The Lib Dems’ ‘bedroom tax’ U-turn: new poll on what the voters think about it

Spare Bedroom Photo by Flack JackThe Lib Dems announced a few days ago the party’s 2015 manifesto would propose reform of the ‘bedroom tax’ / ‘spare room subsidy’, which would means no tenant would have any of their housing benefit withdrawn unless they had turned down an offer of a smaller property.

It was a long overdue climbdown – as I wrote in April 2013: “The principle of the ‘bedroom tax’, then — to try and maximise the availability of social housing and reduce the chronic waiting lists — is a reasonable one. Where the policy clearly breaks down is on a human and practical level. Though the Coalition has responded to concerns raised by introducing exemptions for foster carers, military families and so on, it will not have covered every eventuality. The harsh reality is some people, some of the most vulnerable in society including the disabled, will be made poorer.”

Some political commentators have said, regardless of the policy’s rights or wrong, Clegg has made a mistake. His issue with the public is trust, and therefore to renege on a policy he’s previously supported will simply compound that impression. It’s a risk, certainly, though I take the more old-fashioned view that it’s better to take the decisions you believe to be right than stubbornly stick by decisions you think, in retrospect, are a mistake.

I was interested to see YouGov’s polling on the ‘bedroom tax’, released today (hat-tip Mike Smithson), as they’ve asked the two key questions. First, how many support it. And secondly, what do voters think of the Lib Dems’ partial U-turn? Here are the results:

bedroom tax yougov july 2014

As can be seen, the ‘bedroom tax’ is divisive (and has always been so), though a narrow but clear plurality oppose it. Conservative and Lib Dem voters support it, Labour and Ukip voters oppose it – reflecting the likelihood that Labour and Ukip voters are more likely to be affected by it.

What did surprise me was that Clegg’s semi-U-turn gets a reasonable hearing from voters. True, by 44% to 38% the public reckons it reflects badly rather than well on him – but that’s a lot more evenly poised than I would expect given voters’ disillusion with politicians generally, and Clegg’s own negative ratings. Some 76% of Lib Dem voters, 42% of Labour voters and 34% of Ukip voters reckon it “Reflects well on Nick Clegg – it’s right to change your mind about a policy if it turns out not to be working”. The voters most likely to think him hypocritical are… Tories.

Photo by Flack Jack

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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15 Comments

  • David Pollard 20th Jul '14 - 11:26am

    Nick needs to keep up this sort of thing. Making all new houses Zero carbon from 2016 onwards would be a good place to go next.

  • A gov’t led initiative to increase housing stock by buying currently abandoned properties would help with this

  • this liberal thought removing subsidies for spare rooms reasonable (which put me in the majority in the LD party according to the poll), but there were are. next up, a u turn by the party in government (as opposed to the party at large!) on tuition fees, chinese owned nuclear power stations in somerset and free schools . please?

  • Carefully worded..After all who could disagree with “It’s right to change your mind about a policy if it turns out not to be working”….How many would agree with “It’s right to stick with a policy even if it turns out not to be working”….

  • But among all 2010 Lib Dem voters only 52% thought it reflected well on Clegg, and 31% badly. Given the overwhelming approval from those who still support the party, that suggests that well under half of the party’s ‘lost’ voters think it reflects well on Clegg.

  • How odd. A majority of Lib Dem voters support the bedroom tax, and an even larger majority support Nick Clegg for doing a u-turn on it because ‘it turns out not to be working’.

    This suggests the lib dem voter may be a little tribal in supporting their leader, even when he goes against their beliefs.

  • Many voters support the idea that people shouldn’t get bigger homes than they need at public expense, but don’t like it when they hear of someone being desperate because they have lost income needed to pay the rent despite not having any opportunity to move to a smaller property (because there aren’t any). So I can well understand people approving of the policy in general.but also wanting they changes the Party has proposed. Really, it should have worked like that from the start.

  • Sorry about the typos above, only noticed after pressing Post. When are we going to get an EDIT button?

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 21st Jul '14 - 1:12pm

    Totally agree about the need for an edit button. Very often you don’t the error until it’s posted – then it becomes glaringly obvious. Strange but true. If Facebook can have a edit button, we should have one too as our comments tend to be more intelligent. Oh, perhaps not, where’s the edit button?

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 21st Jul '14 - 1:15pm

    Hope you see the errors as I do – now!

  • matt (Bristol) 22nd Jul '14 - 4:48pm

    It is interesitng that ‘bedroom tax’ has now entered the political lingo seemingly irretrievably, partiuclarly now that our party has stopped the pretence about the ‘spare room subsidy’. Who is the genius who first thought up this term?

  • G

    Its perfectly possible to support the principle bug at the same time recognise that realities of supply makes the outcome punitive and unsupportable.

    Its called pragmatism rather than blind dogma

  • Morwen Millson 23rd Jul '14 - 11:49am

    I agree with David Wright and redndead. Had the policy been framed as it is now, I would have been in favour of it from the start – however, I still don’t see why we (the party and the country) are not doing more to encourage older people to move out of family homes they don’t need and have difficulty in managing, into smaller units. If this was done, it would go a long way to provide significant numbers of family homes in the rented sector. The smaller units need to be grouped together and to have visitor accommodation available, so that families can come to stay, and gardens to sit in, and which keen gardeners can help to maintain.

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