A Westcountry Liberal Democrat peer once charged with solving the rural housing crisis says the “bedroom tax” has “failed” to reduce housing waiting lists and save money, and “deprives” families of money they “need”.
Lord Taylor of Goss Moor, MP for Truro and St Austell until 2010, said he “cannot support the Government’s policy”, which he argues is “misjudged”.
A year ago, the Government introduced the “under-occupancy penalty”, which slashed housing benefit to social tenants that are judged to have a spare room.
Dubbed a “bedroom tax” by Labour, though the Government says it ends a “spare room subsidy”, the cut will see affected families on average lose around £780 a year in the South West.
The Government argues the policy is set against huge housing waiting lists, and wants to encourage families to move to smaller properties to help those living in cramped conditions because of mismatched tenancies.
But critics say there are nowhere near enough smaller properties to move into – meaning hard-pressed families will be landed with an extra financial burden.
In the Lords, Lord Taylor, now chairman of the National Housing Federation, which represents the housing associations across England, said: “I cannot support the Government’s policy on this. I believe it was misjudged in the first place and we are rapidly seeing the proof in the pudding.”
In 2007, Lord Taylor, was asked by Prime Minister Gordon Brown to review the availability of affordable rural housing.
He was one of just two Lib Dem peers to rebel against the Lib Dem party whip and oppose the “bedroom tax” in a debate earlier this month.
He said: “I cannot support something that deprives people of money that, by any standards, they need – the Government do not give people more in benefit than they need to live on – when they have no option to move somewhere else because of the shortage of smaller homes.
“That is quite apart from the fact that to describe these rooms as surplus to need is in many cases simply wrong, and even if they are surplus today, they are often not surplus tomorrow.
“Therefore, for example, a family with young children will have to have those children live in a room together, but after a year they might need to live apart.
“This simply does not make sense.”
He said he “regretted” an amendment to the policy to not strip families of the benefit if a reasonable alternative has not been offered to them failed as it could have given a “much fairer deal”.
But he added: “However, the most fundamental reason – the proof of the pudding – is that this is not a saving to government any more than it frees up rooms.
“That is because of the huge cost to housing associations of having to work with individuals to help them, and the cost of the work and the money that the Government have had to put in to support individuals.
“It has removed capacity from the social housing sector to provide more homes. All of the money lost – and, frankly, the arrears that are being built up – will never be gained back from people who have no ability to pay it.
“That simply undermines the capacity to solve the very housing problem which the policy was theoretically meant to address but has failed to do.”