The Independent View: The case for ‘bedroom tax’ reform is clear – the test is for Lib Dems to take it up

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 15.25.47In physics the conservation principle dictates that in closed systems, energy can neither be created or destroyed, but only turned from one form to another. New research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation examining recent welfare reforms suggest that a similar law applies to housing support costs.

Applying size limits to social tenants – better known as the spare room subsidy or ‘bedroom tax’ – aimed to do three things. Reduce costs; ease overcrowding and introduce greater fairness into the system. Specifically, if you were a social tenant with extra space that you didn’t strictly need you should pay for the advantage like all other people with housing costs.

On costs the initial results are mixed. Likely savings to DWP are estimated to be £115 million below the initial target in the first year. Additionally councils are making full use of discretionary housing payments to help tenants adjust to the new policy. The effects of these are limited however, and there is evidence of inconsistent application, with many families falling into debt, cutting back on food and selling belongings.

Social landlords too are under increased pressure, incurring additional costs to cover rent arrears and provide welfare support. Having to focus on existing stock and tenants in this way potentially limits their scope to boost the supply of much needed affordable new homes, building up long term cost pressures as more recipients of housing support are placed in the private rental sector

On overcrowding, 6 per cent of affected households moved in the first six months of the policy. More than a fifth would like to but can’t due to a lack of smaller accommodation. Many others are choosing to stay on for now but will in time have to leave if they aren’t able to cover the shortfalls through earnings or by cutting back on other essentials.

On fairness, things become more complicated. It is hard to argue against the idea that the same rules should apply to everyone. However most social tenants granted a tenancy assumed that as long as they paid their rent they would have a home for life.

Understandably the rule change and the prospect of having to leave has had a destabilising effect on affected households who can’t fill the shortfall. The research we funded supports a number of ideas for better and more sensitive implementation that we hope the Government will consider as part of its promised independent review.

These include permitting an additional bedroom where someone is claiming Disability Living Allowance, making clearer provision for carers and separated parents, tackling the inconsistency in how DHPs are calculated and requiring landlords to offer a suitable alternative before the policy is applied to a household.

Leading Liberal Democrats such as Tim Farron haveindicated their desire to reform the policy, short of outright abolition, in the next Parliament.

As Caron pointed out on these pages yesterday – and with an independent review expected in the autumn – there is now a compelling case for changes. The test for Liberal Democrats now is whether anyone wants to take them up.

The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.

* Frank Soodeen is Public Affairs Manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

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44 Comments

  • Graham Beck 10th Apr '14 - 7:24pm

    I am qualified to speak about the bedroom tax because I am paying it for the property that I live in. I am an unemployed single person living in a 2 bedroom housing association property in Sheffield. I used to live in the property with my mother up until 2002 when she passed away (I looked after her in the last 10 years of her life) and then I was left with a spare bedroom, through no fault of my own, just circumstance. After she passed away I went to see the council if I could take over the tenancy because at that time the property was council owned. They were more than willing to let me take over the tenancy because I didn’t want to end up on the streets and at that time it was housing policy to let 2 bedroom properties to single people – why? Because there was no where near enough 1 bedroom properties that actually existed in my area, let alone Sheffield as a whole for single adults like myself. As for the spare room subsidy, I did not sign any document at the time that stated anything about a spare room subsidy, this was a term invented by the current government to take away housing benefit, or should I just say an in- direct benefit cut. The Tory government says that people like me have contributed in some way to the housing crisis. They have tried to blame people like me because there are other people living in overcrowded conditions and a lot of people are on housing waiting lists waiting for a home. I have every sympathy for these people and my heart goes out to anybody without a home. At the same time this government is nothing short of callous and reckless about the way they have shifted the blame and at the same time penalized people like me with a spare bedroom through no fault of their own.

    The reason why we have got a housing crisis and rising waiting lists for homes is because they have constantly sold social housing stock off to tenants through the right to buy scheme fully aware that they could not replace these homes. I have nothing against people owning their own home so long as the social housing stock sold off is replaced with new social housing – this has not happened.

