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

Photo: Getty
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The “lunatic” incident showed us the real Owen Smith: and it ain't pretty

Forget the slur - what really matters is what it says about his empty promises, says David Wearing. 

Owen Smith has embarrassed himself again. Having previously called for Labour to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”, advocated negotiations with ISIS, and described himself as “normal” with “a wife and three children” while competing with a gay woman to stand for the Labour leadership, you might expect him to have learnt the value of expressing himself more carefully. But no. Not a bit of it.

At a rally on Tuesday evening, Smith described Jeremy Corbyn as a “lunatic” with no “coherent narrative about what’s wrong with Britain”. It’s an interesting choice of words from someone who needs to win over tens of thousands of Corbyn’s supporters if he is to avoid a crushing defeat in this summer’s Labour leadership election. Indeed, we may look back on this as the final nail in the coffin of Smith’s campaign.

Let’s be honest. Most of us at some stage have used casual language like this (“lunatic”, “insane”), to describe those whose rationality we don’t share or understand. I’ll admit to having done so myself. But it is wrong. It perpetuates a stigma around mental illness and damages peoples’ chances of getting the care and support they need from society. We should all cut it out, especially those of us who aspire to high public office.

Beyond this, however, Smith has driven a coach and horses through the central premise of his own campaign. Throughout the summer he has presented himself as substantively agreeing with Corbyn on almost all domestic and economic issues, and only seeking to pursue that agenda more effectively and professionally. He has set out a range of policies - including a £200bn “British New Deal”, workplace rights and more redistributive taxation - that constitute an overt appeal to the social democratic, progressive values of the hundreds of thousands who joined the party to support Corbyn and secure a clean break with the neoliberalism of New Labour.

But it is simply not credible to simultaneously say “I agree with Jeremy” and that Jeremy is a “lunatic”. No one uses the word "lunatic" to describe someone whose politics they basically share. No one says “your diagnosis of the country’s ills is incoherent, and that’s the substantive agenda I want to take forward”. Smith’s remarks indicate that, deep down, he shares the incredulity expressed by so many of his colleagues that anyone would want to abandon the Thatcher-Blair-Cameron “centre ground” of deregulation, privatisation, corporate-empowerment and widening inequality. After all, Corbyn’s narrative only appears incoherent to those who regard the post-1979 status quo as self-evidently the best of all possible worlds - give or take a few policy tweaks - rather than the very essence of “what’s wrong with Britain”.

This incident will confirm the suspicion of many Labour members that, if he did win the leadership, Smith would dilute or ditch most of the policies he has used to try and win their votes. Those fears are well founded. Take as one illustrative example the issue of immigration, where Smith has shown one face to the party while suggesting that he would show quite another to the country, as party leader.

At leadership hustings, Smith presents an enlightened, pro-immigration, anti-xenophobic stance, but in a Newsnight interview last month we saw something rather different.  When asked if there were “too many immigrants” in the UK, he replied that “it depends where you are”, giving official comfort to the post-Brexit “pack your bags” brigade. He asserted that EU migration “definitely caused downward pressure on wages” despite academic studies having repeatedly shown that this is false, and that EU migration is of clear overall benefit to the economy.

Then, calling for an “honest” discussion on immigration, Smith noted that his wife is a school teacher and that schools in their local area are under pressure from “significant numbers into South Wales of people fleeing the Middle East”. In fact, a grand total of 78 people have been resettled in the whole of Wales under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme. In the local authority encompassing Smith’s constituency of Pontypridd, the total number is zero.

This suggests, not someone who shares members’ values, but one who probably regards the leader’s pro-immigration stance as “lunatic”, and would prefer a return to the days when Labour erected the notorious Yarl’s Wood detention camp, rejected the vast majority of asylum applications from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and when Tom Watson put out an election leaflet reading “Labour is on your side, the Lib Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers”.

Smith’s problem is that his mask keeps slipping. And every time it does, the choice before Labour members comes into sharper focus. On the one hand, they have a man who lacks many of the managerial and communication skills for party leadership, but who shares their values and who they can trust to fight for their agenda until a credible successor can be found. Against him stands a man they may not be able to trust, who may not share their values, and whose claims of professional competence grow more threadbare by the day. It’s a poor choice to be faced with, but Smith is at least making it easier for them.