Lib Dems accused of 'hypocrisy' over bedroom benefit rules

Danny Alexander Danny Alexander called for "new fairer rules" on housing benefit

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Labour has accused the Lib Dems of "unbelievable hypocrisy" over calls for changes to the benefit cut for people judged to have too many bedrooms.

The changes, called the "bedroom tax" by critics but described by ministers as the removal of a "spare room subsidy", were introduced last year in England, Scotland and Wales.

Danny Alexander said the Lib Dems wanted to see "fairer rules".

The Tories called it a "cynical PR stunt" and stood by the reforms.

A Conservative Party source added that the Lib Dems "have never demanded the restoration of the spare room subsidy in private; and have campaigned for its abolition in public".

The Lib Dems were given the chance in March to soften the impact of benefit cuts for people judged to have too many bedrooms, BBC Newsnight has been told. As Nick Clegg's party announces it will seek to change the policy in this coalition, or pledge to do so in its next manifesto, Newsnight understands there was an opportunity within government for the Lib Dems to amend the policy four months ago.

Downing Street said there would be no change of policy.

"The prime minister's view has not changed and won't change," said David Cameron's spokesman, adding that more policy differences between the coalition parties were likely to emerge as the general election approached.

'Fairer rules'

The changes have meant a cut to the housing benefit paid to eligible council tenants and those who rent from housing associations who were judged to have bedrooms that they did not need.

If tenants are deemed to have one spare room, the amount of rent eligible for housing benefit is cut by 14%. Those with two or more spare bedrooms have reductions of 25%.

Houses in Derbyshire Ministers say too many houses are under-occupied

Writing in the Daily Mirror, Mr Alexander said the government's benefits were working. But he said that not enough people had downsized, adding: "It's time to change our approach in this particular area."

Mr Alexander proposed that nobody should face a cut in state help if there was no suitable smaller property available, and that disabled claimants should be exempt.

New tenants in the social rented sector should still be subject to the changes, he said, but existing tenants would only be penalised if they were offered a "suitable smaller home and, crucially, turn it down".

New analysis

Mr Alexander said the Lib Dems would "make the case for these new fairer rules" immediately, adding: "If we cannot convince our Conservative coalition partners, we will commit to these reforms in the our 2015 Liberal Democrat manifesto."

A senior Liberal Democrat source told Chris Mason the party could not be precise at this stage about how much their proposed change would cost, but it is thought it would be around a few hundred million pounds.

Norman Lamb MP: "Should you not be willing to review your position in light of evidence and experience?"

The party pointed to an analysis published earlier this month for the Department for Work and Pensions which suggested that one in 20 of those affected by the cut had managed to move house within the first six months of the policy.

In his article, Mr Alexander said there was a problem of social housing which is under-occupied, while others are on a waiting list for such housing.

He said the reform was made "with the best of intentions" but added: "We have always said that we'd be guided by the evidence and now we have it."

'Unbelievable hypocrisy'

Ministers say private sector renters do not get spare rooms for free, and argue the policy will save around £500m a year. But critics say it is forcing households into arrears.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Bringing the bloated Housing Benefit bill under control is a key part of our long term pan to fix welfare.

"Our reforms are working - and it's imperative we stick to them. The Conservatives are committed to this."

Rachel Reeves, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary, said: "This is unbelievable hypocrisy from Nick Clegg.

"The Lib Dems voted for the bedroom tax. There wouldn't be a bedroom tax if it wasn't for the Lib Dems. And in February when Labour tabled a bill to scrap the bedroom tax, the Lib Dems were nowhere to be seen."

Labour Peer Lady Bakewell told BBC News the policy was a "dead parrot" because "it hasn't worked".

Lib Dem Justice Minister Simon Hughes denied that the party had "changed our mind" about the policy.

"Our party was clear that what we in the end negotiated in Government was not an ideal solution," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

He said he had argued at the time that people should not be penalised for having a "spare" bedroom if there was not something smaller for them to move to.

He said: "The policy seems to us now in need of change. What we shouldn't be doing is just paying extra money as a subsidy. We should be saying to people... if you can't go to anywhere smaller, if the local authority and other social housing providers can't offer you anywhere, you absolutely shouldn't be penalised if you're staying in the property you've always been in".