    Thatcher was warned back in the eighties when she introduced the right to buy scheme, that this would lead to a shortage of social housing in the future and this has now come home to roost, but she always knew best didn’t she.

    Another reason why we have a housing crisis is not because of people like me with a spare bedroom, it is a fact that there has been little or no social housing building schemes for decades and what has been built has been to cater for, as you would expect large family 3 Bedroom houses, unfortunately very little 1 Bed properties have been built because they have not been in demand. So instead of these Tory politicians lying through their back teeth lets have some truth. Another myth is that it will actually save you hardworking taxpayers some money – wrong! If I was to move I would probably have to move into a 1 bedroom property in the private sector where staggering amounts of housing benefit are paid for inflated rents, compared to social housing rents which are generally much lower. So let’s hope for the poor taxpayer that I and the likes of myself actually stay put. These right wing Nazi’s including Clegg and his lot knows damn well there are not these 1 bedroom properties that exist in the social housing sector so people like me have little choice other than to pay this tax or should I say again, a benefit cut. Even if they did have the properties I personally still wouldn’t be able to move because I am unemployed and I wouldn’t be able to afford the cost of moving house, (Cost of removals, new carpets, new curtains, not to mention cost of decorating and setting up a new home from scratch). This is another sad thing about this sad state of affairs. There is nothing on the table to even help people to move as regards financial help. As for forcing people like me out of their homes through no fault of their own with the financial pressures of the bedroom Tax let me set the record straight and put the blame where it should be – firmly at the doors of our so called politicians who have practically done nothing except for selling off all of our public assets in the name of good old fashioned greed and privatization.

    Personally I don’t want to move anyway, I have been in this property for over 30 years of my life and I have spent a lot of time and effort, not to mention money to maintain it and have a nice home. I have fond memories of this house, and my family and support networks are all in this area. I don’t really care if it had 6 spare bedrooms; the property was given to me to rent as a tenant under law without any mention of a spare room subsidy. And before you all respond by saying I should get a job to pay for the rent and bedroom Tax I have applied for literally hundreds of jobs since I became unemployed in February 2011 and up to this date I have had no success.

    In the last 4 months I have had 2 communications from this Shower of incompetent bullies of a government about the right to buy scheme, to try and persuade me to buy my house. Talk about rubbing salt into the wounds – is it any wonder we are in such a state with social housing in this country, as I have already stated above, I rest my case – WE SHALL NOT BE BLAMED OR MADE A SCAPEGOAT FOR THE MISMANAGEMENT OF OUR SOCIAL HOUSING STOCK by LYING POLITICIANS. STOP SELLING SOCIAL HOUSING OFF, and stop the RIGHT TO BUY SCHEME, IF YOU CAN’T OR WON’T REPLACE the housing stock you’re selling, and help those still on waiting lists by actually BUILDING SOME BLOODY HOUSES that people can afford to live in. Oh, and while I remember STOP THE BLAME GAME AND PENALIZING PEOPLE LIKE ME THROUGH NO FAULT OF THEIR OWN!

  • Simon McGrath 10th Apr '14 - 9:27pm

    @Graham – why not get a lodger?

  • Tracy Connell 11th Apr '14 - 7:47am

    What reforms are suggested exactly?

  • Tracy Connell 11th Apr '14 - 7:52am

    @Graham See your council or housing agency about Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). I don’t see why you wouldn’t be granted it. A relative of mine got DHP to pay this subsidy. It’s the reason Clegg made this money available, for people in your situation who can’t afford to pay it and can’t move due to lack of smaller properties.

  • “why not get a lodger?”

    That raises an interesting point. Quite possibly the answer would be that he doesn’t wish to share his home with a stranger, any more than you’d want to share yours with a stranger. And of course you might well reply “Beggars can’t be choosers”.

    And really, do people on benefits have the right to expect their own private place to live, like proper people? Think of how much money we could save – and how much we could cut taxes – if we put them all in dormitories! Maybe they could be given some useful work to do while they’re there – picking oakum or something, perhaps …

  • Helen Dudden 11th Apr '14 - 11:23am

    We need more housing, not affordable, it is not affordable. I have been supporting the NHF on the subject.

