Earlier today I joined with colleagues in the Scottish Parliament to launch concerted action to protect residents in Scotland from the bedroom tax.
I have written on this blog before about my strong opposition to the measure which cuts housing benefits to those who under-occupy social housing. The policy ignores the fact that there is a chronic shortage of affordable smaller housing, particularly in Edinburgh.
At the heart of the proposals announced today is a Members Bill, in the name of my colleague Jackie Baillie. The bill would protect social tenants who are facing arrears due to the bedroom tax from eviction.
Across the country, different local authorities are dealing with the bedroom tax in different ways but are coming under increasing pressure. In March I called for action from the Scottish Government to provide financial support to our cash strapped local authorities to enable them to support tenants who have seen their incomes hit through no fault of their own.
The proposals will be drawn up with assistance from the Govan Law Centre who, at the time the bedroom tax came into force, called for amendments to be made to housing legislation to protect social tenants. Labour MSPs supported these calls in the Scottish Parliament but the idea was dismissed by the SNP.
Alongside the Member’s Bill, Scottish Labour is calling on the Scottish Government to plug the financial gap being faced by Councils and Housing Associations as a result of rent arrears mounting up. Fears have been expressed that the gap, coming at a time with budgets are being stretched, could result in further cuts to council services and undermine the work of housing associations to provide more affordable housing. The gap created by the bedroom tax has been calculated at £50m, around 28% of last year’s Scottish budget underspend, but it could make a real difference in mitigating the worst impacts of the bedroom tax.
In the meantime, colleagues in Labour run councils have committed to a no-evictions policy in their areas while Labour groups across the country have given their backing to the proposals in the Member’s Bill.
I am concerned that this issue has got swept up in the politics of the referendum and that has removed focus from action we can be taking now to protect residents. I hope that the Scottish Government will engage constructively with the proposals being put forward by Labour to support the 80,000 households across Scotland affected by the bedroom tax.