Labour mired in confusion over bedroom tax

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP has challenged Ed Miliband to give an immediate, unequivocal yes or no to the question of whether Labour will abolish the Bedroom Tax, following a week of confusing and contradictory statements from senior Labour frontbenchers.

On Wednesday Mr Miliband repeatedly refused to say at Prime Minister’s Questions whether Labour would scrap the policy in 2015, despite several invitations to do so.

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne told Good Morning Scotland on September 5th that before Labour could make a manifesto commitment they had to prove that the policy costs more than it saves.

Mr Byrne said: “…We think it’s a policy that it costs more than it saves. We know that to write a manifesto commitment to that we’ve got to prove that and that’s the work we’re setting about with Labour councils up and down the country.”

Asked whether Labour was looking for a way to get rid of the policy, Mr Byrne replied:

“We know that people want proof that the money can be found to drop this policy.”

However, during an STV debate on Thursday night, Labour’s Deputy Scottish Leader Anas Sarwar claimed: “If we were in Government tomorrow, we would abolish the Bedroom Tax.”

However during an interview on BBC2’s Newsnight Scotland broadcast at the same time as the STV debate, Labour’s Scottish Leader Johann Lamont was pressed several times to ‘be clear’ that Labour would abolish the Bedroom Tax in 2015, and refused to do so.

Asked if Ed Milliband would repeal the Bedroom Tax if Labour get in to power, Ms Lamont replied:

“Well I’m very clear, Ed Milliband has led the charge on the iniquitous nature of the Bedroom Tax…”

Asked again if this meant the tax should be repealed, she continued:

“… and I certainly believe, I certainly believe that no Labour government would support a policy which has attacked individual vulnerable people in the way it did and all of the evidence…

Asked a third time to state clearly whether Labour would or would not abolish the Bedroom Tax, Ms Lamont said: 

“Well I know that Ed Milliband will make sure the welfare system that he puts forward as a costed package will not tackle and make victims of particular individual vulnerable people.”

A statement issued by a UK Labour spokesperson this week also refused to commit to scrapping the Bedroom Tax, saying that “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.”

Earlier this week Jackie Baillie, Labour’s welfare spokesperson at Holyrood, also hinted that Labour would abolish the Bedroom tax, saying:

“We have always consistently been opposed to the bedroom tax. We have campaigned across the country on this. I know that when proposals for the bedroom tax were floated by civil servants across (then Chancellor) Alistair Darling’s desk he rejected them outright.

“We want the Tories to get rid of it now, but the matter is under active consideration and there’s no doubt in my mind that we should scrap the bedroom tax.”

Ms Baillie is proposing a bill to be put forward to Holyrood which would ban evictions resulting from arrears due to the Bedroom Tax, with the shortfall – estimated at between £50 million and £100 million – being made up from the Scottish budget.  Ms Baillie and the Labour party have refused to identify the areas of Scottish public spending which would have to be cut in order to find the necessary funds.

Ms Baillie and the Labour party are opposed to devolving control of welfare and benefits policy to the Scottish Parliament. 

The SNP have claimed that Labour’s Scottish Leader and Deputy Scottish Leader appearing simultaneously on different TV programmes last night and making contradictory statements on the policy is embarrassing for Labour, and calls into question who exactly is in charge of Labour’s Welfare policy.

SNP-run councils have committed to a no-eviction policy for those affected who are taking all reasonable steps to avoid falling into arrears.

The Scottish Government has already announced that, should the SNP be elected to office in an independent Scotland, they would abolish the Bedroom Tax in the first year of independence.

Commenting, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani – who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee – said:

“Labour are mired in confusion and their leaders at both Holyrood and Westminster all seem to have their own idea of what Labour’s policy actually is. Labour’s multiple stances on the Bedroom Tax are an utter shambles, and it is high time they levelled with the people affected by this iniquitous Westminster Tory policy.

“On Thursday night we had Labour’s Scottish Leader and Deputy Leader appearing simultaneously on different TV channels – one says they’ll scrap it, the other doesn’t seem to know.

“So, if Ed Miliband is actually leading Labour he needs to give an immediate, unequivocal commitment – would Labour scrap the Bedroom Tax if they were to be elected in 2015? Yes or no?

“The SNP have been unequivocal – the Bedroom Tax would be scrapped in year one of an independent Scotland if we were elected to office.

“Scotland deserves better than this from Labour. 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.”