.
Pressed on whether an announcement was imminent, she replied: “Well you wouldn’t expect me to do that here Brian” adding that asking about scrapping the tax was a “false discussion”.
Previously the Labour party has insisted that no pledge would be made until just prior to the next UK general election. A recent statement issued by Labour said: “…we are not writing our next manifesto today and, as with everything, we will have to take a view of the fiscal position nearer the time.”
The SNP has responded to the by claiming Labour has been panicked into making the announcement in an attempt at diverting from revelations by former party aide Damian McBride who admitted running smear campaigns against other politicians.
Mr McBride, who worked for Gordon Brown, has published a book in which he describes conducting several smear campaigns against political rivals of Mr Brown.
Commenting, SNP MSP Annabelle Ewing – who sits on the welfare reform committee – said:
“Labour has been panicked into making this announcement by the fear of looming bad headlines over their internal splits – and we know from their past history they cannot be trusted to keep the policies they are forced into.
“If we take a look at their track record, in 1997 they cut single parent and disabled benefits and we know Alistair Darling reneged on a Labour promise to introduce a wind chill factor to payments for cold weather payments – another policy they were pressured into.
“The truth is they can’t be trusted, and the only guaranteed way for Scotland to get rid of the Bedroom Tax is with a Yes vote next year.
“Independence will ensure that Scotland’s welfare policy is in Scotland’s hands and allow us to address other punitive welfare cuts from a Tory government we didn’t vote for
“The fact it has taken this long for the Labour Party to make any decision on the Bedroom Tax – after all the contradictory statements we’ve heard – is evidence that we cannot trust this announcement.
“In contrast, the SNP’s position is unequivocal – the Bedroom Tax would be scrapped in an independent Scotland if we are elected to office.
“Most people agree that we can take better decisions about welfare in Scotland for ourselves. Only a Yes vote in next year’s referendum will give the Scottish Parliament the powers to scrap the Bedroom Tax and build a fairer welfare system.”
Earlier this month, UN official Raquel Rolnik called for the policy to be suspended arguing that it could breach human rights legislation.