Will the Tories be embarrassed by the Affordable Housing Bill?

Tomorrow (Friday) the Labour Party will do something it hasn’t done in a fair few years – support a Parliamentary Bill put forward by a Liberal Democrat!

Andrew George’s Affordable Housing Bill seeks to soften the effects of the Bedroom Tax by exempting households in which disabled people have had adaptations made to the building, and in which any person in receipt of Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment (but notably not Employment and Support Allowance) is not able to share a bedroom with a partner, meaning that all bedrooms are occupied, if only by the claimant and their partner.

It would also force the Work and Pensions Secretary to review the number of affordable homes and intermediate housing available, assessing the need for such dwellings, progress made in meeting this need and the potential to do so, the role of registered providers and community land trusts, and whether he should act to meet any need revealed by the review.

This could doubly harm the Conservatives as David Cameron went on record during Prime Minister’s Questions many times as the Bedroom Tax passed into law, to say that it would not affect the disabled. Clearly his statements were false; clearly he was lying to Parliament.

It is also public knowledge that the Conservatives were well aware of the lack of appropriate housing for people to downsize into, once the Bedroom Tax came into effect and they were forced to pay for rooms the government now considers to be under-occupied. The plan was never to get people to move into more appropriate accommodation; it was always to force people – who had been allocated housing on the basis of what was available at the time – into a benefit cut created by conditions that were not of their making.

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves, writing on LabourList, stated that Labour will support Mr George’s Bill. “Though most MPs will have commitments in their constituencies, I and other Labour MPs will be present in the House of Commons chamber to support the Bill so that it has the best chance of progressing through to its next stage,” she wrote.

It is to be hoped that any absent MPs will have ‘paired’ with opposing MPs, in order to ensure that no side has an unfair advantage when the matter comes to the vote; it is bad enough that the government scheduled the Bill’s second reading for a Friday, when most MPs have constituency duties.

Labour has lately come under fire from certain individuals – including readers of this blog – who are living under the delusion that Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition has supported the Coalition government with regard to the Bedroom Tax. Let’s put that to rest with a few more words from the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary:

“Labour has been clear and consistent in its opposition to the Bedroom 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 MPs forced a vote in the House of Commons for its abolition in November last year. It is why we supported a Bill to abolish the tax put forward by Ian Lavery MP in February this year. And it is why Ed Miliband has committed the next Labour government to repealing it if we win the general election next year.

“We in the Labour Party will take any opportunity to protect as many people as we can from this unjust and ill-conceived policy.

“But the only sure way to get the Bedroom Tax fully repealed will be to elect a Labour government next May.”

The Affordable Housing Bill is scheduled to be the first discussed in the September 5, 2014 session, and it should be possible to watch the debate at http://www.parliament.uk or the BBC’s Democracy Live site from 9.30am onwards.

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  1. Niki September 4, 2014 at 10:15 pm - Reply

    Lots of people get ESA don’t get DLA or PIP even if they are in the support Group ( like me, I don’t fit the tick boxes….) I don’t understand why DLA is the only measure of disability, especially as PIP is going to cull so many of us…..this government really is a undisguised calamity.

    • Mike Sivier September 4, 2014 at 11:34 pm - Reply

      This is why I raised the fact that ESA isn’t even mentioned.

  2. philipburdekin September 4, 2014 at 10:15 pm - Reply

    Does the Queen actually give a damn, Or does she not know because she was yet again lied to Or is she of the same thinking as cameron were as the sick and disabled are just scroungers and that it doesn’t matter to them if we live or die?,preferably the latter would be better for her and the coalition. This isn’t a very nice place to be sick and disabled or unemployed, low paid or even being alive doesn’t bode well with coalition.

    • Mike Sivier September 4, 2014 at 11:35 pm - Reply

      The Queen has nothing to do with it; she’s only there to sign her name on the Act. If she spoke out against anything it would trigger a constitutional crisis.

  3. Gordon Powrie September 4, 2014 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    Our MP was at our constituency AGM tonight (quite rightly), but he’s on the first train back to London tomorrow, to support this bill.

