Friday, 27 December 2013

Anger as MSP votes against Bedroom Tax help

A North Ayrshire-based Labour MSP has been criticised by community activists after voting against an SNP proposal to increase financial support for people affected by the Bedroom Tax.

Former Kilwinning councillor Margaret McDougall, now a Labour ‘List’ MSP for West of Scotland, joined with her party colleague Hanzala Malik and Tory MSP Murdo Fraser in opposing the Scottish Government plan to raise the funding available for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) to £20-million, the maximum allowed under current legislation.  Lothians Green MSP Alison Johnstone also opposed the move, but her objection was on the basis that the additional funding for DHPs would result in reductions to some environmental budgets.

The Bedroom Tax, imposed by the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government, results in cuts to Housing Benefit for any public sector tenant who has more rooms in their home than they are deemed to need.  One ‘additional’ bedroom sees a cut of 14%, while two ‘extra’ rooms result in benefit being slashed by 25%.

Discretionary Housing Payments can be used by councils to assist people in financial difficulties, such as tenants whose benefit has been cut as a result of the Bedroom Tax, which often leads to rent arrears.  Two Labour-controlled councils have already issued eviction notices to tenants in such a position, although no evictions have yet been carried out.  SNP-controlled North Ayrshire Council has given a commitment that there will be no evictions resulting from rent arrears accruing due to the Bedroom Tax, so long as tenants work with officials to address any issues.

At last week’s meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, MSPs were asked to support an SNP motion, which stated, The Committee is disappointed that factors outwith the Scottish Government’s control have delayed certain aspects of the Home Energy Efficiency Programme.  Whilst we acknowledge the importance of funding energy efficiency measures we support the Scottish Government’s proposed budget transfer from the Home Energy Efficiency Programme (coupled with savings from the enterprise bodies and other budget lines) to provide support to people as a result of the impact of the UK Government’s under occupation of social housing charges (the bedroom tax).”  The SNP has a majority on the Committee, so the motion supporting additional funding to help victims of the Bedroom Tax was passed, despite the opposition of Labour, Tory and Green members.

Reacting to the Committee vote, community activist Alan Wyllie of the ‘No2BedroomTax’ campaign said, “We are extremely disappointed to hear that two Labour MSPs voted against the Scottish Government's proposal to increase Discretionary Housing Payment budgets by £20-million.  This is a massive own-goal by the Labour Party in Scotland.”

Mr Wyllie pointed out that an increase to DHP funding was supported by housing charity Shelter Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Congress, adding, “The Bedroom Tax is a vile policy that has no place in a modern society.  It is having a devastating effect on our communities and is hitting hardest some of the most vulnerable in our society.  The news that MSPs voted against increased funding for those affected by the Bedroom Tax will hurt and anger tenants who expected Labour MSPs to stand up for them against Tory policy from Westminster.”

Jim Buntin, Co-Convener of ‘No2BedroomTax’, tied-in the actions of Margaret McDougall and Hanzala Malik with a recent House of Commons vote on abolishing the Bedroom Tax, where 47 Labour MPs failed to turn-up, resulting in the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government winning by just 26 votes.  Mr Buntin said, “This is the second time Labour has let us down in the past few months and I find it so disappointing.  It leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth.”

The vote by Labour MSPs against additional financial help for people affected by the Bedroom Tax was also criticised by local SNP MSP Margaret Burgess, who said, “Labour’s inability to put aside political posturing and help victims of the Bedroom Tax is an utter disgrace.  Coming so soon after their MPs failed to show up in a close vote to scrap the policy altogether, it shows that Labour simply does not regard helping people affected by the Bedroom Tax as a priority.”

Mrs Burgess, also the Scottish Government Minister for Housing & Welfare, added, “The SNP has given a firm commitment to scrap the Bedroom Tax in the first year of an independent Scotland.  A ‘YES’ vote in next year’s Independence Referendum is a vote to rid Scotland of the Bedroom Tax once and for all, and to make sure that such disastrous measures can never again be imposed on Scotland by Westminster politicians.”

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