Tories trashed in bedroom tax vote, may put coalition on skids

Tories trashed in bedroom tax vote, may put coalition on skids
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have united to vote against the bedroom tax, in a private members bill sponsored by Lib Dem MP Andrew George, which will not abolish but will limit the scope of the unpopular policy that penalizes council tenants.

MPs voted 304 to 267 in favor of the bill on Friday. The draft law was brought in by the MP for St Ives in Cornwall, Andrew George, and seeks to limit the damaging effect of the unpopular bedroom tax.

Under the current so-called bedroom tax or the ‘withdrawal of the spare room subsidy’ council tenants lose 14 percent of their housing benefit if they have one unused bedroom and 25 percent if they have two or more extra bedrooms.

There have been many protests across the UK against the tax. Critics say the government brought it in without building any new smaller homes for people to move into.

Under Mr. George’s Affordable Homes Bill, tenants would only be affected by the withdrawal of the spare room subsidy if they have been offered somewhere else to live but have turned it down. The disabled would also be exempt from the charge.This would knock a large sum from what the government is managing to save under the tax.

The vote was close, but Andrew George said afterwards that he had not expected the Tories to get such a thrashing.

“It was such a stonking victory that if that coalition can hold together in the coming months we should get this bill though,” he said.

Government whips tried to get Tory MPs into parliament to get up the numbers to oppose the bill, but around 70 Conservative MPs were absent. In comparison most Labour and Lib Dem MPs were present, including four Lib Dem cabinet ministers who voted against the government. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister was at the NATO summit in Wales, and was one of only three Lib Dems who missed the vote. Angie Bray, Tory MP for Ealing and Central Acton, a relatively poor area of London, voted against her party.

The bill will now go through to a second reading.

“This is the begging of the end of the bedroom tax. Whether we will manage to get it all the way through by the general election, I don’t know – but we’ll try our damnedest, and we’ll certainly abolish it afterwards,” said Chris Bryant, the shadow works and pensions minister.

The public rift between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is likely to be damaging politically and has led one maverick Tory MP, Philip Davies, to declare the coalition government dead. “We will clearly have a free for all in the rest of parliament,” he told MPs.

Although they backed it as part of the coalition when it was introduced on April 1, 2013, the Lid Dems abandoned their full support for the tax earlier this year and have said that it isn’t working properly and changes must be made.

The Lib Dems and Labour will also use the vote in their campaign to urge Scottish voters to vote No to independence in less than two weeks. Only two Scottish Nationalist Party MPs turned up to vote, even though they use the unpopular tax as one of the reasons to vote Yes to independence.

George’s bill is not guaranteed to make the statute book, as legislation originating from private members struggles to gain enough time to fulfill all the required stages without government support.

But luckily for George, his bill won the ballet for MPs wanting to propose laws and this means his bill will be among the first private member’s bills to get a second reading. Tory MPs will probably be reluctant to hold it up excessively as their own bill on holding a referendum on EU membership is lower down the pecking order.

If Labour wins the next election they have pledged to scrap the bedroom tax completely.

"David Cameron and Nick Clegg's cruel and unfair bedroom tax has hit hundreds of thousands of people across the country causing misery, hardship and forcing families to rely on food banks," said Labour's Rachel Reeves.

Despite the hype around Westminster, a spokeswoman for the department of Work and Pensions said there would be no immediate change in the policy saying that it is “fair” and saves “the taxpayer more than £1 million ($1.63 million) a day.”