SPEAKING in the House of Commons on Tuesday, November 12, local MP Stephen Doughty slammed the Lib-Dem / Tory Government’s ‘bedroom tax’ – calling it ‘iniquitous, unfair and economically illiterate’ – and described the Lib Dem campaign for the upcoming Splott by-election as ‘galling’ and hypocritical, given their support for the bedroom tax which is hitting hundreds of people across the ward.
Speaking in an Opposition Day debate calling for the abolition of the bedroom tax, in which many MPs shared examples of hardship being experienced by constituents as a result of the tax, the Cardiff South and Penarth MP said: “It reflects the local story of pressure and pain that I have seen, with the rise in (the use of) food banks. The Trussell Trust says that 45% of that increase is due to policies such as the bedroom tax.
“There is also the mental strain. We have heard some tragic tales today, in particular … about suicide. I similarly have had constituents come to me – one in particular handed me a letter that he could not bear to read to me, which literally said ‘I would rather kill myself, then there would be one less mouth to feed’.
“Those are the real stories and Ministers would do well to listen to them.”
Labour has already committed to repealing the bedroom tax if it returns to government in 2015 – but brought the vote to the House of Commons yesterday, led by Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions Rachel Reeves (pictured here with Stephen), in an effort to highlight the devastating impact it is having on people across the country right now. The Labour motion calling for abolition was only narrowly defeated by 252 to 226 votes – a substantial cut in the coalition’s majority.
Speaking in the Chamber, Stephen questioned the savings the Government say will be made as a result of introducing the bedroom tax.
“We have heard fantasy claims about the savings that will be made,” he said.
“We have also heard some quite extraordinary boasts from the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions. He talked about the wonderful rise in discretionary housing payments. Such claims are like telling someone that both their arms will be broken, but they will be given a sling for one of them.”
Shocking figures provided by Cardiff Council show that in April and May alone, 1,193 council tenants fell into arrears – 871 of whom had not been in arrears before.
“The Bedroom Tax is leaving families up and down this country with nowhere to go and on the edge of spiralling debt,” said Stephen, speaking after the debate.
“Cardiff’s Lib Dem MP Jenny Willott and Tory MP Jonathan Evans should hang their heads in shame – while the outrageous comments by Tory David Davies about putting ‘feckless fathers in chains’ beggar belief.
“For the vast majority of those affected, there is nowhere smaller to move to, hitting vulnerable people with an average bill of £720 a year through no fault of their own.”
Figures provided by local authorities in Wales back this up in no uncertain terms. And a recent report by the Welsh Affairs Committee confirmed that Wales is hardest hit in Britain by the bedroom tax with over 40,000 affected.
In Cardiff, as of November 1, there were 1589 tenants affected by the size restriction with a one-bedroom need – 585 of those on the priority downsizing waiting list. However in the first two quarters of this year, only 329 such properties became available (including both local authority and housing association lets).
Meanwhile the Vale of Glamorgan Council currently has 248 households registered for a transfer to smaller accommodation. Of a total one-bedroom stock of 460, only 15 became vacant in the last 12 months.
With increased collection charges, the policy is also putting significant pressures on the finances of councils and housing providers. Cardiff Council arrears are up by £361,280 from 2012-13; while in the Vale, some 41 per cent of households affected by the under-occupancy rules have seen their accounts worsen.
“The Labour Party promises to repeal the tax in government, and because we know that in these tough financial times we can’t borrow more to pay for social security, we’ve set out a clear plan to pay for the repeal by cutting down on tax loop holes and avoidance,” added Stephen.
“We need to reform our social security system and bring the bill down – but the bedroom tax is neither fair nor will it bring down the costs as the government has claimed.”
“The Labour Party’s policy to repeal this tax isn’t only fair but makes economic sense.”
The next Labour Government will repeal the Bedroom Tax without extra borrowing. To cover the £470m cost, funds have been earmarked from:
- reversing George Osborne’s recent tax cut for hedge funds announced in Budget 2013;
- reversing George Osborne’s shares for rights scheme which has been rejected by businesses, has opened up a tax loophole and will lead to £1bn being lost to the Exchequer according to the Office for Budget Responsibility; and
- tackling disguised employment in the construction industry.