Nick Clegg denies the call for a reform of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ is a u-turn, with the coalition partners set for a bruising battle.
The Liberal Democrats have withdrawn support for the so-called “bedroom tax” setting up a showdown with the Conservatives and sparking questions over credibility.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said it was clear the policy was unfair and was not working, saying: “I think when something isn’t working, you fix it.”
Mr Clegg said a Government report, which was published on Tuesday, showed people being penalised for living in homes deemed too big were unable to move to smaller properties. He said it was wrong they should have their benefits cut.
Speaking on his LBC Call Clegg radio programme, he denied the call for three significant changes to the policy amounted to a u-turn and said “sometimes things, in practice, don’t work quite in the way you expect”
The reform has seen social housing tenants considered to have more bedrooms than they need have their housing benefit reduced, to offset what the Government calls a “spare room subsidy”.
Mr Clegg said disabled people should be exempt and those who were unable to move to a smaller property should not have to pay. He also said 300,000 more affordable homes should be made available.
The significant policy shift emerged overnight when Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander outlined the changes in an article for the Daily Mirror.
It sparked accusations of “hypocrisy” and “lack of credibility” from both Labour and the Conservatives.
The Liberal Democrats had not discussed their change of stance with their coalition partners and Tory sources told Sky News: “It was news to us.”
However, the Conservatives remain committed to the policy.
They said the volte-face struck at the heart of the Lib Dem’s credibility and added: “They say one thing and do another. They have no conviction in their beliefs.”
The party’s credibility suffered badly after it broke its 2010 manifesto pledge to vote against a rise in university tuition fees when it formed the coalition.
Mr Alexander said the Lib Dems hoped to convince the Tories of the need to change the policy and if they do not they could force a Commons vote on the issue. The new approach will be included in the party’s 2015 manifesto.
The Government report into the so-called bedroom tax found 60% of those hit by the reforms had been in rent arrears and a shortage of smaller properties meant just 4.5% of tenants had been able to move into a smaller property.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves said Mr Clegg was guilty of “unbelievable hypocrisy”.
She said: “The Lib Dems voted for the bedroom tax. There wouldn’t be a bedroom tax if it wasn’t for the Lib Dems. And in February, when Labour tabled a bill to scrap the bedroom tax, the Lib Dems were nowhere to be seen.”
Mr Clegg has come under pressure to oppose the policy since his party conference voted overwhelmingly to review what activists called a “reprehensible and evil” move.
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