Local MSP Margaret Burgess has made clear the SNP would scrap the hated Bedroom Tax in year-one of an independent Scotland.
With the Labour Party having confirmed it would retain many aspects of the tax if it were elected to form the government of the UK, Mrs Burgess points out the only way for Scots to get rid of the legislation is to vote ‘Yes’ in next year’s Independence Referendum.
The Bedroom Tax, introduced by the current Tory-Lib Dem UK Government, has led to a sharp rise in people falling into rent arrears. The tax slashes Housing Benefit for anyone who has more bedrooms in their rented home than the UK Government says they need. Those affected by the tax include many disabled people who require an additional bedroom for a family-member or carer to sleep-over. A person with one ‘additional’ bedroom has had their benefit cut by 14%, while two ‘extra’ rooms results in a 25% reduction in Housing Benefit.
Margaret Burgess said, “Let’s be clear why North Ayrshire and Scotland is suffering the Bedroom Tax. It is because responsibility for Welfare and Social Security remains with UK governments at Westminster. In recent decades that has seen us hit with the Poll Tax, the Bedroom Tax and austerity measures, all imposed by Tory Governments we didn’t vote for, or by Labour Governments implementing Tory policies.”
Mrs Burgess pointed to Labour commitments to retain Tory spending plans, which means “austerity and cuts will continue to be imposed from London, irrespective of which British political party forms the UK Government”.
The MSP for Cunninghame South said, “The one way to end this nightmare scenario – and to end the Bedroom Tax – is to vote ‘Yes’ in the Independence Referendum and have these matters, and others, decided here in Scotland.”
Margaret Burgess, also the SNP Government’s Housing Minister, flagged-up her concerns over another UK change to benefits due to come into force in October. The Universal Benefit will see Housing Benefit paid into a claimant’s bank account, instead of being paid directly to a landlord. However, if a claimant owes money to the bank, even just in the form of an overdraft, the bank will immediately deduct the amount it is owed, which could result in there being insufficient funds to pay rent, leading to arrears.
Mrs Burgess said, “The Scottish Government has already shown it will not stand by while Westminster cuts fall hardest on the poorest. Working with the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities, we are plugging Westminster’s £40million cut to the Council Tax Benefit budget for 2013-14.
“A £33million Scottish Welfare Fund will be set up to administer Community Care Grants and Crisis Grants, reinstating £9million of funding cut by Westminster in recent years. The fund is expected to provide financial support for an extra 100,000 vulnerable Scots.
“In January, the Scottish Government announced that benefits advice groups will share £5.4million to help them cope with the increasing demand for help as a result of Westminster’s cuts, and we have made available an extra £2.5million to social landlords to ensure people affected by housing benefits changes have the advice and support they need.”
The SNP MSP indicated she had “gone face to face” with UK Welfare Minister Lord Freud, pointing out the “absurdity and unfairness of the Bedroom Tax”.
Mrs Burgess said, “A fairer welfare system can only come with independence and full powers over welfare. Only then can we ensure we have policies that benefit the Scottish people and which reflect Scottish values.
“Make no mistake - with a ‘Yes’ vote - an SNP Government in an independent Scotland will scrap the Bedroom Tax in its first year.”