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    13:01: Cooper on child sexual exploitation
    Yvette Cooper

    Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has been speaking about the Oxfordshire serious case review. She says it's "yet another example of children simply not being listened to when exploited and abused". She adds: "I think the government's response is a bit of a missed opportunity, because we need stronger laws on abduction and exploitation to stop these crimes, stronger requirements for institutions to respond, but also stronger prevention with compulsory sex and relationship education in schools."

     
  64.  
    12:58: Clegg talks religion

    Despite being well-known as an atheist, Nick Clegg has given an interview to Premier Christian Radio. The deputy prime minister said he attends mass most weeks with his wife and children and does so "with great joy". "I sometimes think it must be the most wonderful thing to be infused with faith. It's not something that's happened to me, it's not happened to me yet and I would embrace it." He said he might be an atheist but had "never had that much time for what I call vociferous secularism", adding: "I'm always a bit sceptical of anyone who acts with raging certainty about anything."

     
  65.  
    12:55: Sex education response House of Commons Parliament

    Here's what Nicky Morgan had to say in response to Tristram Hunt's request for her support on sex education: "I am fully in favour of full PSHE education on consent. But it has to be excellent, it can't just be about ticking boxes."

     
  66.  
    12:51: Sex education House of Commons Parliament

    Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, at the end of a long list of questions to Nicky Morgan, calls for "age-appropriate statutory sex and relationship education to teach young people about consent and healthy sexual relationships". Her agreement would result in cross-party backing for the idea, he says.

     
  67.  
    12:51: 'Brave' victims House of Commons Parliament
    Nicky Morgan

    Oxford West MP Nicola Blackwood, who is a member of the home affairs select committee, asks Nicky Morgan to make it a "personal priority to ensure survivors [of child sexual exploitation] have the long-term and sustainable support they need". "We must not only pay tribute to the victims for their bravery in coming forward but we must also recognise such serious abuse has long-term and complex consequences," she says. The education secretary, above, says she can be reassured the government will do all it can to help them.

     
  68.  
    12:47: Survivors' fund House of Commons Parliament

    There will be a £7m fund to support victims and survivors of child abuse and sexual exploitation, Nicky Morgan adds. But Labour MP for Oxford East Andrew Smith calls for a public inquiry, saying child protection services were "chaotic" and there was a "failure to act on clear evidence on sexual exploitation".

     
  69.  
    12:45: 'Broken windows matter' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two
    David Lammy

    David Lammy, whose report for Policy Exchange has prompted debate today about police's ability to deal with crime, calls for a "debate with the public about whether we still take theft seriously or not". He insists that "broken windows matter" because failing to address low-level crime will only result in more serious crime taking place. Commentator Tim Montgomerie says crime is a "success story" for the government but accepts "there are parts of the country where crime is still a daily problem".

     
  70.  
    12:43: 'Horrific abuse' House of Commons Parliament

    Nicky Morgan is summarising the measures the government is taking to ensure the "horrific abuse" detailed in the Oxford report is "stamped out" and never happens again. David Cameron will chair a meeting of ministers, police and council safeguarding officers later.

     
  71.  
    12:39: Morgan abuse statement House of Commons Parliament

    Foreign Office questions has now come to an end. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is now making a statement about the serious case review into child sexual abuse in Oxford, saying what has emerged in the report is "sickening". She says child abuse had been a "scourge in many communities around the country".

     
  72.  
    12:36: Diplomatic language House of Commons Parliament

    Ever wondered how many UK diplomats speak Russian or Arabic? Tory MP John Baron is curious, suggesting that linguistic shortcomings may have contributed to the UK being "unsighted" over recent developments in Ukraine or the Middle East. Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood says there are 170 Arabic-speaking mandarins in his department and a similar number of Russian speakers.

     
  73.  
    12:35: National security Daily Politics Live on BBC Two
    Margaret Beckett

    Margaret Beckett, chair of parliament's national security strategy committee, is on the Daily Politics explaining why she and her fellow parliamentarians have released a report criticising the government for its limited interest in developing a strategy. "What there doesn't seem to us to be is the kind of coordinated approach that we'd hoped for," she says. More broadly, she says fears about defence cuts are a "legitimate anxiety". The government hasn't been able to make decisions, having stepped back to consider the bigger picture. "They identify high-priority risks but they don't necessarily link them to the spending decisions," she says.

