LibLink: Danny Alexander: We want a fair housing benefit system for every tenant

speech danny alexander 6People wonder why Liberal Democrats supported the Bedroom Tax in the first place. Well, I spent 4 yesrs sitting beside a Liberal Democrat MP when maybe 5 families a week would  come to us and say that they were stuck in a house that was way too small. Their kids had nowhere to study or play. That was what was foremost in their minds when they agreed the Bedroom Tax. They wanted to make it easier for those families. That was their motivation even though I think the logic of the system they chose was always flawed.

When the evidence showed them that it wasn’t working, they have very quickly changed the policy. That, to me, is sensible and something you don’t often see in a Government. I have spent long enough trying to get government organisations to fix stuff when it is clear that they have made a mistake. They just don’t admit it and stonewall you. I find it very refreshing that, within 48 hours of the report being published, Liberal Democrats have looked at the evidence and changed their approach. The party is not so hard-wired into the establishment that it thinks it gets everything right and won’t admit mistakes.

I put up Danny Alexander’s email to party members last night but he has also written for the Mirror on what the Liberal Democrats want to happen now:

Our revised proposal is that new tenants in the social rented sector would receive housing benefit based on the number of rooms they need.
But those already in the social rented sector would only see a reduction in benefit if they are offered a suitable smaller home and, crucially, turn it down.

Disabled adults should be treated the same as disabled children, by permanently exempting them.

And we would introduce new measures on social landlords to manage their stock more effectively so more people get put into the right home.

The Liberal Democrats will make the case for these new fairer rules, seeking to get them in place during this Parliament.If we can’t convince our Conservative coalition partners, we will commit to these reforms in our 2015 manifesto.

I want everyone to have the chance to live securely in a decent home. That’s why I’ve driven through measures that will deliver record numbers of affordable homes to help tackle the root cause of our housing problem, lack of supply. And it’s why our manifesto will set out plans to go further and deliver 300,000 new homes a year.

You can read the whole article here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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31 Comments

  • Elaine Woodard 17th Jul '14 - 9:51am

    I would have thought there was more than sufficient evidence at the start, that there aren’t enough houses for people to downsize to.

  • While I welcome the change of heart, I can’t see that it makes any meaningful difference. It was patently obvious that the bedroom tax was cruel and unfair from the start. This was explained at length by a great many commentators, and no MP can credibly claim to have been unaware of the facts.

    The Lib Dems could have stopped this happening in the first place; they chose not to. A few words now won’t fix the situation for those they’ve made suffer and there’s no reason to believe that this change of heart will actually make any policy difference.

    Actions, I’m afraid, speak a lot louder than words.

  • Alan Budimirovic 17th Jul '14 - 10:13am

    For once I agree with Nick Clegg that as it was in the private sector through the 2006 consequential provisions regulations it would only apply to new tenants giving them the choice whether or not to take the property and pay the extra rent. To abolish it completely is not going to address the issues but we also need more houses yo be built.

  • When the evidence showed them that it wasn’t working, they have very quickly changed the policy

    Oh, come on: this has got nothing to do with the report. That’s a convenient news hook, but everyone with half a brain cell who follows politics at all knows what this is really about: it’s the beginning of the ‘differentiation strategy’.

    That’s why it’s being matched from the Conservative side this morning by the rumblings about the ECHR.

    Clearly these two announcements were co-ordinated so one would get the late news last night and one the early news this morning, so they wouldn’t clash, and to drive home to the electorate the differences between Lib Dems and Tories (something which suits both sides, hence why they are co-operating in managing the news cycle).

    This has nothing to do with evidence: it’s just politicians playing politics.

  • Richard Harris 17th Jul '14 - 10:25am

    @ Dav

    Couldn’t agree more. Hold tight folks because there will be many “seen the light” moments in the next few months. I just appeal to the British population – don’t be fooled. Libdems voted for this. Don’t forget.

  • Caracatus

    Just on homes, I think we WILL see many more homes being built in the next couple of years. Its just taken time for the relaxation of planning laws and the requirement for councils to have a guaranteed housing supply to actually come through as new homes. If Cheshire East is anything to go by thousands and thousands of new homes have been given planning approval in the last 12 months or so because the council couldn’t demonstrate a decent 5 year pipeline of new homes.