    What is the point of pushing someone into home ownership? It is not purely owning a home, there is the maintenance of the property? Not everyone can afford to buy.

    This whole saga has been ill thought out, I left the Party because of the Lib Dem acceptance of the situation. What is the reasoning for a change of heart? I would state, the elections are coming.

    I also, was very dis satisfied with a an issue on children. International law and its problems on child access, not one of the MP’s since one left the All Party, has been interested in the subject. This of course, does not help when you wish to get things highlighted.

  • >£115 million below the initial target

    This floating figure was driving me mad, so I looked it up: £445m was the initial target, so the scheme is currently saving taxpayers £330m. Proportionately fewer people were effected than expected (498,000 instead of 660,000). Incidentally, these figures are sourced from JRF.

    I agree that the answer to all of this is to build more housing stock, OTOH, I completely disagree that state rented accommodation should be sustained indefinitely without review or change. Private landlords up rents and kick people out of their accommodation all the time, the council should have recourse to be able to move people around to optimise the housing stock.

  • mike clements 11th Apr '14 - 11:34am

    Anyone who cannot see an urgent need for reform should read again the Preamble to our Constitution. Whilst downsizing is sound in theory, in practice there are far too many instances involving hardship which fly in the face of what we stand for as Liberal Democrats Admittedly there may be Discretionary Housing Payment which is a step in the right direction but DHP is only a small inadequate step which, being discretionary,will not always be granted when it should – particularly if the local council is cash-strapped and the adjudicating officer has a mean nature

  • Alan Budimirovic 11th Apr '14 - 12:22pm

    The LIBDEMS and their BEDROOM TAX POLICY.
    Is it right that a 61 year old chronically sick woman who has brought up 4 children on her own after losing her husband. Now has to pay the bedroom tax on her 3 bedroom house.
    Next door lives a fit healthy 63 year old male 2 years her senior who is exempt from paying the bedroom tax because he is a pensioner, he is also a registered PEADOPHILE and child MURDERER.

  • A very powerful account from Graham of the true impact of this policy. The glib and dismissive suggestion immediately below it is sadly typical of the attitude of those who defend the policy.

  • Stephen Donnelly 11th Apr '14 - 3:42pm

    There is no reason why we should not try to manage social housing so that the stock is used efficiently, however this policy has been introduced too quickly and is too harsh. I have been left open mouthed on the door step trying to explain the un-defendable to people much worse off than me who are in no position to make the lifestyle choices required.

    As JRT point out the policy is also unfair. Why can the state unilaterally and retrospectively change a tenancy agreement? Liberals should protect individuals against the arbitrary use of state power.

    If we are to argue for reform of the state we must make incremental changes that are fair, and not the sweeping broad bush approach characterised by Tories.

  • Alan Budimirovic 11th Apr '14 - 4:18pm

    Stephen you are quite correct. I’ve been a liberal all my life but no more. The very people who are being hurt by this heinous tax are the very people who voted libdem at the last election. Not only that factor in that each of those affected by the bedroom tax has a mum dad nanan grandad aunts uncles brothers sisters friends workmates ex-workmates and I can go on. I then we look at the polls and wonder why the lidems are languishing on 8 %. In May there will be no more LIBDEM MEPs and they will lose councillors by the bucket load. What fools would introduce an evil TORY policy that hits the very people that helped vote in those 57 fools. I hate the party that I’ve supported all my life with passion and cannot wait to see it wiped out so that they can feel the very pain we are feeling cos of the hated bedroom tax.

  • Alan Budimirovic 11th Apr '14 - 6:15pm

    Simple answer! NO, AND THEY LIE LOOK AT TUITION FEES. We will never forget and we will never forgive.

  • Alan Budimirovic 11th Apr '14 - 6:21pm

    Never in the field human decency and compassion as so few (57 LIBDEM MPs) done so much damage to so many.