    • Mike Sivier September 4, 2014 at 11:36 pm - Reply

      I’m glad to read that. It isn’t perfect, by a LONG stretch, but it’s a start. And Labour intends to try to stretch the Bill’s provisions during the committee stage.

  4. Steve CK September 4, 2014 at 10:31 pm - Reply

    Erm, it has to be pointed out that; Labour missed the boat on this to begin with in ignoring the obvious economic arguments that could have flawed any twisted Coalition logic that introduced the Bedroom Tax to begin with. It’s only this year, now it’s absolutely certain (and lets face it, it was always certain even when it was a hypothesis) that the tax is a punitive success are they throwing out every argument in the book.

    And what was the other thing, oh yes, the minority of “rebellious” Labour MP’s that voted against the Welfare Reform act, were very much a minority. So it’s not really delusional to think that Labour are entirely reformed themselves when it comes to welfare. While I’m very, very glad they are coming out fighting against such things, there are other issues that need the same attention when it comes to welfare, some of which their last Government introduced, but I’m not blind to the fact that this is political opportunism at it’s best. It’s always tainted, it’s about taking power first, then maybe paying a bit of attention to us after that. Unless your name is Tony Blair, in which case you wear a red rosette and act like a tory.

    Ed Miliband and the rest of the party are still a few fathoms short of where the party membership would like them to be.

    • Mike Sivier September 4, 2014 at 11:55 pm - Reply

      Steve, Labour did not have the slightest chance of stopping the Bedroom Tax from being introduced. There was a Coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats with a majority of members in the House of Commons and the vote was whipped to ensure that the Welfare Reform Act 2012 would be passed. That is how your Parliament works – you vote in a general election, the party (or in this case, parties) with a majority go into office and do whatever they like, and no appeals to logic, common sense, humanity or anyone else will stop them.
      A quick look at Hansard for February 21 (the last day on which the then-Welfare Reform Bill was debated in the Commons before it received Royal Assent) shows that 263 MPs voted against it. This suggests that the entire Parliamentary Labour Party, with the possible exception of only a few due to sickness or some other excusable condition, passed through the ‘No’ lobby that day. A “minority of ‘rebellious’ Labour MPs” indeed!
      Consider yourself corrected – and if anyone in your presence suggests what you’ve suggested here, you make sure you put them right too. Look it up yourself: http://www.parliament.uk, then go to Hansard, and look up Commons debates for February 21, 2012.

      Having said that, I do tend to agree with your appraisal of the Parliamentary Labour Party – if you restrict it to Ed and the Shadow Cabinet. There are plenty of good representatives in the PLP.

      • tony houghton September 6, 2014 at 9:53 pm - Reply

        maybe if they had bothered to turn up in november one never knows, there was loads from labour missing, and seen as they asked for the vote its pretty sad

        • Mike Sivier September 7, 2014 at 12:12 am - Reply

          They all turned up for the vote apart from those who had paired. The result was 226 in favour of the Labour motion with 252 against, meaning the motion was lost by only 26 votes. If Labour’s remaining MPs had been there, so would the MPs with whom they had paired, and the same 26-vote loss would have been the result. The information about the Labour MPs who didn’t turn up is in the comment column.
          I watched that debate. Labour MPs won the argument (as always); the Coalition defence was pathetic.
          Here’s the link to my article about the debate, as you seem to be having memory problems: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2013/11/13/bedroom-tax-tories-what-they-said-and-why-they-were-wrong/

  5. Nick September 4, 2014 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    I’m not sure mike that labour could win the general election just based on the withdrawal of the bedroom tax that would be most unlikely

    • Mike Sivier September 4, 2014 at 11:56 pm - Reply

      That’s not what I was trying to suggest. I’ll happily apologise for the lack of clarity if that’s how it looks.

  6. Damien Willey September 4, 2014 at 10:40 pm - Reply

    Really wish my MP Andrew George the best of luck tomorrow, he might be lib dem, but he’s not typical of the party! Just hope Labour puts its money where its mouth is and they actually turn up, particularly since the tories are using the 3 line whip…..

