Why Labour will consign the Bedroom Tax to the dustbin of history

For the vast majority of those affected, there is nowhere smaller to move to, leaving vulnerable people hit with extra costs through no fault of their own.

We Britons are proud of our national characteristics. Others might see them as foibles but we see them as qualities – doughtiness, support of the underdog, keeping a cool head in sticky situations. But our greatest quality is a sense of fair play. That’s the reason why the British people get so angry about the Bedroom Tax.

The Bedroom Tax is cruel and unfair. For those in social housing whom the government thinks have an extra room, it means paying up or moving house. But for the vast majority of those affected, there is nowhere smaller to move to, leaving vulnerable people hit with extra costs through no fault of their own. In my city of Edinburgh, vacant one bedroom flats are attracting over 200 applications each week.  The average family will lose £720 a year.

Families are facing a cost of living crisis. They’ve seen prices raise faster than wages for the last three years. They are on average £1,500 worse off under this government than under the last Labour government. This is something David Cameron and his out of touch ministers just can’t get their heads around. Even worse the Bedroom Tax hits over 400,000 disabled people hard. It's not just Labour politicians or campaigners who don’t like it, housing experts across the board condemn it. The Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation has described the policy as "an unfair, ill-planned disaster that is hurting our poorest families."

So it hurts people, but surely you’d think, at least it will bring in some extra revenue to the Treasury and help bring down this government’s borrowing? Well, you’d be wrong. It’s becoming more and more apparent that the Bedroom Tax could cost more money than it saves. The National Housing Federation have said the savings claimed by the government are "highly questionable", partly because those forced to move to the private rented sector will end up costing more in Housing Benefit. Housing Associations say that tens of millions are likely to be lost through the build up of arrears. And the National Audit Office have said that the government’s costing does not take account of the full scale of potential impacts and does not include the additional costs faced by local authorities.

Ed Miliband is crystal clear. The next Labour government will repeal the unfair and cruel Bedroom Tax. So how can this be funded? We need to do this by following our principles – a One Nation approach. David Cameron has cut tax for those who earn over £150,000 a year while raising it for everyone else. A classic example of him standing up for the wrong people.

We’ve been clear that we can’t borrow more to pay for social security changes. And we’ll take tough choices where necessary, including cutting Winter Fuel Payments for the wealthiest pensioners, and not reversing the cuts to child benefit for those on the highest incomes. But we’ll fund this change by getting rid of George Osborne’s tax loopholes, including the extraordinary tax cut for hedge funds announced in the 2013 Budget. We will also reverse his shares for rights schemem, which has been rejected by businesses and has, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, opened up a tax loophole of up to £1bn. And we’ll tackle tax scams in the construction industry. These changes will fully fund the cost of repealing the Bedroom Tax.

This is about taking a One Nation approach to deliver and run an economy that works in the interests of all the people, not just a narrow minority.
The Bedroom Tax is cruel, unjust, uneconomical and offends our sense of natural justice. The next Labour government will consign it to the dustbin of history.

Sheila Gilmore is Labour MP for Edinburgh East

Demonstrators hold placards as they gather to protest against the bedroom tax outside the High Court. Photograph: Getty Images.

Sheila Gilmore is Labour MP for Edinburgh East

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Debunking Boris Johnson's claim that energy bills will be lower if we leave the EU

Why the Brexiteers' energy policy is less power to the people and more electric shock.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove have promised that they will end VAT on domestic energy bills if the country votes to leave in the EU referendum. This would save Britain £2bn, or "over £60" per household, they claimed in The Sun this morning.

They are right that this is not something that could be done without leaving the Union. But is such a promise responsible? Might Brexit in fact cost us much more in increased energy bills than an end to VAT could ever hope to save? Quite probably.

Let’s do the maths...

In 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, the UK imported 46 per cent of our total energy supply. Over 20 other countries helped us keep our lights on, from Russian coal to Norwegian gas. And according to Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, this trend is only set to continue (regardless of the potential for domestic fracking), thanks to our declining reserves of North Sea gas and oil.


Click to enlarge.

The reliance on imports makes the UK highly vulnerable to fluctuations in the value of the pound: the lower its value, the more we have to pay for anything we import. This is a situation that could spell disaster in the case of a Brexit, with the Treasury estimating that a vote to leave could cause the pound to fall by 12 per cent.

So what does this mean for our energy bills? According to December’s figures from the Office of National Statistics, the average UK household spends £25.80 a week on gas, electricity and other fuels, which adds up to £35.7bn a year across the UK. And if roughly 45 per cent (£16.4bn) of that amount is based on imports, then a devaluation of the pound could cause their cost to rise 12 per cent – to £18.4bn.

This would represent a 5.6 per cent increase in our total spending on domestic energy, bringing the annual cost up to £37.7bn, and resulting in a £75 a year rise per average household. That’s £11 more than the Brexiteers have promised removing VAT would reduce bills by. 

This is a rough estimate – and adjustments would have to be made to account for the varying exchange rates of the countries we trade with, as well as the proportion of the energy imports that are allocated to domestic use – but it makes a start at holding Johnson and Gove’s latest figures to account.

Here are five other ways in which leaving the EU could risk soaring energy prices:

We would have less control over EU energy policy

A new report from Chatham House argues that the deeply integrated nature of the UK’s energy system means that we couldn’t simply switch-off the  relationship with the EU. “It would be neither possible nor desirable to ‘unplug’ the UK from Europe’s energy networks,” they argue. “A degree of continued adherence to EU market, environmental and governance rules would be inevitable.”

Exclusion from Europe’s Internal Energy Market could have a long-term negative impact

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd said that a Brexit was likely to produce an “electric shock” for UK energy customers – with costs spiralling upwards “by at least half a billion pounds a year”. This claim was based on Vivid Economic’s report for the National Grid, which warned that if Britain was excluded from the IEM, the potential impact “could be up to £500m per year by the early 2020s”.

Brexit could make our energy supply less secure

Rudd has also stressed  the risks to energy security that a vote to Leave could entail. In a speech made last Thursday, she pointed her finger particularly in the direction of Vladamir Putin and his ability to bloc gas supplies to the UK: “As a bloc of 500 million people we have the power to force Putin’s hand. We can coordinate our response to a crisis.”

It could also choke investment into British energy infrastructure

£45bn was invested in Britain’s energy system from elsewhere in the EU in 2014. But the German industrial conglomerate Siemens, who makes hundreds of the turbines used the UK’s offshore windfarms, has warned that Brexit “could make the UK a less attractive place to do business”.

Petrol costs would also rise

The AA has warned that leaving the EU could cause petrol prices to rise by as much 19p a litre. That’s an extra £10 every time you fill up the family car. More cautious estimates, such as that from the RAC, still see pump prices rising by £2 per tank.

The EU is an invaluable ally in the fight against Climate Change

At a speech at a solar farm in Lincolnshire last Friday, Jeremy Corbyn argued that the need for co-orinated energy policy is now greater than ever “Climate change is one of the greatest fights of our generation and, at a time when the Government has scrapped funding for green projects, it is vital that we remain in the EU so we can keep accessing valuable funding streams to protect our environment.”

Corbyn’s statement builds upon those made by Green Party MEP, Keith Taylor, whose consultations with research groups have stressed the importance of maintaining the EU’s energy efficiency directive: “Outside the EU, the government’s zeal for deregulation will put a kibosh on the progress made on energy efficiency in Britain.”

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.