  • Dave G Fawcett 11th Apr '14 - 6:45pm

    let’s go back to the imposition of this subsidy cut for council and social housing tenants – remember it had already been applied to private tenants by the last labour government. The principle is sound but the application was wrong. The removal of spare room subsidy should have only applied to new tenants from the date the rule came into force. it should NEVER have been back-dated!

  • They must think we are all idiots.

  • Peter Watson 11th Apr '14 - 9:52pm

    @David “”More students from poorer backgrounds … are going to uni”
    Is that because fees went up? Or because entry to nursing now requires a degree making nursing the most popular degree course , and one for which tuition fees (and a grant) are paid by the NHS?

  • Alan Budimirovic 11th Apr '14 - 9:57pm

    Correct david but please don’t insult my intelligence, the 2006 consequential provision regulations protected those who was already in privates rented accommodation, it affected those who took on private accommodation at the time the legislation was enacted so they had a choice if they wanted to take a private rent with more bedrooms and pay the extra housing gist whilst those before the enactment were protected. Unfortunately the libdems enacted this bedroom tax to hit those who were already in social housing why? So Nick Clegg a multi millionaire could get a £200000 tax bonus by cutting the upper rate of tax from 50% to 45 % and have the poor and disabled pay for it via the bedroom tax. Go to university mate with ur daughter an get an education. Don’t insult peoples intelligence, further or in the alternative get ur daughter to blogg for you, Ha Ha.

  • “More students from poorer backgrounds (including my daughter) are going to uni, and not one apology”

    You’re suggesting people should apologise to the Liberal Democrats over tuition fees?

    Astonishing. I think the only thing that is going to bring some people back into contact with the real world is a very sharp lesson at the hands of the electorate.

  • David , you didn’t address Alan Budimirovic’s point which is that Labour introduced the bedroom tax in the private sector more fairly than the Coalition did for social housing.

  • Chris
    Are you anticipating this. “.. very sharp lesson at the hands of the electorate..” next month, in September, or May of next year?

  • Alan Budimirovic 12th Apr '14 - 9:26am

    He’s not going to do that Phyllis, he needs to get a uni education like Clegg and Cameron and theirs were free. David a TORY with a yellow rosette on. Haha

  • Dave:

    “I’m suggesting that the people put about scare stories about the new system should apologise, because their claims have been comprehensively proved wrong. In making their claims they might well have put off kids from poorer backgrounds from applying to uni.”

    The only thing that puts these kids of going to university is the cost and that is down to this government.

  • @Malc – I’m certainly not in the business of defending our record on tuition fees as a whole,however on the specific point you raise I am prepared to comment. A close member of family is employed in the sector of student recruitment.As such she’s out in the schools addressing the concerns of both potential students and their families.She sees youngsters who will go onto uni and those that wont.It’s her professional judgement that tuition fees do NOT deter students from going on to university if they wish to do so.Given that she’s reporting from the coalface and has no political allegiance whatsoever I have no reason to disbelieve her.
    Incidentally her own uni offer a number of vocational courses, including nursing, as well as traditional degrees.Fees for vocational courses are ,I think ,all set at £9k and are generally heavily oversubscribed,irrespective of whether a bursary is offered or not.

  • Alan Budimirovic 12th Apr '14 - 1:47pm

    Fantastic Dean so that makes all the lies about abolishing tuition fees before the last election to get our votes right. But that’s one issue the leadership think people will forget in 12 months time about tuition fees about the bedroom tax about the top rate of tax cut for the rich the selling off our Royal Mail at a price Clegg and Cameron’s mates in the city could buy and sell with days doubling their money. Hypocrisy, but just wait and see what happens in May, and get ready for the 57 libdem MP’s burying their head in the sand hoping come election time in 12months they will all be re-elected. Remember The poll tax remember it wiping out the Tories in Scotland over 20 years ago. I say to you this day remember the bedroom tax remember the libdems and we will never forget just like the Scott’s didn’t.

  • “I’m suggesting that the people put about scare stories about the new system should apologise, because their claims have been comprehensively proved wrong.”

    Which people? What scare stories? What has been comprehensively proved wrong?