     
  74.  
    12:30: Religious freedoms House of Commons Parliament

    Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander says a new job is needed in the Foreign Office: a global envoy for religious freedom, reporting to the foreign secretary, which he says a Labour government will create. Philip Hammond sounds unimpressed. "Our general approach is to try to get things done," he says, by using the tools already in place. "I don't think simply creating new posts delivers in quite the way the shadow foreign secretary thinks."

     
  75.  
    12:27: Benefit sanctions The Guardian
    Nick Boles

    Business minister Nick Boles has criticised the government's "inhuman" benefit sanctions regime, the Guardian reports. It quotes him telling constituents the current system does "need to be looked at".

     
  76.  
    12:20: 'Hidden from view' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    The eye-catching move by the government to impose criminal sanctions on those who fail to ensure the children they're responsible for are protected from sexual exploitation is in line with rules already in place in the NHS, Cllr David Simmonds, from the Local Government Association, tells the Daily Politics. "It's absolutely clear this has been hidden from view - we need to make sure that mums and dads know the signs, that teachers know the signs when they pop up in the classroom."

     
  77.  
    12:21: Wrong question House of Commons Parliament

    A little light relief in the Commons as Labour's Mary Glindon realises she has asked the wrong question. She apologises and changes tack - pressing ministers on the use of the death penalty around the world.

     
  78.  
    12:19: 'Off the rails' House of Commons Parliament
    Philip Hammond

    Philip Hammond tells MPs that the European Union has "gone off the rails" over the past 20 years and substantial reforms are needed, "not just some backroom deal". He says the Conservatives' pledge of a referendum has "lit a fire" under the situation in Europe and claims that he has the backing of at least 23 other members for its position.

     
  79.  
    12:16: Child sexual exploitation: a national threat? Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor
    A child in Rotherham

    The thing that really stands out for me, Norman Smith tells the Daily Politics, is Mr Cameron's decision to categorise child exploitation as a "national threat". At one level that is to ensure police forces cooperate with each other in trying to tackle child sexual exploitation. At another it is an attempt to give a wake-up call to the nation. Mr Cameron's view is it is a national moment because he believes it is endemic, not confined to one or two towns.

     
  80.  
    12:11: Iranian diplomacy House of Commons Parliament

    Former Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt says he's soon going to be welcoming the first delegation of Iranian parliamentarians to visit Britain in a very long time. This is good news, Human Rights Minister Tobias Ellwood believes. "It's through full and frank engagement we can get our message across," he says.

     
  81.  
    12:06: Now on your TV screens... Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Over on BBC2, the Daily Politics is now underway, with journalists Tim Montgomerie and Steve Richards offering their views at the start of the programme. You can watch by clicking on the 'live coverage' tab at the top of this page.

     
  82.  
    11:59: Russia sanctions House of Commons Parliament

    Labour backbencher Willie Bain calls for tougher sanctions against Russia, and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond agrees that they should be strengthened immediately. "We need to have that tool in place," he argues, in order to incentivise Russia into complying with the timetable set out in Minsk. "Our role has been, is, and will remain, to stiffen the resolve of all 28 EU members to be united and to be aligned with the United States in deploying what has been a very powerful weapon."

     
  83.  
    @Kevin_Maguire Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Daily Mirror

    tweets: Awful Oxfordshire sex abuse scandal in Cameron's backyard echoes Rotherham. Sack this council too?

     
  84.  
    11:56: Space-age Britain
    Virgin Galactic

    The government's search for a British spaceport has made some progress today, with the number of potential locations on the shortlist narrowed down to just six. These are:

    • Campbeltown Airport
    • Glasgow Prestwick Airport
    • Llanbedr Airfield
    • Newquay Cornwall Airport
    • RAF Leuchars
    • Stornoway Airport

    The next step, according to this morning's consultation response, is working out more clearly what exactly a spaceport actually is. "The government is developing a detailed technical specification of spaceport requirements to increase understanding of 'what is a spaceport' and the detailed technical requirements for spaceplane operations," it says. More in our story here.

