Lib Dems order MPs not to refer to the "bedroom tax" in leaked media advice

The party's "lines to take" memo, accidentally emailed to journalists, includes a section reminding MPs that the bedroom tax "is not a tax".

In an early bid for the prize of best conference blunder, the Lib Dem press office has accidentally emailed journalists its 'lines to take' memo to MPs (which you can read in full below).
 
One notable section is on the bedroom tax, which the party reminds MPs "is not a tax", instead referring to the "spare room subsidy".
 
Whatever you choose to call it, the party will debate the subject later today with a motion (Making Housing Benefit Work for Tenants in Social Housing) calling for "an immediate evaluation of the impact of the policy, establishing the extent to which larger homes are freed up, money saved, costs of implementation, the impact on vulnerable tenants, and the impact on the private rented sector." The motion also calls for "a redrafting of clear housing needs guidelines in association with those representing vulnerable groups including the disabled, elderly and children."

Until new guidelines are in place, it argues that there should be no withdrawal of housing benefit from those on the waiting list for social housing which meets the current guidelines and that there should be an exemption for those who "temporarily have a smaller housing need due to a change in their circumstances, but whose need will predictably return to a higher level (e.g. whose children will pass the age limits for separate rooms within that period)".

While Nick Clegg and other Lib Dems ministers have defended the measure on the grounds that it encourages tenants to downsize, freeing up houses for those in overcrowded accomodation (the problem being the severe shortage of one bedroom properties), delegates are likely to back the motion, with a significant number calling for the immediate abolition of the policy. On the fringe, Shirley Williams was greeted with thunderous applause after describing it as "a big mistake".

Liberal Democrat media advice to MPs

 
Liberal Democrats 

Conference Top Lines Briefing

 

16 September 2013

 

Fairer taxes – Stronger economy – Race equality – Cohabitation rights – Veils in schools – Harassment allegations – Polling – Conference narrative

 

The Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy in a fairer society, 
enabling everyone to get on in life

 

Five things to remember for every interview

 

  • This conference sees the party in a confident mood
  • We have a strong record of achievement in Government
  • Our priorities are jobs and easing the squeeze on household budgets
  • Labour cannot be trusted to build a stronger economy
  • The Conservatives on their own cannot build a fairer society

 

Fairer taxes

 

Under Nick Clegg’s leadership, the party have focused on the old liberal principle of favouring taxation on unearned wealth over hard work. This has culminated in the introduction in government of the key Lib Dem policy of cutting taxes by £700 for more than 20m people.

 

In these difficult times, it is important that everyone makes their contribution. It is right that we ask the broadest shoulder to bear their fair share: it is unrealistic to cut more money from welfare spending without increasing taxes on Britain's richest.

We are looking at how the richest 10% of people, those earning over £50,000, could make a further contribution. The vast majority of people in the country would consider £50,000 a very large salary: these are not the middle income earners.

 

Spare room subsidy

 

From April 2013 the Government introduced a reduction in Housing Benefit for those who are receiving benefit for spare bedrooms in the social rented sector. It is not a tax.

 

1.            The policy is about making better use of social housing

2.            Many councils have people on waiting lists or living in overcrowded accommodation while others are funded for spare rooms they don’t need

3.            Why should someone who rents a council house get benefit for a spare room when you don’t if you have a private landlord?

4.            The policy will also contain the growing Housing Benefit bill for the taxpayer

5.            It will also encourage people to look for work

 

The Liberal Democrats in Government have secured an additional £35m fund to help claimants affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy who need extra support. This funding consists of £5m for rural areas with very isolated communities, £10m for all local authorities and £20m as a bidding fund for local authorities who can demonstrate that they have or are developing a robust policy to distribute discretionary housing payments and who have an additional need for funding.

 

Key Stats

  • ·         Nearly one third of working-age social housing tenants on Housing Benefit are living in accommodation too big for their needs.
  • ·         There are nearly 1m spare bedrooms, with an estimated cost to the taxpayer of up to half-a-billion pounds a year.
  • ·         There are over 250,000 households living in overcrowded accommodation in the Social Rented Sector in England, who need more space.
  • ·         Nearly 2m households (1.8m) in England on the social housing waiting list.
  • ·         The cost of HB has increased by 50% in real terms over the last decade

 

In Scotland:

  • ·         The housing benefit bill is £1.8bn
  • ·         Based on the Scottish Housing Conditions Survey (SHCS), there are 59,000 households overcrowded in Scotland (3% of the total).  25,000 of these are in the social rented sector.

 

In the social rented sector in Scotland, there are:

  • ·         148,000 households occupying one bedroom properties
  • ·         252,000 households occupying two bedroom properties
  • ·         Around 20,000 new lettings of one bedroom properties in 2011
  • ·         Over 5,000 new dwellings completed in 2011
  • ·         158,000 on waiting lists

 

Discretionary Housing Payments

To ensure we protect the vulnerable, we have trebled the Discretionary Housing Payment budget, which will enable local authorities to provide additional support, and respond on a case by case basis.