    If this is being replicated across the country we’ll see a real spike in house growth. And whoever’s in power next parliament will take credit for it :-/

  • Alan Budimirovic 17th Jul '14 - 11:01am

    Let’s see if the libdems vote with labour. Then we will see if its a differentiation strategy!

  • @Gareth Wilson

    I hope you are correct with so many extra people coming into Britain we need an extra 700,000 homes now many need to be small, that or start reclaiming North Sea land mass

  • Richard Harris 17th Jul '14 - 11:34am

    Danny Alexander, this morning, told the BBC “If we cannot convince our Conservative coalition partners, we will commit to these reforms [reform of bedroom tax]in our 2015 Liberal Democrat manifesto.”
    Manifesto promises again. Or is a commitment different to a promise?

  • Helen Dudden 17th Jul '14 - 12:33pm

    Getting close to the elections.
    In Bath where I live, I have been complaining about the shortage, and, how some properties are not the greatest.

    It was a shame that Don Foster MP had no interest in housing and problems, but, then I had to leave my family and move out of the city.

    Not the supposed to be the way, pensioners are living.

    But then I moved on, and things will change, because they have too. Someone will change them, too late for your Party.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 17th Jul '14 - 1:37pm

    So, after inflicting untold misery on the poorest and the most vulnerable and having forced people out of council homes they have lived in for years, in effect making them displaced persons, the Liberal Democrats now concede that their support for the policy was wrong. That’s all right then!

    Labour have promised to scrap the Bedroom Tax. If the Liberal Democrats believe the policy was wrong they should apologise and like Labour pledge to scrap it. But then we all know what the Liberal Democrats’ pledges are worth!

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem): “… and having forced people out of council homes they have lived in for years …” – so you think it’s OK for one person to live in a three-bedroom house while a family of four is stuck in a two-bedroom flat?

  • @ Mack (evidently a Labour supporter)

    “Labour have promised to scrap the Bedroom Tax”

    And so spend more money on subsidising people to live in accommodation that is too large for them while other people are overcrowded. A brilliant move by Labour, eh?

    It was the implementation of the withdrawal of the spare room subsidy that was wrong, not the principle.

  • Alan Budimirovic 17th Jul '14 - 2:46pm

    15 posts has libdemvoice become an irrelevance like the party it supports. Who knows only that to change ones mind set all relevant questions must be put and answered. I don’t ever want to become a libdem especially when honest polite views are not published because certain people don’t like them. We don’t live in communist china.

  • Just when you thought Lib Dem credibility couldn’t get any worse they announe this about the bedroom tax. A joke!! Next thing they’ll be promising to scrap tuition fees again!!

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem) 17th Jul '14 - 3:31pm

    @ Sid Cumberland and RC

    Your arguments would only have validity if there was direct equivalence between the homes available and the people being forced to move. As it is, the Coalition has punished council tenants by deducting their benefits even when there are no smaller sized homes for them to transfer into. But I still see it as grossly immoral to starve and bankrupt people out of the homes they have lived in all their lives. Labour will be able to scrap the Bedroom Tax because they will build more council homes to house all those overcrowded families the Coalition cries crocodile tears over whilst using their plight as a specious justification for imposing a punitive, inequitable and vindictive tax against the most vulnerable in our society. Don’t think the voters will forget that in a hurry.

  • Labour needs to scrap the Bedroom Tax even before the houses are built, because it is indeed immoral to starve and bankrupt people out of their homes. I used to think we lived in a civilised country that didn’t reduce people to penury.
    It is incredible that the Lib Dems have supported this measure without any pilot schemes first to see if it was feasible.
    Since before the Underoccupancy Penalty (Bedroom Tax) was introduced, councils and housing associations were warning that in most areas there was only a small fraction of the number of smaller flats and houses needed which were available for people to move into!
    I used to vote Lib Dem. No more.

  • Danny Alexander’s revised proposal above that only new tenants will be charged extra will only work if people are offered a house/flat of the right size for them. What if there aren’t any (as is likely in very many places) – and the tenant can only be offered a bigger property? Will people be charged the Bedroom Tax then whether they can afford it or not?

  • Helen Dudden 17th Jul '14 - 5:50pm

    I won’t forget it, nor will I forget the flat that I lived in.

