On 12 November a motion tabled in the House of Commons by Labour ministers to immediately end the spare room subsidy was defeated by 26 votes, with 252 to 226.
The spare room subsidy, dubbed as the ‘bedroom tax’ by Labour, cuts housing benefit by 14 per cent for those deemed to have a ‘spare’ bedroom. Some have claimed that the tax is arguably the coalition’s most controversial legislation, with 96% of those affected having no smaller council properties to move into, and controversially pensioners are exempt.
It has been suggested that this move is politically motivated, with the Conservatives more worried about the older vote. However, the government describes the move as removing a spare room subsidy and believes it will save the taxpayer around £500m.
Labour ministers pointed out around 400,000 people who are affected by the tax are disabled who need the extra room to store vitally important equipment to be able to function in day to day life.
They also criticised the fact that the Work and Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith was absent from the vote. Steve Webb, the Lib Dem pensions minister, standing in for the work and pensions secretary said that social property was available for families to move into, saying he was aware of the availability of 56,000 one-bedroom properties.
A handful of Liberal Democrat MPs abstained from voting including Norwich South’s Lib Dem MP Simon Wright. Mr Wright commented that “Labour have no proposals to deal with the problem of overcrowding. Their term in office ended with 400,000 fewer social homes than when they entered government […] The Coalition is reversing this trend, and will have built 170,000 new houses by 2015.
In the meantime, we need to encourage the fairest and most efficient use of the limited housing stock we have – and subsidising empty rooms for some people, while so many other families are in need of more bedrooms and living in overcrowding, does not help.”
Clive Lewis, Labour Parliamentary candidate for the Norwich South stated that the bedroom tax is a “Shameful piece of legislation and I think it epitomises everything that is wrong with this coalition government.”
Mr Lewis also thought it was “worthy of note” that despite 26,000 Norwich City residences being affected, “City Council has not evicted one single person” and that the Labour run council is “trying to protect the most vulnerable.” He also said that Simon Wright’s position was “reprehensible.”