 

We have provided DHPs for three years, and it is under constant review. We have allocated £150m to local authorities for discretionary housing payments (DHPs) this year, including £25m for those in adapted accommodation affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy. We have also allocated an extra £5m for the most rural areas to help support remote and isolated communities. We have given councils an extra £10m to support the administration of the policy and there is a £20m fund available which councils can bid for if they need extra support. Some local authorities may claim they do not have enough DHPs. Similar claims were made in 2011/12, when councils ended up under spending their DHP budget by £11m.

 

Mansion Tax

The Liberal Democrats want everyone to pay their fair share, which is why we believe a Mansion Tax on the value of properties over £2m is fair.

 

To say this will affect houses worth more than £1.25m is nonsense invented by people who want to grab a headline. Our policy is for a threshold of £2m.

 

Personal allowance threshold

In government we have achieved our manifesto pledge to increase the income tax personal allowance to £10,000, taking 2.7m people out of income tax and giving a tax cut of £700 per annum to 24m others.

 

As the next step, we believe that there is a clear case for taking the equivalent of a full-time job on the minimum wage (equivalent to £12,300 per annum at current rates) out of income tax entirely. This is a bold move which would provide tax relief to many millions of families on low and middle incomes, and would help to maximise the rewards of employment for those on low incomes.

 

Making this change in one go would come at a significant cost to the Treasury, therefore we intend to phase this change in in stages over the course of the next parliament. It would be paid for through the other tax changes we propose to make, such as introduction of a Mansion Tax, Capital Gains Tax and pension tax reform, and our range of measures designed to tackle tax avoidance.

 

In this way we can provide tax cuts to those who most deserve them, encourage employment and boost the economy.

 

Capital Gains Tax

Taxing capital gains at a lower rate than income, as per the existing system, is of little or no benefit to the least well-off members of society, but allows some of the wealthiest individuals to pay significantly less tax than if the rates were aligned. This is fundamentally unfair.

 

In government, we acted quickly to make the regime more progressive by introducing a higher rate of 28% for gains made by higher and additional rate taxpayers, however ultimately we believe capital gains tax rates should be aligned with income tax rates.

 

Our tax reforms would achieve this, and would also reintroduce indexation allowances, in order to ensure that no-one is taxed on the portion of a ‘gain’ which has arisen simply due to inflation – and therefore ensure that no-one is penalised for holding assets over the long term.

 

The additional revenue that would be raised by these measures would go directly towards our aim of increasing the income tax personal allowance to the level equivalent to the minimum wage, which would benefit all individuals in full time employment – instead of the preferential capital gains tax rates which only benefit the wealthy.

 

Pensions tax relief

A £1m lifetime allowance would still be a generous regime – even at the existing low annuity rates, a £1m pension pot for a typical pensioner would provide a tax-free lump sum of £250,000 on retirement plus an inflation-linked pension of around £25,000 a year (or £45,000 per year fixed).

In reality the vast majority of employees will not reach a pension pot of £1m, and therefore will be unaffected by our proposal.

 

Cider

We want to alter the definition of cider for duty purposes to exclude the mass-produced, lower quality products from the beneficial low duty rates (compared to beer or wine) which apply to cider.

 

The current requirement to be classed as a cider is for only 35% of the product to be from apple juice. Increasing this requirement (to, say, 75%) would require manufacturers of high volume, low quality product to either significantly increase the quality of what they're making, or pay duty at (considerably higher) wine rates. By contrast, those manufacturers already producing cider from actual apples would be unaffected.

 

Either way, the cost of low-end products would increase, the market would be levelled, and the harmful social impact of very cheap, high-strength ciders would be reduced.

Jewellery Tax

We have never proposed introducing a ’jewellery tax’ (or more accurately a ‘net asset tax’). As part of our extensive tax policy consultation process, we invited party members (and others) to comment on the idea of a French-style ‘net asset tax’, as this was one of the ideas that had been suggested by contributors to the consultation process up to that point. Ultimately the idea was rejected by the working group.

 

Stronger economy

 

Due to a banking crisis and Labour’s economic mismanagement, the coalition inherited an economy in very bad shape.

 

With sustained action and after taking many difficult decisions, the coalition has managed to reduce the structural deficit by a third since coming to power. Having created over a million private sector jobs, with increasing business confidence and the economy having grown for two successive quarters, there are signs that the economy is healing, although there is still a long way to go.

 

We have proposed taking radical action to tackle high youth unemployment by developing a comprehensive strategy to give 16-24 year olds access to skills, advice and opportunities necessary to find sustainable employment.