  • @Phyllis, I stated the simple fact that Labour introduced the ‘Bedroom Tax’; I would agree the social housing version of the Bedroom Tax is more pernicious. I support the JRT suggested reforms (as a short term solution). We don’t know what Labour would have done, the 2010 Manifesto talks of making considerable savings on Housing Benefits . I wonder if Alan will tell us if he is the same person who claimed to be a lifelong socialist, on the Daily Mirror site and a lifelong Lib Dem supporter on this site.

  • As for all this stuff about how everything must be OK because student numbers are continuing to rise, people should spare a thought for mature students. A report last September found:
    The findings show that mature student applications in England have fallen by more than 18,000 since the fee hike – a drop of 14%.
    It says that the numbers of English university applicants aged 20 or older has dropped from 134,000 to 116,000.
    Among those aged 25 and older alone, there has been a 15.4% decline in applications.
    The study says that many of those who decide to go to university later in life are those from lower and middle-income homes who missed out when they left school.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/09/12/tuition-fee-rise-mature-students_n_3911419.html

    Mature students apparently don’t count now, as far as the apologists for the government are concerned.

  • Alan Budimirovic 12th Apr '14 - 9:19pm

    Oops the libdems have found out I’m a socialist and banned my comments you have to be a libdem yo post on here.

  • Alan Budimirovic 12th Apr '14 - 9:28pm

    Wow that one got through Dave anyway I’ve tried to post many times here and found that saying I was a libdem got my comments posted. Sorry I had do what I did but it all goes back to tuition fees mate tell porkies your welcomed on this site. 2 of my posts have already been binned and there was no bad language or anything. Anyway Dave I’ve made my points it was sad I had to tell a porkie to be able to post on this site but that’s the libdem way mate! TUITION FEES remember. I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry the Clegg song sticks in my head and my throat.

  • Peter Watson 12th Apr '14 - 9:45pm

    @Dean.W. “Incidentally her own uni offer a number of vocational courses, including nursing, as well as traditional degrees.Fees for vocational courses are ,I think ,all set at £9k and are generally heavily oversubscribed,irrespective of whether a bursary is offered or not.”

    “All students on university courses in nursing leading to registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council are eligible for financial help from the NHS while studying. All eligible students will usually: have their tution fees paid in full; receive a £1,000 grant each year; be eligible to apply for an additional means-tested bursary of up to £4,395 per year. Students in London will qualify for more (up to £5,460)” (http://www.nhscareers.nhs.uk/explore-by-career/nursing/training-to-be-a-nurse/financial-support-for-pre-registration-nursing-students/)

    “Just two weeks before the 15 January deadline for applying to nursing courses starting in September 2012, 98,428 applications had been received by the Universities and Colleges Application Service – 26.8% up on 2011. This contrasts with a 6% drop in applications to university courses overall – widely seen as a result of rising tuition fees, which student nurses currently do not pay.” (http://www.nursingtimes.net/whats-new-in-nursing/news-topics/health-workforce/hike-in-nurse-degree-applications-as-government-urged-to-improve-education-standards/5039907.article)

    This is why I am sceptical when senior Lib Dems (parroted by junior ones) make claims about university applications increasing and social mobility improving since the pledge-breaking increase in tuition fees. I would like to see the figures on a like-for-like basis with nursing excluded (Excluding nursing, applications have gone up but I don’t know about the social or age profile of applicants).
    I would also point out that those going to university in 2012 and 2013 had planned their careers and then their university choices for a few years before the 2010 election, so credit for any rise in applications and social mobility should be given to the party in government throughout the lives and education of those young people. The coalition did not offer them any alternative choices or new opportunities when it increased fees. Wannabe doctors, vets, engineers, scientists did not suddenly have a new way to enter those or countless other careers without going to university. It simply became more expensive for them to do so. Those considering less ‘valuable’ degrees were faced with statistics showing high youth unemployment, so not much of a choice there. As a result of their volte-face over tuition fees, a policy the party enthusiastically used to court the student vote in 2010, Lib Dems appear duplicitous (broken pledges) and/or incompetent (either the pre-election policy or the post-election practice was wrong, and current party policy is a bit of a dog’s dinner), damaging the reputation of the party and its leaders when it speaks on many other unrelated issues. Clegg’s “apology” (all together now, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry”) was not helpful: was he apologising for making a promise or for breaking it? And recent news suggests the new tuition fees scheme has been a bit of an economic cock-up. I don’t believe there is any silver lining for Lib Dems on the cloud of tuition fees.

