Scottish Lib Dems under fire over failure to condemn ‘bedroom tax’


By a Newsnet reporter
The SNP has hit out at the five Lib Dem MSPs for failing to condemn the Westminster government’s proposed “bedroom tax”, which could cost the poorest Scottish families over £54 million a year.
The failure of Willie Rennie’s small Holyrood group to back their Edinburgh West MP’s criticism of Coalition housing benefit cuts is the clearest demonstration possible of their full-throated support for the Tories’ disastrous cuts, claims the SNP.

Last month, LibDem MP Mike Crockart hit out at planned changes to benefit payments for people classified as under-occupying property, describing the moves as “unfair”.
A motion congratulating Mr Crockart on his stance, and stating the Scottish Parliament’s opposition to the UK Government’s ill-considered plans, was lodged in the Parliament, but has so far failed to attract the support of a single Lib Dem MSP.
According to the SNP, that failure to support their own party colleague’s stance can only be taken as a clear signal of their support for the Tory-led coalition’s plans to unfairly penalise thousands of people across Scotland.
Commenting, SNP MSP Colin Keir said: “The complete failure of Holyrood’s Lib Dems to back their colleague can only mean that they fully support the UK Government’s disastrous cuts agenda.
“The Tory-led coalition has targeted almost every group of vulnerable people imaginable, and the fulsome support of Holyrood’s LibDems for these cuts will shock many of the people who voted for them.
“With backing for policies as utterly unfair as the ones the UK Government is pursuing, it is no wonder that support for the LibDems in Scotland has collapsed.
“Mike Crockart is entirely right to brand the plans of the Tory-led coalition he continues to prop up as unfair. It is just a shame that his colleagues in Holyrood lack the backbone to even criticise the UK Government, let alone take action.
“The question they have to answer is why do they believe it is better for these critical decisions to be made by people who are predominantly not elected in Scotland, instead of by a Scottish Parliament 100% elected by people in Scotland?”

According to Scottish Housing Minister Keith Brown, a new analysis has confirmed the UK Government’s Welfare Reform plans will rob Scotland of over £54 million a year.

The Westminster Bill will reduce the amount of housing benefit support that can be given to tenants in the social rented sector by introducing new size criteria for working-age Housing Benefit claimants, who have extra bedrooms.
People who are judged to be ‘under occupying’ their home by one bedroom will have their housing benefit slashed by 14 Per Cent.  Where they are under occupying by two or more bedrooms the deduction is 25 per cent.
The new criteria for under occupation could mean that ill or disabled people, who use a spare bedroom for medical equipment, may all be affected.

The House of Lords has already debated the Bill.  An amendment laid by Lord Best would allow the two bedroom deduction to stand, but require that the one bedroom deduction should only apply where suitable alternative accommodation is available to the tenant.

Speaking when the plans were announced earlier this year, Kieth brown said: “The UK Government’s proposals amount to a bedroom tax that will remove £54.4 million annually from the Scottish economy piling untold misery on the lowest income families.
“The House of Lords has proposed a sensible, common-sense compromise, which I would urge the UK Government to accept.”

However, speaking at a Local Government Association conference last week, the Westminster welfare reform minister Lord Freud defended the controversial policy, which is estimated to affect 660,000 UK households, who will lose £14 a week on average.

Lord Freud said: ‘Nearly a third of working-age social housing tenants on housing benefit are living in accommodation which is too big for their needs, in spite of the fact of severe overcrowding.

“We are stopping the practice of the state paying for rooms beyond claimant needs, and that should go in some way to help tackle the social housing shortage that has been blighting too many lives.”

Graeme Brown, Director of Shelter Scotland, said: “As a charity that works to help people avoid homelessness, we are extremely concerned that these penalties for under occupation could force vulnerable people into a spiral of debt and out of the family home.
“At a time when Scotland doesn’t have enough one bedroom homes to re-house those affected, the refusal by the UK Government to grant exemptions where there is no suitable alternative is grossly unfair.
“Punishing tenants at the same time the Government is cutting the capital budget that could help build the homes they need is simply wrong.”

Mr Brown added: “This decision is grossly unfair and shows the UK Government is simply failing to listen to the voice of reason being put forward by housing professionals, social landlords, MSPs and individuals.

“Penalising low-income people for having an extra room assumes that there is a ready supply of smaller properties for them to move to.  This is simply not the case.  So the only consequence will be people stuck in homes with mounting rent arrears and a further descent into debt.
David Ogilvie, Policy & Strategy Manager with the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations said:
“The SFHA has campaigned hard against the ‘bedroom tax’ which will unfairly penalise social housing tenants who are already struggling financially.  We’re pleased to add our voice to the Scottish Government’s call for the Coalition Government to see sense.
“These proposals are short-sighted and fail to recognise that there is a chronic shortage of one-bedroom properties – 44 Per Cent of working age housing association and co-operative tenants need a one-bedroom property but only 24 Per Cent can get one.
“That’s why we have written to all Scottish MPs reminding them of the devastating impact that this new measure will have upon 70,000 of Scotland’s poorest households, many of whom are disabled or otherwise vulnerable.
“If they struggle to find alternative accommodation they could be left facing homelessness.”

The policy is especially controversial as the £430 million of savings expected by the government is based on an assumption of ‘little tenant mobility’ – suggesting the government does not expect people to downsize.