Government Overturns Lords On Bedroom Tax Amendments
The Commons has voted to overturn objections to the so-called "Bedroom Tax" from the House of Lords for a second time, in the latest twist in the long-running battle within Parliament over the Welfare Reform Bill.
Last week Peers voted by a majority of ten to introduce a new amendment to the Bill, which would still exempt many families in social housing with a spare bedroom from the cut in benefits. The crossbench peer Lord Best, who was behind the original bid to water down the bedroom tax, made a concession to ministers, and he claimed in the Lords that rather than costing the taxpayer £200m, the total cost would now be around £100m.
On Tuesday evening MPs voted to reject the compromise amendment from the Lords by 316 to 263.
Defending for the government, employment minister Chris Grayling said it was impossible to justify a millon spare bedrooms when there were so many families living in temporary accommodation. He said spare rooms in council housing were a "luxury" which couldn't be afforded when so many children in the UK didn't have a stable and secure roof over their heads.
"Had the Blair government continued to build social housing at the same rate as the Major government, we would have seen an extra 300,000 families in social housing. They didn't, and now we are dealing with the consequences of the decisions made 15 years ago."
"This is not the world of fifteen years ago, this is a world when we've come into government with empty coffers."
However housing experts warn that the bedroom tax, if passed in the way the government wishes - would only make the housing crisis in the UK worse. The Chartered Institute of Housing has warned that ministers are failing to listen to the concerns of those who know social housing best, and have urged a rethink.
Tory MP for Brigg and Goole Andrew Percy was among coalition backbenchers who voted against the government. He made his intention to rebel clear in the debate prior to the vote.
He told HuffPost UK: "I'm not convinced there is alternative accommodation for people affected by this to go into, so I don't think the savings will be achieved. We should apply similar rules to these sorts of people as we've applied to the benefits cap.
"Pensioners are already exempt, and there is a risk with this that we move the focus away from trying to support pensioners, to free up family homes. So actually by chasing after these people, we fail to do a more sensible policy which is to try and support other groups which are under-occupying."
Labour's shadow Treasury minister Stephen Timms told MPs that seriously ill people would be penalised. "Take a hypothetical example of a couple, one of whom is dying of cancer. They are in the Employment and Support Allowance Support Group, for people who aren’t expected to work again. That’s one of the four specific groups this amendment would protect.
"The couple has a spare bedroom in their two bedroom council house, because their child moved out recently. They’d be very happy to move to a one bedroomed council or housing association flat, but none is available.
"Under the Minister’s policy, that couple will be penalised – on average, by £12 per week."
Former Labour welfare minister Frank Field said the Bedroom Tax was a "nasty, mean little measure" that could penalise couples who didn't sleep in the same room because one of them had a chronic snoring problem. He told MPs that such problems did not appear in public accounts but did appear in real lives. "it may well drive out of the community those upstanding citizens who play a role in combating the yob culture that engulfs them."
Field went on: "Being able to have a spare bedroom in which you can offer hospitality to your family and your friends can make a such a difference to the quality of one's life. The government knows it goes against a valuable tradition that goes back to the Macmillian era. It will be looked on as an eviction measure."
The Lords is currently in recess so will be unable to consider its response to the latest developments in the Commons until next week.