By Martin Kelly
The UK Labour party has confirmed it would keep the Bedroom Tax for people who declined to move to smaller accommodation arguing that it was needed in order to allow social housing stock to be used “more efficiently”.
Speaking yesterday, Labour MP Helen Goodman who sits on the party’s National Policy Forum, said that the UK Housing Benefit bill had to be brought down.
Shadow Cabinet member Ms Goodman said: "We’ve said that the bedroom tax should only apply if people have been offered a smaller place to live and turned it down because, obviously, it is better to use the housing stock more efficiently.
She added: "In the short to medium term we did need to bring down the housing benefit bill and we had said that we would reduce the rents that were paid under housing benefit in the private sector and that’s where the rents were really spiralling up very fast, much more than in the social sector, which is where this bedroom tax is being applied now."
The comments are acutely embarrassing for the Scottish Labour party and came on the same day that Ms Goodman’s Shadow Cabinet colleague, Scottish Labour MP Margaret Curran (pictured) pledged the party would lead the “fight against the tax”.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Shadow Scottish Secretary said: "Our main goal is to keep the pressure on the Tory Government and Michael Moore to think again about a cruel tax which will hit some of the most vulnerable people in our communities and Labour will lead that campaign.
"But there is a strong feeling among the people in the housing sector we have been listening to that the SNP could be doing more to help Scottish families who are weeks away from hit with a tax they can't afford."
Ms Curran’s Holyrood colleague Jackie Baillie, who is Scottish Labour's welfare spokesperson, said: "We know what the Tories are doing is very wrong but we need to offer families more than just warm words."
During a recent Westminster debate led by the SNP and Plaid Cymru - which called on the UK Government to abandon the bedroom tax - over 90% of Scottish MPs supported the motion, but the policy is still set to be imposed in Scotland.
Commenting, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said:
"This is shameful hypocrisy from Labour. Labour say one thing in Scotland, and the opposite in London - where the decision to impose the Bedroom Tax was made.
"Time and time again, Labour have made half-hearted criticisms of welfare cuts, but Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne has already said that Labour will make further cuts to the welfare budget if Labour wins in 2015.
"As long as decisions about welfare are made in Westminster, Scotland will continue to have unfair and damaging policies forced on it by governments that we didn’t vote for. That is why Scotland needs to have the powers of independence, so that we can make decisions in and for Scotland."
The comments by Helen Goodman coincided with an admission by the UK coalition that Scotland will be disproportionately hit by the new legislation. According to analysis, the Bedroom Tax is set to have a devastating impact in Scotland due to the application of the size criteria to local authority owned temporary housing.
In Scotland over 50% of homeless temporary accommodation is local authority owned, compared to the rest of the UK where the bulk of temporary accommodation for homelessness provision is leased from the private sector.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, Eilidh Whiteford MP asked Minister of State for Pensions, Steve Webb, whether such consequences were an oversight, something that the Minister conceded.
"… we do recognise there may be particular issues in Scotland partly with rurality and partly with the housing stock and we’re certainly happy to continue the conversation with honourable members." he replied.
Commenting, Dr Whiteford said:
"Amid all the soundbites about spare bedrooms, there has been a failure to acknowledge the underlying shortage in affordable housing across the UK and the backdrop of changing demographics.
"What makes the Government’s under-occupancy rules fundamentally unworkable is the mismatch between available social housing stock and the needs of tenants and prospective tenants."
The SNP MP pointed out that there was not enough smaller housing available for people to downsize and added, "That mismatch is entirely outside the control of tenants, yet they are being punished for a structural problem not of their making."