 

We would also like to pool council borrowing limits so councils who want to build more houses, but are at their limits, are able to do so. We will also examine whether Public Sector Net Debt (PSND) could be brought into line with definitions of other EU countries, enabling councils with a sustainable business model to borrow to invest in building more homes for rent.

 

Youth Contract

The Youth Contract aimed to create up to 160,000 jobs over three years for under-25s. By the end of July, just under 5,000 wage subsidies had been paid out. Nick Clegg acknowledged at the time that “the initial launch of the offer of this wage subsidy did get off to a slow start" . However he was quick to point that the Youth Contract may be more appealing for small and medium-sized businesses than large corporations.

 

The Deputy Prime Minister has also been keen to learn what could have been done to promote the Youth Contract better, such as utilising the Jobcentre Plus network more. The Confederation of British Industry are supportive of the Youth Contract and government remains determined to improve uptake.

 

Race equality

 

Liberal Democrats reject all prejudice and discrimination, as well as all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality. The party is fully committed to helping Britain’s ethnic minority communities achieve their full potential.

 

Racial inequality and racism continues to be a major problem faced by black and minority ethnic people from early years and throughout education and employment.

 

The motion reaffirms this commitment, and aims to tackle a number of inequalities in the education sector, while also aiming to improve race equality among private sector companies in receipt of public money.

 

Cohabitation rights

 

We believe the discrepancies between the rights afforded to cohabiting unmarried couples and those that are married need addressing, to give equal legal recognition to both relationships.

 

Currently if one partner dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything unless the couple owned property jointly. Equally in a cohabiting couple, currently neither partner has a legal duty to support the other financially, and voluntary agreements to pay maintenance to each other may be difficult to enforce, irrespective of the facts and circumstances of the relationship, such as sacrifices that may have been made by one party.

 

Veils in schools

 

Speaking to the Telegraph, Jeremy Browne said: “I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion of their choice. That would apply to Christian minorities in the Middle East just as much as religious minorities here in Britain.

 

“But there is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil when society deems children to be unable to express personal choices about other areas like buying alcohol, smoking or getting married.

 

“We should be very cautious about imposing religious conformity on a society which has always valued freedom of expression."

 

Harassment allegations

 

Sexual harassment or abuse will not be tolerated in the Liberal Democrats. We have acknowledged that there have been failings in the past. We have apologised for those publicly and we are determined they will not be repeated.

 

That’s why we set up an independent inquiry into the party’s culture and practices, which was widely publicised and made a number of recommendations which are now being implemented.

 

Anyone who had suffered harassment or abuse was encouraged to come forward and give evidence and that evidence was taken extremely seriously. Anyone who has not come forward is encouraged to do so by contacting the independent helpline we have set up for anyone who wishes to make a complaint or seek advice.

 

As a result of the inquiry we have made a number of changes to make it clearer and easier to make a complaint; to improve our party’s HR practices; and change our party’s rules to make clear that such behaviour will result in disciplinary action.

 

Any suggestion that we have been anything other than completely open is wrong. Every part of this process has been transparent and the recommendations have been debated and approved this weekend, in the conference hall and in front of live TV cameras.

 

Polling

 

The latest Ashcroft poll of marginal seats only sampled Tory held seats, 32 which are Labour facing and 8 Lib Dem. Those 8 are Oxwab, Montgomeryshire, Camborne & Redruth, Truro & Falmouth, Newton Abbot, Harrogate, St Albans and Watford.

In those 8 seats we are almost neck a neck with the Conservatives. Voting intention is Con 32 Lib Dem 29 Lab 18 Ukip 12. 

Asked whether each party shares their values, 37% of people in those seats agreed the Lib Dems did, 35% agreed Labour did and 30% Tories. Asked whether they agreed that each party was 'on the side of people like me' 40% agreed that the Lib Dems are, 40% Lab and 25% Tories.

We are seen as particularly strong on the environment, with 45% saying we would do the best job of protecting it, 20% Cons and 19% Lab.

We are the most active party in these seats. In the last few months we've knocked on the door of 14% of homes in these seats (Con 12% Lab 8%); telephoned 3% (Con 2% Lab 1%); delivered to 41% (Con 36% Lab 23%). 

Conference narrative

 

The Liberal Democrats go into conference in confident mood. We are the most united of the major parties, with a proud record of achievement in Government. At this conference we will begin to set out our stall for the local and European elections next year and the General Election in 2015. We are planning for a second term in Government as the only party capable of delivering a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling everyone to get on in life.

 

There will be a number of important debates that will form the basis of our policy platform for 2015, including on the economy, fairer taxes, higher education, Europe, nuclear power and defence.

 

We are a party with a clear priority – jobs and easing the squeeze on household budgets. Liberal Democrats have cut taxes for working people and helped businesses to create more than a million jobs – now we want to help them create a million more.