  • @Alan Budimirovic

    So you’re saying you *had* to say you were a LD for you to be able to post here? Right, that’s most likely a lie but hey you sound like you really need to fight the good fight over the internet. So carry on, was there something about TUITION FEES, BEDROOM TAX POLICY, TUITION FEES that you have a problem with? I must have missed it, I mean we do have Chris and Phyllis to explain how terrible the LD/Clegg are but new blood is always welcome.

  • Alex, ” I mean we do have Chris and Phyllis to explain how terrible the LD/Clegg are but new blood is always welcome.”

    My only comment was “David , you didn’t address Alan Budimirovic’s point which is that Labour introduced the bedroom tax in the private sector more fairly than the Coalition did for social housing.” It was a factually correct point.

    I didn’t say anything about the Lib Dems or Clegg.

    David then explained his position, thanks to him for that.

    I’m genuinely perplexed by your comment directed at me.

  • “I mean we do have Chris and Phyllis to explain how terrible the LD/Clegg are but new blood is always welcome”

    You have a lot more people than that, I’m afraid. For example, today you have a ComRes poll showing that only 19% of those who voted Lib Dem in 2010 have a favourable view of Nick Clegg (so much for the idea sometimes touted here that Clegg is more popular than his party!).

    And in the same poll, Lib Dem support falls to just 7%, the lowest ever recorded by ComRes. And UKIP rises to 20%, the highest ever recorded by ComRes. So the indications are that not only has the debacle of the Clegg-Farage debate failed to increase Lib Dem support for the Euro elections, but it has also diminished support for the Westminster elections even further, and boosted UKIP support.

    It’s all very well hoping that when the dust has settled in 2015 the party can elect another leader and renew itself, but that will require some kind of critical mass of elected representatives to survive. If ComRes is right that more than two thirds of the party’s support has been lost since the last election, can that happen?

  • Helen Dudden 13th Apr '14 - 9:00am

    I lived in less than perfect housing for several years. Cold and damp, ice on the inside of the windows, no insulation whatever, storage heating, useless , in the old building. No cavity walls.

    I am a pensioner, and so relieved that I was able to move on in January 2014. I wonder how may other older people live like this?

    I support the National Housing Federation on the need to build, Yes to Homes, not housing homes, these homes have to be affordable and secure.

    Where are we going with housing? We are all aware there are some very worrying situations being produced by this awful tax, it is a tax because there is no where else to go in some areas.

  • Alan Budimirovic 20th Apr '14 - 2:44pm

    Just seen the polls as LIBDEMS languish on 7% four weeks before the European elections. That means there will not be one LIBDEM MEP. Can you imagine the intense NEGATIVE PUBLICITY that will come from that result. I am so excited for MAY to the extent I am actually wishing my life away. Mind you it will be worth it. Let’s make you LIBDEMS suffer pain and hurt just like you have made the poor and disabled suffer by propping up TORY bedroom tax policies. BRING IT ON!

  • Alan Budimirovic 21st Apr '14 - 2:07pm

    @ Phyllis. The Labour Party in 2006 introduced the THE CONSEQUENTIAL PRIVISIONS ACT. this meant that all those who were in private rented accommodation were exemt from the spare room subsidy. In fact it helped social tenants last year as those provisions protected people. It was a loophole the CONDEMS closed a few weeks ago.in fact Stephanie Bottrill who committed sucked because she could not cope with the bedroom tax was actual exempt from it. No wonderAlex wouldn’t come back and answer. Alex or should I say IT (could be a man or a woman) needs to go and educate itself . Haha.

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