Steve on the Bedroom Tax

(March 05, 2013)

Imagine a government so incompetent that it designed a tax that hit soldiers but not prisoners; or a Department so useless it punished foster parents for the crime of giving a home to a child in need. Imagine ministers so out of touch they had to be told by others their plans hurt tens of thousands of pensioners - because they didn't know.

Welcome to today's Department for Work and Pensions. From the crack team that gave us a Work Programme that is officially worse than doing nothing, we now have a Bedroom Tax that we suspect may cost more than it saves.

Labour supports sensible welfare reform but the bedroom tax is crazy. Ministers claim they are trying to solve under-occupancy but David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have been forced to admit that it is impossible for their plans to work because there aren’t enough smaller homes for families to move to.

It is in black and white in their own impact assessment – they know this policy won’t work. So all the Bedroom Tax will achieve is making some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society event poorer. Two thirds of these families, by the way, are home to someone with a disability and the National Housing Federation say 200,000 are receiving Disability Living Allowance.

Everyone is warning the government that this policy is a mess, but Ministers are burying their heads in the sand.

In fact the department is in such a shambles that DWP press officers were forced to slap down their own Secretary of State after he told the six o’clock news he was looking at making changes. The whole thing is descending into farce.

The scheme is now so chaotic it could actually end up costing more than it saves in many parts of the country. If families are made homeless or pushed into expensive private rented accommodation the tax payer could actually be left with a higher bill – and still the problem of under occupancy will not be solved.

“In the North West 43% of people living in council or housing association homes who receive housing benefit will be hit. This means 100,000 people will be worse off by £728 a year when the bedroom tax comes into force.

The tragedy is this government’s plans won’t even succeed on their own terms. Everyone agrees the welfare bill needs to come down, but this government is now expected to spend £13bn more than planned because of they are totally failing to get Britain moving again.

The best way to bring down the benefits bill is to get people into jobs. That’s why Labour is calling for a tough but fair compulsory jobs guarantee. We would offer anyone who has been out of work for more than two years a real job – one that they would be required to take, no ifs and no buts.

Britain needs real welfare reform that is tough, fair and that works, not more chaos and confusion from this government.

After 13 years in which they wallowed in Opposition attempting to de-toxify the brand, the bedroom tax is evidence of the same old pernicious Tory politics that earned them their title as the 'Nasty Party'. I regret to say, they are living up to it.

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