Tim Farron “will withdraw party’s support for Bedroom Tax”

Bedroom tax demo , all the photos taken with a iphone 5Ok, so we’ll overlook the Guardian’s inaccurate headline. Have they learned nothing from years of watching our policy making process? Tim Farron doesn’t have the power to do what the Guardian says he’s done:

The Liberal Democrat president, Tim Farron, will withdraw his party’s support for the bedroom tax on Wednesday, saying it has caused “huge social problems.”

I think he’s right, of course. It might just about be ok if there were suitable smaller properties for people to move into, or if all disabled people were exempt, but it’s not working and is causing far too much hardship despite the best efforts of Liberal Democrat ministers to secure more funds for Discretionary Housing Payments.

He is always talking about the need to take wider housing issues seriously, namely making sure that we expand social housing and he will talk about that again today:

Even the most cowardly and cynical of politicians ought to start to pay attention to the plight of the priced out, at least on a national level. History has turned. Generation Rent is not a twentysomething problem. They are a growing army and they are will take the side of anyone who has the backbone to stand up for them. This Generation Rent could be a key group in the 2015 election.

Let’s unleash the power and ambition of councils and housing associations. The housing crisis has stirred up radical thinking and housing associations are champing at the bit to build. Councils are crying out for more powers to deliver. Let’s stop shackling them and letting them stagnate, and give them the freedom to act – not least because in order to build communities, we need to trust the people who know their local communities best.

In Scotland, where the effects of the Bedroom Tax were particularly bad, Liberal Democrat MSPs voted in February to effectively end its effects north of the border. This does need the co-operation of the UK Government in raising the cap on what councils can spend on Discretionary Housing Payments. Nick Clegg said on Friday that he expected to be able to announce shortly that this would be done:

There are some councils in Scotland who have run up to the limit of the funds they have available to them for discretionary housing payments. There is this limit – a cap in effect – on what councils can use which I think needs to be addressed, and we will be making an announcement about that shortly.

This is obviously a highly controversial policy, and one we are constantly keeping under review. I have insisted that there are more funds available to deal with the hard cases.

The Party’s Federal and Scottish conferences have emphatically opposed the measure in its current form and it’s good to see that the leadership is starting to take note.

Tim Farron has never been a particular fan and he will not be mincing his words today:

The onslaught of divisive rhetoric that demonises the poor can never help us to create a fairer society. The bedroom tax causes huge social problems and distorts the market – we as a party cannot support this.

As the Commons Work and Pensions Committee finds that the Bedroom Tax is causing financial hardship and distress to vulnerable people, it’s clear that the tide is turning and the Conservatives are alone in supporting it in the General Election.

Allowing the Bedroom Tax to go through is one of the biggest mistakes Liberal Democrats have made in Government. It’s good to see that we are rethinking our position, but we need to learn lessons from this for the future. The effects of the measure were always predictable and we should have put our foot down before it saw the light of day.

 

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

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26 Comments

  • Amused to note that the usual inverted commas around “bedroom tax” have vanished now the Lib Dems are coming out against it.

  • It might help if Caron explained what she thought had happened, if it wasn’t what the Guardian thought had happened.

    Tim Farron opposing the bedroom tax is hardly news. So is the idea that the party leadership has sanctioned this as a signal that the party – with the election in mind – is now going to oppose the measure it has just helped to bring in? Or what?

  • The hated bedroom tax was always wrong and it is good to see Tim Farron making the points that he does.
    Scotland’s Liberal Democrats voted in their Parliament in February to get rid of it.
    MPs in the Westminster Parliament should be doing the same, don’t wait, don’t give a commitment, do it now, vote it out like they have done in Scotland.

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Apr '14 - 11:17am

    “The hated bedroom tax was always wrong”

    But the issue that some people are occupying social housing over and above their essential needs while others are squeezed into inadequate accomodation needs to be addressed – and don’t just say build more houses.

    If we wish to cut down on some people being subsidised to occupy larger social housing than they really need while others do really need that housing then we must come up with some more alternative approaches – e.g. where there is a mismatch between local needs and available housing start splitting up houses into flats or combining flats as they become vacant; run house-swapping sessions; include OAPs in the system – especially given the extra benefit for them of having a smaller property to heat.

    According to the Guardian around 30,000 social housing tenants have moved since the new rules took effect – step in the right direction – the details and implementation of the policy have been a total shambles but not a reason for discarding the concept of fitting social housing needs better to available accomodation.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Apr '14 - 11:20am

    To be honest, I’ve used inverted commas, not used them, even referred to it as the removal of the spare room subsidy. Whatever I do, someone has a go, so I’m going with the term that is in the most common usage.

    Chris, it’s very clear that the party at increasingly senior levels is moving back from support for this measure. Their motives were always very different from the Tories. There is a problem with some people being in larger houses than they need. This means that families who need bigger houses can’t get them and they are living in hardship. That needs dealing with, but this wasn’t the way. Building more houses is the way, or facilitating swaps which housing associations and councils still don’t do enough of.

