A senior Liberal Democrat minister called Thursday for a complete rethink of the so-called “bedroom tax”, distancing his party from the coalition’s controversial welfare reform.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said his party would make the case for “fairer rules” before the close of parliament next week, just over a year after the heavily criticised policy was introduced.
Under the reforms, social tenants deemed to have an unnecessary extra bedroom have their housing benefit cut by 14 percent, rising to 25 percent if they have two or more spare bedrooms.
The policy is aimed at encouraging people to move to smaller homes and free up social housing, making space for people currently stuck in overcrowded accommodation.
But campaigners say it is hitting the most vulnerable, such as those with disabilities, who may have a genuine need for the extra space.
Writing in the Daily Mirror, Alexander said: “With only one in 20 of affected claimants having successfully downsized, it’s clearly time to take stock and change our approach in this particular area.”
Under his proposals, new social housing tenants would receive housing benefit based on the number of rooms they need, while existing tenants would only see benefits cut if they are offered and turn down a suitable smaller home. Disabled people would be exempt from benefit cuts.
However, a Conservative source said his party remained committed to the existing policy, which was crucial to cutting “bloated” state spending.
The Lib Dem U-turn comes after an internal government review found that almost 60 percent of households affected by the changes were in arrears as a result of cuts to their housing benefit.
In September, UN housing expert Raquel Rolnik drew the ire of government ministers when she urged Britain to suspend the bedroom tax, saying it was harming vulnerable people.
Labour’s work and pensions spokeswoman Rachel Reeves accused Clegg and his party Thursday of of “unbelievable hypocrisy” over their volte-face.
Clegg rebuffed the criticism, telling LBC radio: “Unlike Labour, we are not sticking our heads in the sand.