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Thursday, July 17, 2014

A welcome u-turn

The decision by Nick Clegg to promote the effective axing of the bedroom tax as part of the 2015 Liberal Democrats manifesto was not a surprise. After all the party conference voted last September to do precisely that. It is nice that the leadership, after reviewing all the evidence, has caught up with the membership and the rest of the country on this issue.

As an elected representative I have seen the impact of this measure at first hand. It is not of course a tax, but it has led to many tenants getting into arrears because the was no alternative accomodation for them to move to. It also had an impact on people with disabilities, especially those living in adapted homes and those who need space for overnight carers.

I held a debate on the issue in February of this year, highlighting in particular the difficulties of depending on discretionary housing payments to mitigate the impacts of withdrawing the spare room subsidy. In that debate I set out my position that disabled adults should be exempt and that the bedroom tax should apply only as and when people take up new tenancies.

The changes announced by Nick Clegg, which we will be pushing for from now on very much mirror my views. Although it is a reversal of his position, it is based on a close analysis of what is happening on the ground.

The review concluded that the evidence from the interim evaluation of the policy shows that the bedroom tax has not been working in the way in which it was intended. As a result we want to change the rules so that existing tenants aren’t penalised when they cannot move into smaller accommodation because this is not available or where there is a serious medical reason for an additional room.

We will therefore go on applying the existing rules to new tenants but existing tenants who are ‘under occupying’ will not have their housing benefit cut unless they have been made at least one reasonable offer of alternative social rented accommodation with the correct number of bedrooms. We will also ensure that when tenants have a significantly adapted property or genuinely need a second bedroom for medical reasons, they do not face a housing benefit penalty.

More significantly the party has at last recognised that the real problem is a shortage of suitably sized housing. We need to address that urgently. Commonsense has prevailed at last.
The damage is done, the Spare Room Subsidy along with Tuiton Fees, have damaged the Lib Dem brand, there is no going back now.
Very thoughtful and measured piece, which compares well to a lot of stuff I've read on this today. I do despair when I see headlines screaming 'hypocrisy' and 'u-turn' in regard to things like this. I suppose they grab more attention than 'you know what, we thought this was a good idea, tried it, it didn't work, so we'll change it'.

If only we could replace the phrase 'u-turn' with 'policy learning', maybe then we'd get somewhere!
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