    Even Nick Clegg recognises that the policy isn’t working, and he’s been key to making sure that the Scottish Parliament’s wishes are met.

  • I’m glad to see the Lib Dems have learnt from the Tuition Fees debacle. Reject a policy after you have voted for it, not before you vote for it.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Apr '14 - 11:26am

    G, nobody’s rejected the tuition fees policy, which has seen a huge increase in students from deprived backgrounds and record numbers applying to go to university.

    Sure, Nick apologised for breaking the pledge, which was the right thing to do but the policy itself was the fairest that could have been agreed under the circumstances. And it means that graduates on low incomes will be paying significantly less than under the system the government inherited.

  • It really is a shame the Lib Dems failed to listen to disabled groups,charities and welfare groups before voting for this measure. Anyone with an ounce of common sense knew the measure would plunge people further into poverty and distress because of the shortage of small properties to ‘downsize’ into .A cynic might say this is gesture politics by the Lib Dems, the bedroom tax is in place,you supported it, and now you don’t support it but it is still in place- with an election around the corner.

  • Andrew Sparrow at the Guardian has commented today:

    Tim Farron is the Lib Dem president, but what weight exactly do his words have when he says the party “cannot continue to support” the bedroom tax? Is that just a personal view, or does it mean that the party has shifted its stance?

    I called Lib Dem HQ for an answer. A spokesman told me this:

    “[Tim] has expressed a personal view that is broadly in line with our party policy on this issue. We debated this at our conference. We recognise the problem of under-occupancy in social housing and the principle of a spare room subsidy as an approach to tackling it. We welcome the measures that the Lib Dems have taken [in government] to mitigate its impact on the most vulnerable. And we will review the policy and look at its impact on the most vulnerable.”

    You can read the full text of the motion on the bedroom tax that the Lib Dems debated, and approved, at their autumn conference last year in this document (pdf). It’s motion F27.

    To me, there seems to be a difference between saying you cannot support a policy and saying you will review it. When I put this to the party spokesman, he said: “The party will take a decision based on what the review says.”

    This seems to me to be saying that the party will continue to support the bedroom tax, despite the wishes of it’s members & it’s President – what a surprise !

    If the plan was ever to change the occupancy of social housing to ensure the best use of space, it would have included pensioners but it didn’t & I believe to this day that the bedroom tax was a money spinning exercise, believing that people would prefer to remain in their homes, within their support networks therefore cough up the cash than move.

    It’s a policy that should never have applied to existing tenants who could not move because of lack of suitable accommodation. If there was suitable accommodation available but the tenant still refused to move then fine, apply the charge but as it stands, this is a spiteful policy & clearly one devised by IDS & supported by the LD’s who voted for it.

  • “the policy itself was the fairest that could have been agreed under the circumstances”

    The point is that you didn’t have to agree with the Tories on this. Even the coalition agreement allowed you to abstain!

  • Caron, what I meant is that in the past the lib dems say they will reject policies they later vote for, now they vote for them then reject them. Also, tuition fees policy is not financially sustainable, difficult to argue it is a success when all the evidence suggests it needs amending, and fast if HE is to remain at current levels.

  • “We welcome the measures that the Lib Dems have taken [in government] to mitigate its impact on the most vulnerable. “

    It couldn’t have had any impact if the Lib Dems hadn’t agreed to it in the first place!

  • “Sure, Nick apologised for breaking the pledge, ”

    I thought he apologised for making a promise that ‘we weren’t absolutely sure we could keep” , not for breaking it.

  • Hands up on this one; I supported this for a long time and it’s taken reading reports of case studies of families, housing associations and legal challenges that have forced me to reconsider. Had we introduced it as Labour did in the private sector in 2008, by it only applying to new rather than existing tenancies, so all people paying it were making an active choice to do so, I suspect the savings would have added up over time, and there wouldn’t have been the same outcry – the biggest mistake in my view.

    We shouldn’t compare to tuition fees, but to secret courts, where it’s no good voting for it then changing our minds later. No-one will give us credit, even if we feel a bit better about it.

    I still support the principle of restricting bedrooms for those who don’t need it, but benefits should be based on need and need alone. Most of the under-occupancy in social housing in our areas is older people where children have left home. This means:

    1) making the size criteria take into account necessary space for couples who cannot share a bedroom and medical equipment in the home, where clinically necessary.
    2) where adaptions have been made to the home which cannot be transferred at reasonable cost and are clinically necessary, there should be an automatic right to discretionary payments for the full amount.
    3) deferment of 12 months for people willing to move but where no local properties are available .
    4) mandatory regulations on council housing allocation policies to encourage and facilitate (not just allow) transfers between tenants to appropriately sized dwellings.
    5) end of pensioner exemption, or at least a 75 year upper age bracket. All to be based on need.

