Labour ‘tying themelves in knots’ over Bedroom Tax

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  By a Newsnet reporter

Labour’s refusal to commit to scrapping the Bedroom Tax has been described as symptomatic of the knots that the party is tying itself in over their partnership with the Tories in the No campaign.

Appearing on Good Morning Scotland on Wednesday, Labour Shadow Scotland Office Minister Willie Bain repeatedly refused to reveal where his party stands on abolishing the Bedroom Tax, stating that Labour would not make commitments until the 2015 general election – and he refused even to criticise Tory Work & Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

The SNP Government has given a firm commitment to scrap the Bedroom Tax if it achieves office in an independent Scotland, while SNP controlled councils have put in place a no-evictions policy for people doing their best to pay that Labour has refused to match.

Mr Bain criticised the Scottish Government, claiming that Holyrood already has the powers to ameliorate the effects of the Bedroom Tax, although he refused to acknowledge that welfare is reserved to Westminster.

In a speech last year, Mr Duncan Smith claimed that Scots enjoyed benefits spending 8% higher per head of population than in the rest of the UK.  However a recent study from the Institute for Fiscal Studies http://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/6821 finds that spending is only 2% higher per head in Scotland. 

Mr Bain was asked about the discrepancy between Mr Duncan Smith’s claim and the true figure, but pointedly refused to criticise his Conservative ally in the Better Together campaign. The Labour MP also refused to answer when asked whether a future Labour Government would reverse the Bedroom Tax.

Asked whether Labour would give any commitments to the future of the Bedroom Tax, Mr Bain said:

“We will make spending commitments at the 2015 General Election that are affordable and funded and we say where the money is coming from.”

Pressed again on the question, Mr Bain responded:

“We’ve made very clear that when we get to the 2015 General Election we will be a responsible opposition and we will make pledges that we can say where the money is coming from and will be affordable.”

He added: “What you can’t do is spread around commitments like confetti.”

Last month the Labour mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, admitted that he was “ashamed” of the party’s stance on the Bedroom Tax and the refusal of the party leadership to commit to its abolition.  Addressing the Unison Conference in the city in June, Mr Anderson said:

“I have said before and I will say it again, it makes me ashamed absolutely ashamed to say that the Labour Party has not committed itself to repealing this Act.”

Commenting, SNP MSP Kevin Stewart, who sits on the Welfare Reform Committee, said:

“Labour’s refusal to tell people in Scotland where their party stands on the Bedroom Tax until after the referendum speaks volumes about the knots they have managed to tie themselves in.

“Over 90 per cent of Scottish MPs voted against the Bedroom Tax, yet Willie Bain refused to commit to scrapping it – and disgracefully he refused even to criticise Iain Duncan Smith, his ally in the No campaign.

“By cosying up to the Tories in the anti-independence campaign, Labour have become unable to offer any kind of positive future for people in Scotland.

“It seems that no matter how much people in Scotland may be suffering, Labour are unable and unwilling to oppose the policies of their Tory partners.

“It is clear from Willie Bain’s comments today that a No vote next year is a vote to continue with Westminster’s Bedroom Tax.

“It is plain to see that the Bedroom Tax is unworkable and unfair, and any credible party should be standing up to oppose it.

“The SNP Government has given a firm commitment to scrap the Bedroom Tax if we achieve office after a Yes vote in next year’s referendum.

“That is one of the major gains that people can only secure with a Yes vote for an independent Scotland.”