Labour leader Ed Miliband has pledged that Labour will scrap the bedroom tax if it wins the 2015 general election. This is a victory for the determined resistance of tenants and the trade unionists who have supported them.
“We’re absolutely delighted,” said campaigning tenant Marion Nisbet in Glasgow. “They can see it’s inhuman and we’ve had councils on the run so they can see it’s unworkable too. The bedroom tax is on the ropes and Labour is smart enough to see that.”
The government is increasingly isolated over the bedroom tax. Labour’s announcement follows a vote at the Lib Dem conference to “vigorously” review the policy last week. The United Nations rapporteur on housing delivered a damning report on the tax the week before that.
The Tories’ desperate insistence that the bedroom tax is not a bedroom tax but a “spare room subsidy” has fallen on deaf ears. And a disabled man in London won the right to a room for his equipment in the latest landmark legal case last week.
Yet rent arrears are mounting. The TUC last week revealed that more than 50,000 council tenants are in arrears. And a National Housing Federation survey of more than 60,000 housing association households found that more than half were in arrears. More than half were in arrears for the first time.
These tenants could now face eviction—many by Labour councils or housing associations with Labour councillors on their boards. Some landlords have adopted “no eviction” policies. If Labour committed to stand by councils that defy the tax—and write off arrears when elected—the rest could follow.
Marion said, “I’m sick of hearing Labour and Scottish National Party politicians tell us what they’ll do in 2015. For people facing eviction that’s too late. My arrears are mounting up by £40 a week. People are still getting sent scary letters about losing their homes. So what are they going to do about it?”
The Defend Council Housing (DCH) campaign was set to hold a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference to lobby for more action. Eileen Short from DCH and the Anti Bedroom Tax Federation said, “Labour can put itself on the side of tenants and campaigners in this fight.
“All Labour councils and councillors must get national backing to say they will not evict tenants in arrears due to the bedroom tax. And we need a commitment that a Labour government will refund arrears and costs of this unjust and unworkable attack on tenants and benefits.”