 

We are in Scotland just a year before the country votes in the independence referendum. Liberal Democrats are proud of our United Kingdom and strongly believe our two nations are better together. A vote to stay in the UK is not a vote for no change. Liberal Democrats want to see further powers transferred to Scotland as part of the UK.

 

Key achievements in Government

In Government, Liberal Democrats have:

  • ·         Given a £700 tax cut to more than 20m working people and lifted 2.7m of the poorest workers out of paying Income Tax altogether
  • ·         Helped businesses create more than a million jobs
  • ·         Created a record 1.2m apprenticeships
  • ·         Given extra money for the children who need it the most through the £2.5bn Pupil Premium
  • ·         Introduced radical plans for shared parental leave
  • ·         Given generous rises in the state pension through our ‘triple lock’ – now worth an extra £650 since Labour
  • ·         Given the poorest two-year-olds and all three-and-four year-olds 15 hours of free childcare per week
  • ·         Passed a Bill introducing Equal Marriage for all couples
  • ·         Invested billions in renewable energy and energy efficiency, supporting thousands of green jobs

 

How we are helping to create jobs

In Government, we have helped create:

  • ·         Jobs for young people - 1.2m apprentices and 110,000 work placements for young people out of work
  • ·         Jobs in manufacturing - £5.5bn extra into science, high-tech manufacturing and renewable energy
  • ·         Jobs across the country - £2.6bn in our Regional Growth Fund, giving money to growing businesses around the country
  • ·         Jobs building Britain - £15.3bn to improve Britain’s roads, railways and housing
  • ·         Help for job creators - £2,000 cash back to employers on the tax they pay on their employees, to make it more affordable for businesses to take on staff
  • ·         Green jobs - £3bn to fund the world’s first Green Investment Bank, putting extra money into renewable energy
  • ·         Rural jobs - £530m to improve access to superfast broadband, creating jobs and helping rural businesses

 

Now we are campaigning to double the number of workplaces who offer apprenticeships in the UK – from 100,000 to 200,000.

 

The SNP Government is allowing Scotland to fall behind on apprenticeships. The percentage of employers offering apprenticeships in Scotland is lower than in England and the growth of apprentice new starts in Scotland has slowed, compared to a big rise in England.

 

We are also campaigning for the Welsh Government to fund a programme to highlight the benefits of apprenticeships for businesses and young people.

 

Labour

Labour cannot be trusted to build a stronger economy. They crashed the economy and have no answers on how to create jobs and get the economy growing.

  • ·         “There’s no money left – Labour nearly bankrupted Britain. We are cleaning up their mess.
  • ·         Labour let the banks run wild. They cosied up to gamblers in the City of London and left us all with a huge bill when the banks collapsed
  • ·         Labour’s numbers don’t add up. Their extra spending and unfunded tax cuts would break their own debt rules and add £201bn to the UK’s debt for our children and grandchildren to pay off (source: IFS)

 

Ed Miliband is a weak leader of a divided party that has nothing to say about the big issues of the day. Despite scaremongering for years, they have been proved wrong. Wrong on the economy. Wrong that unemployment would soar.

 

Time and time again Ed Miliband has been called upon to make a decision and time and time again he has ducked it. He has no answers to some of the biggest questions facing the country:

  • ·         Where do Labour stand on the economy?
  • ·         Where do Labour stand on welfare?
  • ·         Where do Labour stand on Europe?
  • ·         What is the Labour policy on schools?
  • ·         What is the Labour policy on the NHS?

 

Conservatives

The Conservatives on their own cannot build a fairer society. In Government we have blocked Tory plans to:

  • ·         Allow bosses to fire staff at will
  • ·         Give an inheritance tax cut to millionaires
  • ·         Let schools be run for profit

 

Tory backbenchers have shown their true colours in recent months, not least when a group of them released their Alternative Queen’s Speech, which included plans to:

  • ·         Bring back the death penalty
  • ·         Ban the burka
  • ·         Privatise the BBC
  • ·         Introduce an annual ‘Margaret Thatcher Day’

 

Independence

  • ·         Scotland has the best of both worlds as part of the UK with a Scottish Parliament that makes domestic decisions and a strong voice in the UK Parliament.
  • ·         Devolution delivers for Scotland and we are doing well as part of the UK family.
  • ·         We are campaigning to win the referendum on 18 Sept 2014.
  • ·         A vote to stay in the UK is not a vote for no change. Liberal Democrats want to see further powers transferred to Scotland as part of the UK.

 

Only the Liberal Democrats can build a stronger economy and a fairer society, 
enabling everyone to get on in life

 

Campaigners protest against the bedroom tax in Trafalgar Square before marching to Downing Street on 30 March 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.