  • Mack (Not a Lib Dem): You seem to have missed the main point here: “… those already in the social rented sector would only see a reduction in benefit if they are offered a suitable smaller home and, crucially, turn it down.” You also seem to be remarkably optimistic about Labour’s house-building credentials. Zilch achieved in thirteen years … which of course is why we’re in the (housing) mess we’re in anyway.

  • Andrew Suffield 17th Jul '14 - 7:31pm

    Labour have promised to scrap the Bedroom Tax

    What’s their position on scrapping the bedroom tax that the last Labour government introduced? Or is this just a blatant attempt at vote-grabbing with absolutely no interest in the issue?

  • Andrew Suffield

    Labour did indeed introduce a bedroom tax in the private sector. However they did not make it retrospective like the LD did in the public and private sector, which meant that many families have faced extreme hardship with some being forced to move house. LD in action for you.

  • A Simpson – do you mean families being forced out of a small flat into a house that’s big enough for them?

  • Unfortunately the Bedroom Tax is making people in at least some areas shun larger properties for fear of falling foul of the bedroom tax. eg this report from Merseyside “St Helens-based Helena Partnership, which manages 12,700 homes, has triple the number of empty three-bedroom properties it did before the under-occupancy charge came into force last April. Meanwhile it now has a waiting list of up to ten years for its one-bedroom flats.” http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/merseyside-homes-lie-empty-bedroom-6762009
    There’s even talk of demolishing larger houses that can no longer find tenants in some places!
    And this week the Guardian reports on a social landlord telling researchers: “Our customers (tenants) are in severe hardship through this reduction in housing benefit and many are needing vouchers for food banks after making rent payments. in some area. Customers are distraught and telling us they cannot cope and we are dealing with regular threats of suicide.””
    There seems to have been no joined up thinking at all in the implementation of the bedroom tax – incompetent thinking, arrogant ignoring of experts who warned in advance of the problems which would arise, and a total lack of regard for making sure that people were going to be able to get their most basic needs met.

  • A Social Liberal 18th Jul '14 - 2:09am

    Once again Caracatus has hit the nail on the head. Lib Dems in coalition got it badly wrong, from supporting the change of definition to the lack of drive to build more council/HA units. I can understand the Tories not building social housing – it drives tenants into the hands of their private landlord friends.

    Lets get really socially aware and readjust the definition of social rent back to what it was, put the grant to social landlords back up to what it was so that they have an incentive to build more housing stock and, best of all – bring back fair rents. Who cares if private landlords lose their desire to rent – it just means that councils can buy back the stock lost in the dispicable right to buy and we can get onto a footing where social housing is back on the ascendency rather than, as it is at the moment, the doldrums!

  • Tony Dawson 18th Jul '14 - 8:48am

    “People wonder why Liberal Democrats supported the Bedroom Tax in the first place.”

    The Liberal Democrats didn’t. A dozen or so Lib Dem MPs did – and bounced their colleagues into backing them.

    Why, when they were thinking about supporting this measure, did Lib Dem MPs reckon the Tory MPs were backing this measure? Did they believe any of the Tories had any genuine interest in mobilising extra housing stock? NO. They were after support from tabloid editors against people getting ‘state money they didn’t need’.

  • I have also wondered whether perhaps the bedroom Tax is designed to bankrupt housing associations, who are not receiving enough rent, because people can’t pay. ThenI’m sure that at least the Conservatives would be delighted for the properties to be bought up by businesses for private renting?? Just a thought. It fits with the philosophy of selling everything off. And by being in coalition with them, and agreeing to policies like the Bedroom tax, Lib Dems have been helping to create the situation where this may happen.

  • No Sid Cumberland. You can probably point to a few incidences of this happening. I, however, can point to literally hundreds of examples of families being punished simply because they do not fit in with these draconian rules. Like children turning up to school with ripped shoesand no coat because parents have had to pay extra for rent. Children having only one decent meal in school and going home to no food in the cupboards because their parents have had to pay higher rent. Again Lib Dems in action for you.

  • I find it hard to believe that any housing association doesn’t have the whit to offer a 3 bed house on a shared basis, equally that people suffering from under occupancy have not investigated the lodger option (with landlord approval).

    On the change in stance, it is perhaps worth remembering that, after junking the much more hated poll tax, Major won an unwinnable election.

    The proposed changes are entirely reasonable in the light of a short degree of experience so far. The conservative “just carry on” approach is both unfair and insane without measures to address the problems being caused, but plus ca change.

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