Today the Labour party voted for the second reading of a Private Member’s Bill designed to get significant exemptions from the Bedroom tax. The Bill passed this hurdle – in spite of fierce Tory opposition. Its success was due to the readiness of the Labour Party to throw its weight behind a LibDem Member’s Bill.
Labour members turned out in force. They had first to defeat a Tory attempt to talk the Bill out – prevented by a vote of 304 to 237. The Second reading then passed – by 306 to 231. The Tories staged a last ditch effort to stop it – on points of order – again defeated. The Bill will now go to Committee stage for further consideration.
Labour MPs forced a vote in the House of Commons for its abolition in November last year.
The party supported a bill to abolish it introduced by Labour’s Ian Lavery last February. And Ed Miliband has committed the next Labour government to repealing it if we win the general election next year.
Last February, Ian Lavery summed up his opposition to this tax which he aimed ‘ to sweep away.’ He sought ‘to restore justice for up to 660,000 people—some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens, two thirds of whom are disabled.’
It is against that justice that so many Tories voted today.
The ugly face of the Tory party was in clear evidence in the Parliamentary debate. The electorate has been given another chance to see that face. It will not forget.
Rachel Reeves, MP for Leeds West and Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for work and pensions sums up this hateful tax.
‘We said it was cruel and unfair, taking an average £700 a year from half a million low income households. The government has admitted that two thirds of those hit have disabilities, and another 60,000 are carers. All the evidence from housing and disability experts showed that most would have nowhere else to move to.
We also said it was unworkable and could end up costing more than it saved, with people unable to keep up with their rent, destabilising the finances of housing providers and risking costly eviction proceedings, or ending up with private landlords where rents and housing benefit bills are higher.
Our fears were confirmed by the government’s own independent evaluation of the policy, slipped out over the summer. This revealed that just 4.5% of affected claimants had been able to move to smaller accommodation within the social sector, that 60% had fallen behind with their rent after just six months, and that there was “widespread concern that those who were paying were making cuts to other household essentials or incurring other debts”.’
These are the reasons why Labour opposed the Bedroom Tax from the outset – and why it has done everything possible to end it ever since. That includes voting today for a LibDem Private Member’s bill.
Regular readers of this website may be surprised at Labour’s backing of Andrew George’s Bill, given that he is a LibDem MP. Certainly we have little love for the LibDems. Their support for the Coalition has made things like the Bedroom Tax possible.
The plain truth is that there would be no Bedroom Tax if it wasn’t for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. We find that very hard to forgive.
We also find the hypocrisy, the failure to take responsibility and the readiness to take credit for other people’s achievements which characterizes many LibDem MPs nauseating.
But we make exceptions: when, as here, the substance matters so much – getting rid of the bedroom tax justifies some strange bedfellows.
We are also impressed by the fact that Andrew George has consistently taken a principled stand against the Bedroom Tax. To his credit, he even voted in support of our motion to abolish it last November. We were happy to return the favour – especially because we would do anything to achieve the end of this tax. We stand on our principles.
So too does Andrew George – and we salute that. But the same cannot be said of his party, the Liberal Democrats.
They have shifted ground on this issue – as electoral defeat started to stare them in the face.
Readers should remember that they joined the Tories in the lobbies to vote through the Bedroom Tax at second and third reading in 2011. They combined with the Tories to defeat Labour’s opposition motion last November.
And they were nowhere to be seen when Ian Lavery proposed his Bill to repeal the tax in February.
The Liberal Democrats even refused to support amendments that Labour tabled in the Commons and the Lords to exempt disabled people whose homes had been specially adapted for them, or who could not find alternative accommodation where support services and suitable employment was locally available.
Nick Clegg has defended and backed the Bedroom Tax over and over again.
Lately Mr Clegg has attempted a u-turn on the issue, claiming that new evidence showed people were unable to move to avoid the tax. But the evidence for this has always been available.
In fact the government’s own assumption was that no one would move, and that if they tried “there would be a mismatch between available accommodation and the needs of tenants”, and that “in many areas this mismatch could mean that there are insufficient properties to enable tenants to move to accommodation of an appropriate size”.
Indeed, the very report that the leader of the Liberal Democrats has cited as “the trigger” for his change of heart points out that the small number of moves is in truth “higher than some had expected as the DWP’s impact assessment was modelled on the assumption that no significant numbers would downsize”.
The facts haven’t changed, but the LibDems have. Today the LibDems backed Andrew George’s bill. The urge to political self-preservation is strong. May 2015 looms.
Our own MP, Greg Mulholland voted with them.
This is something of a surprise given his previous voting record on this issue.
If you check out the links above to the Parliamentary record, you’ll find that he voted FOR it at the crucial second and third readings – including therefore voting against the Labour amendment to remove bedroom tax on second reading.
Well, better late than never.
But his voting record here is an interesting comparison with that of Labour members who have consistently supported abolition – and have been ready to vote with any other party which worked to achieve that, as they did today.
In our view, this Bill is just a foot in the door. It does not abolish the tax.
Rachel Reeves again
“This Bill does not go as far as the full abolition we want to see. But we will take any opportunity to limit the terrible impact of the Bedroom Tax. So today, though most MPs had commitments in their constituencies, I and other Labour MPs were present in the House of Commons chamber to support the Bill so that it had the best chance of progressing through to its next stage. And in Committee we will do what we can to strengthen and extend its scope.’
Alex Sobel agrees
“I have always opposed this unjust tax, and campaigned against it. We in the Labour Party will take any opportunity to protect as many people as we can from this unjust and ill-conceived policy.’
Of course the only sure way to get the Bedroom Tax fully repealed will be to elect a Labour government next May – and a Labour MP here in Leeds NW.
The choice becomes ever clearer.
For more information from us sign up here