Westminster Hall debate: Under-occupancy Penalty

Posted on 23 Feb 2016 under Latest in Parliament

Jo Stevens (Cardiff Central) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered the regional effects of the under-occupancy penalty.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Dorries.

Our debate today on the regional impact of the bedroom tax is important and comes on the back of the Government’s recent judicial review defeat in the Court of Appeal, where it was determined that the bedroom tax discriminates against victims of domestic violence and the families of severely disabled children. I pay tribute to campaigners throughout the country who have put considerable energy and effort into challenging this iniquitous tax and raising public awareness of the Government’s continuing attempt to defend the indefensible. People such as Paul and Susan Rutherford have led the charge in one of the Court of Appeal cases on behalf of their severely disabled grandson, Warren, and Alan Lloyd of Cardiff Against the Bedroom Tax gives voluntary help to victims of the bedroom tax in my constituency of Cardiff Central and across south Wales by preparing and presenting appeals. I spoke to Alan Lloyd yesterday as he was on his way to appear at yet another tribunal to present an appeal on behalf of a woman whose long-time home is at risk because of the tax.

It is clear from the number of hon. Members present here today that the impact of the tax remains an important issue to many people and is not limited to those who pay the tax itself. The Opposition have opposed the bedroom tax since its introduction. Since this grossly unpopular Conservative and Liberal Democrat policy was forced on the public, exactly what we warned would happen has happened. The bedroom tax is not working; it is not achieving the aims that the Government set out to implement; and it is hurting some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society and giving them a problem that is absolutely no fault of their own.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend, who has been a lawyer for many years, for bringing this important issue to the Floor of the House. Normally, people adhere to Court of Appeal judgments, but in the case of the bedroom tax, the Government are once again ignoring what the court said. In what way—the right, decent and honourable way—should the Government deal with the Court of Appeal judgment and listen to what is happening to the thousands of people out there who are suffering as a consequence of this now unlawful and illegal tax?

Nadine Dorries (in the Chair): Can we keep interventions short and not make speeches, please?

Jo Stevens: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. The honourable thing would be to accept the decision of the Court of Appeal, but instead the Government are proceeding to the Supreme Court, where a decision is expected at the end of this month or early next month.

The bedroom tax and the tripling of tuition fees for students are two of the most painful scars left by five years of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, and I will take every opportunity to continue to remind the House that the bedroom tax would never have been introduced without the eager help of the Liberal Democrats, including my predecessor. Nearly 500,000 households and almost 750,000 people have been hit by this cruel policy. Two thirds of the households affected by the bedroom tax include a person with a disability. The tax impacts on 60,000 carers—people who undertake demanding and challenging responsibilities and are punished for doing so. Some 57% of those who have to pay the tax have had to cut back on household basics such as food and heating—things that we all take for granted. The bedroom tax has had a corrosive effect on many different households, including the single parent who needs a spare room for when their children visit as part of agreed contact visit arrangements following separation or divorce; grandparents who help with looking after their grandchildren, allowing parents to manage shift working and other working patterns, or following family breakdown; and people with severe disabilities who use their spare room for their medical equipment or care, such as kidney dialysis.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): This issue is big in my constituency of Hackney South and Shoreditch. There is an invidious part to this tax. If two children are of an age when they are supposed to share a bedroom, but one is within reach of their next birthday, when they would qualify for their own bedroom, the family are hit by the bedroom tax. So it is a fluctuating tax that hits people particularly hard.

Read the full debate in Hansard or view it on Parliament TV