  7. Splatttis September 4, 2014 at 10:48 pm - Reply

    The other party that supported the Bedroom Tax was … the SNP
    SNP stopped the Bedroom Tax only when it was politically expedient. …
    I hope that’s not a forewarning of Scotland’s future politics under Alex Salmond, and the Scottish do not forget SNP’s betrayal, and U-Turn all purely for political gain, and not one ounce for the Scottish people’s advantage.

  8. Samuel Miller (@Hephaestus7) September 4, 2014 at 11:19 pm - Reply

    Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George’s private members’ bill on the bedroom tax is too watered down and problematic and only gives the disabled false hopes. It needs to be beefed up if it passes second reading tomorrow.

    [Excerpt from] Opinion: Why the bedroom tax is not political » Housing » 24dash.com http://www.24dash.com/news/housing/2014-09-02-Opinion-Why-the-bedroom-tax-is-not-political

    The problems are not so much what is written in the Bill, but what is missing from it. The first major fault appears in Section 1.2.(1)(a) iii. This is what it says about qualifying exemptions for homes where adaptations have been made for the needs of disability:

    “(iii) that the cost of the adaptation is not less than an amount prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State;”

    This bogs down the disability adaptations element by setting a ‘minimum cost’ of the adaptations that have been made being a requirement for a bedroom tax exemption to be made. Not only will this ignore the needs of the disabled person in favour of looking at the cost of the adaptations, but it will also require further work to ascertain what these costs are, or were.

    Adaptations may have been made before the current tenants arrived; they may have been allocated the property based on these requirements. It also makes no allowance for individual adaptations being of varying costs in different parts of the country, or incurring different costs depending on when they were installed. This approach also requires a coherent regulation from the Secretary of State, something the policy has not seen so far in any other area.

    Finalising these regulations could take months, and require repeat visits of the Bill to the House of Commons to get them approved at each stage. With both George and Labour MPs already making noises about ‘beefing up’ the Bill as it progresses, and the costs arising from any regulatory alterations expected to be met by the DWP, it quickly becomes clear that any meaningful reform before the general election is extremely unlikely.

    The other sticking point is a new section in the Bill, presumably added as a result of the still incoherent outline plans made by Danny Alexander on Channel 4 News recently.

    It’s a clause – 1.2.(1)(c) which exempts people from paying bedroom tax where they haven’t been made a reasonable offer of an alternative property:

    “c) Neither the claimant’s landlord nor a local authority, where it is not the landlord, has made a reasonable offer of alternative accommodation.”

    This reasonable offer is then fleshed out in Section 1.2.(2)

    “(2) Regulations made under this section may define ‘reasonable offer of alternative accommodation’ for the purposes of sub-section (1)(c) above.”

    The text of these regulations literally takes the form of “x marks the spot”, with a letter X in place of any actual definition of the intent to define what a reasonable offer of alternative accommodation is.

    There seems little point in going into too much detail about the implications of this omission.

    One of the key findings from both the Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into reforms for the support provided for housing costs, and the more recent data from the DWP’s own interim report on the policy was that in the vast majority of cases, the supply of housing alternatives is so short that even where people want to downsize they cannot.

    The implications of this Bill are therefore likely to be zero for tenants affected by the policy.

    While it is warming to discover that Liberal Democrat MPs have finally listened to what everyone has been saying since 2012, this Bill is no solution for people like Renleigh Anderson of Derby, who now sits within a 28-day notice period awaiting Eviction for arrears accrued solely for bedroom tax, in a case where it’s apparent her landlord has deemed her inability to successfully apply for a Discretionary Housing Payment as some kind of personal failing for which she is shortly to receive the ultimate sanction – the loss of the place that she used to think of as her home.

    • Mike Sivier September 5, 2014 at 12:01 am - Reply

      I wouldn’t argue with any of that – certainly none of it contradicts this article. Labour has indeed made it perfectly clear that it intends to beef up the Bill, as you put it, if it gets to the committee stage.

    • Damien Willey September 5, 2014 at 9:17 am - Reply

      I’ve access to Andrew’s FB page – he wanted to get it scrapped, but feared it getting defeated in its entirety, hence the concession for disabled people. He also wanted a few other things dealt with, like increasing the number of affordable homes (hence the name of the bill) but could get no support for it, nor could he get support for controlling the number of second homes being taken up that should be restricted for some areas at least in this time of housing shortage. He says:

      “Of course – to be consistent – I would have preferred to abolish the Bedroom Tax altogether, but, for a Private Members’ Bill to have any chance of success, compromises have to be reached – but hopefully a workable set of compromises have now been reached.