    I suspect that adding in 5) would pay for most of 1)-4) but don’t know if anyone has figures

    Finally, let’s remember that this saves £0.5 billion, and the Tories are committed to finding £12bn in welfare savings in 2015-16. i don’t see any way that’s achievable, but this will be as nothing against cuts of that volume – why a Tory majority government next time must be fought.

  • “… opposition to the benefits cut that is commonly known as the ‘Bedroom Tax’ has always been Lib Dem Party Policy. “

    Surely, as Andrew Sparrow points out above, party policy is now to review it, not to oppose it?

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Apr '14 - 5:00pm

    But the tenor of the debate at Glasgow was consistently hostile.

    Anyway some of us never voted for it in the first place…

    Tony Greaves

  • Labour are running a Facebook campaign linking lib Dems’ position on bedroom tax to tuition fees and showing a poster of Nick with The Pledge.

  • “It is the LIb Dem Parliamentary Party who are totally out of step with the rest of the party on this issue,

    But it’s only the Parliamentarians who get to vote in the Commons so for all meaningful purposes it’s irrelevent what the Lib Dem Conferences vote for if the Parliamentarians do the opposite. It’s what the latter do which is visible to the general public and has an impact on people’s lives (and the Party’s votes) .

    The Parliamentary party has done this a number of times now (secret courts etc) and not once have they had to ” explain themselves” let alone been stopped from doing it again.

  • “Have they learned nothing from years of watching our policy making process? ”

    We are constantly being told that the Lib Dems are the only party in which policy is decided democratically by its delegates. However we can all see now that this is just a load of Emperor’s New Clothes. The Parliamentary party just ignore the will of the party, no matter how many times it votes for something ‘democratically’ .

  • Helen Dudden 2nd Apr '14 - 7:22pm

    Too late I think now.

  • Nige Quinton 3rd Apr '14 - 8:04am

    Whilst I admire some of those above for their amazing ability to try to spin things in favour of our parliamentary party’s behaviour on this and other policies that did not have the support of the wider party, the sad truth is that our out of touch leadership is destroying the party,

    The debates with Farage are just the final demonstration, if it were needed, that Clegg and his team need to go now and go quickly if we are to avoid a total wipeout in not just the Euro elections but the 2015 general election.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 3rd Apr '14 - 9:59am

    If I’m being generous I would say that the Parliamentary Party is stretched to cover adequately all the departments in which they have ministers. If not generous I would say that covering so many departments, and leaving Lib Dems so vulnerable, shows a fundamental flaw in the coalition agreement. Better planning, and listening to the wider membership, is needed if there is ever a next time.

  • ErnstRemarx 4th Apr '14 - 2:15pm

    “The debates with Farage are just the final demonstration, if it were needed, that Clegg and his team need to go now and go quickly if we are to avoid a total wipeout in not just the Euro elections but the 2015 general election.”

    Nail. Head.

    The issue for the LibDems is that you apparently don’t have the bottle to change leaders at this point, so going into the 2014 and 2015 elections with a failed leadership, bamboozled by the Tories and widely perceived as being Tory lite, with more than a hint of mendacity when it comes to policy and pledges really isn’t going to butter very many parsnips.

    Put simply, the electorate are very likely to judge you on your record in office, and not on fine words and pledges for the future. Chuck in the fact that Clegg was stating hubristically a year or more back that the party no longer needed disaffected left wingers in the party, and instead it would appeal to a new voter base – which, it seems, doesn’t exist – and you get the idea. In my council area in 2010 there were 8 LibDem councillors, out of a total of about 50 seats: by May 23rd 2014 I can quite confidently predict that the last two incumbents will be voted out by the electorate.

    2015 will indeed be a very big year for the party, but for all the wrong reasons.

  • I have two children I see @ weekends & we share holidays equally,the bedroom tax has left them unable stay as per normal. I am very disabled & can’t sleep on the couch ( they are diffent sexes to boot ) even if I was able to do so it makes little differance to the children,the one thing they humg on to was there bedrooms it made them feel stable when they stayed as it was somthing that hadnt changed. it’s real hard to put into words how much upset has been caused to them losing thier bedrooms.the upset caused by the bedroom tax to my children is disgracefull.

    It would of seemed to any rational person obvious that under the circumstances a divorced parent who sees thier children on a equal basis would be exempt.
    ( only the “main” parent can claim the bedroom is used as said even if I see them on a equal basis)

    To be honest I am amazed the goverment backed somthing they knew would cause distress to all ages,let alone making it harder for a parent to see there children.

    I had a choice give up my house or give up helping with clothes ect ect.
    It was the most heartbreaking choice a father could be asked to adresss.

    The stress I am under due to this has made me extremely ill.
    I felt bad enough when we broke up & not wholy for myself,I felt thier pian & just as they settled & felt stable,this law came in..

    To the young & old. I guess there’s a while lotta persons who have been through hell & back due to this unfair law.

    Sure Mabye housing needed to be adressed however in the manner it has is not that of anyone who sees the whole picture.

    The way it stands this is the most heartless & out of touch law anyone would back,

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