      “Naturally, if I succeed at Second Reading on Friday, I hope I can beef up the Bill with amendments at Committee Stage, to extend exemptions to the Bedroom Tax and promote the intermediate housing market to make home ownership affordable to more people.

  9. Smiling Carcass September 5, 2014 at 7:22 am - Reply

    Reblooged on SMILING CARCASS’S TWO-PENNETH and commented:

    “As far as I am concerned supporting reform of the Bedroom Tax is tantamount to support of the Bedroom Tax in principle.

    I have to add we seem to have forgotten one little thing; this reform will not give anybody a spare room; it will allow them an exemption if the room is needed because of disability, notwithstanding the limitations in the bill and therefore the ‘spare room’ principle of the Bedroom Tax doesn’t morally apply BECAUSE THE ROOM IS NOT SPARE BUT IN USE.

    I have been against the Bedroom Tax from the beginning, partly on the basis that a spare room is not a luxury in the 21st century, and if one’s circumstances means that you cannot afford the rent on you dwelling, including a spare room then you should get an appropriate rebate to make your rent affordable. The Bedroom Tax removes the ability to pay your rent in these circumstances.”

    • Mike Sivier September 5, 2014 at 8:17 am - Reply

      Nobody in the Labour Party is saying this is a brilliant solution that will cure all the Bedroom Tax’s problems – it has been made perfectly clear that this is merely doing what’s possible while awaiting the opportunity to abolish the Bedroom Tax altogether.
      In these circumstances I think it would be very hard for anyone to justify opposing what Labour is doing by supporting this Bill.
      I mean, can you imagine the furore if Labour didn’t support it?

      • Smiling Carcass September 5, 2014 at 8:51 am - Reply

        Mike, I know where you are coming from- and I do not oppose or marginalise anybody who supports the bill on the basis it is a step in the right direction.

        However, I follow my conscience; this bill will change little, probably won’t get through and I believe Labour should be asking- not telling (or ‘whipping) it’s MPs not to support the bill but to abstain, explaining the reasons why; because the Bedroom Tax is unfair, hits the poorest hardest (again), will change little and we will repeal the Bedroom Tax if elected to government.

        There are a lot of disabled people saying they don’t want it; they want to be treated fairly not differently and think the Bedroom Tax should be repealed wholesale; this is why they became involved in the movement to oppose it and see no reason to change their view- ‘in it together’ is a quote they often use.

        • Mike Sivier September 5, 2014 at 9:54 am - Reply

          If Labour were to do anything but support a Bill that restricted the effect of the Tory Bedroom Tax, it would lose support from habitual Labour voters who would claim that it was supporting the Tories by abstaining, and it would attract ridicule from habitual Tory supporters who would say exactly the same thing!
          This bad publicity would only discourage the easily-influenced from supporting a Labour alternative to the current Tory-led brutality.

  10. Mr.Angry September 5, 2014 at 9:30 am - Reply

    Given the past performance from IDS and Cameron I doubt if a tory could exhibit one ounce of embarrassment.

  11. RL September 5, 2014 at 9:53 am - Reply

    Well said, all of that, Mike.

    Haters will hate, of course – good to see you way above them.

    • Mike Sivier September 5, 2014 at 9:56 am - Reply

      Thank you!

  12. Eijnar September 5, 2014 at 10:16 am - Reply

    Houses in Europe are on average 80% larger than in Britain so the idea that British people have “spare” bedrooms is absurd.We are already required to live in the smallest houses in all of Europe and we have no legal minimum size for a house,everything is determined by the market.

    If we adopted the same legal space requirements as Denmark then most of our existing housing stock would become redundant over night.The Bedroom Tax is simply the latest manifestation of Agenda 21,the requirement that we cut down on our use of resources.You can ALWAYS spot Agenda 21 in action because it always refers to the need to make something SUSTAINABLE,by which they mean LESS for the Plebs!

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