     
  85.  
    11:50: Tony Blair's future House of Commons Parliament
    Foreign Office questions

    Angus Robertson. the SNP leader in Westminster, asks whether the UK government still has confidence in Tony Blair's efforts as a Middle East peace envoy. "Mr Blair has made large number of visits to the region, he continues to engage," Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond says, before adding: "And I've no doubt his role will be kept under constant review."

     
  86.  
    @paulwaugh Paul Waugh, editor of Politics.Home.com

    tweets: This is Philip Hammond's final Foreign Office Questions before the election. Will it be his final ever FCO Qs as Foreign Sec?

     
  87.  
    @Steven_Swinford Steven Swinford, deputy political editor, the Telegraph.

    tweets: Sir Malcolm Rifkind returns to political arena after cash-for-access scandal to urge govt to help Libya become 'moderate secular force'

     
  88.  
    11:45: Rifkind returns House of Commons Parliament

    Sir Malcolm Rifkind gets a loud "hear hear" from Conservative MPs before asking his question about helping democratic forces in Libya to create a "decent country". Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond laments that it's not as simple as just getting behind a democratic authority - because it's not clear exactly where that democratic authority comes from. "It is vital to our security that there is a stable government in Libya," he agrees. Of course, Sir Malcolm was in the headlines last week over a cash for access sting.

     
  89.  
    11:43: Commons under way House of Commons Parliament

    The Commons' sitting day has now begun, with proceedings starting after prayers with Foreign Office questions. Also coming up over lunchtime are an urgent question on child sexual exploitation in Oxfordshire; a further urgent question from home affairs committee chairman Keith Vaz on Yarl's Wood immigration detention centre; a statement from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the independent investigation into Maternity Services at Morecambe Bay; and then a further statement from Housing Minister Brandon Lewis on the proposed new garden city at Ebbsfleet.

     
  90.  
    @BBCJamesCook James Cook, Scotland correspondent for BBC News

    tweets: First Minister @NicolaSturgeon confirms the SNP no longer wants a blanket 3% reduction in corporation tax, instead favouring targeted cuts.

     
  91.  
    @DeHavilland DeHavilland, political research organisation

    tweets: Speaker Bercow said in his #Speaker2015 lecture last night he'd granted 211 UQs. 2 more 2day takes that total to 213! Predecessor granted 2.

     
  92.  
    11:24: Government plans

    Theresa May's statement announces the following:

    • a new independent taskforce, which will work in local authorities where child abuse is a concern
    • a new centre of professional expertise to develop better approaches to tackling sexual abuse
    • a £1m campaign to raise awareness and give advice to anyone worried about a child
    • a national whistleblowing helpline for anyone concerned about failures to protect children
    • a new inspection system to ensure local agencies are working effectively
     
  93.  
    11:20: Theresa May statement

    This is the home secretary's written ministerial statement, published this morning, on the issue of child sexual abuse. We'll take a look at it in more detail shortly.

     
  94.  
    11:15: Abuse report

    The full case review can be read here.

     
  95.  
    11:14: 'Never be put right'

    Jim Leivers, Oxfordshire County Council's director for children, education and families, said the council "made many mistakes and missed opportunities to stop the abuse". The report "shows very clearly that the girls were badly let down by the people and organisations that could - and should - have protected them", he continued. "The dreadful experiences faced by these young women can never be put right. But the safeguarding board is now in a much better position to prevent, disrupt and detect these crimes."

     
  96.  
    11:13: Police apologise

    Chief Constable Sara Thornton, of Thames Valley Police, said: "We are ashamed of the shortcomings identified in this report and we are determined to do all we can to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again."

     
  97.  
    @LisaSkyNews Lisa Dowd, Sky News correspondent

    tweets: Report: victims white girls, perpetrators mainly Asian men. Recommends more research at national level into this issue.

     
  98.  
    11:10: 'Unacceptable delays' BBC News Channel

    Independent chair of the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board Maggie Blyth is outlining a catalogue of failures. Parents weren't listened to, children were treated as though they had consented to the abuse. While there was "no disregard of clear warnings" at a top level, there were "unacceptable delays" in reacting to what was going on that allowed perpetrators to get away with their crimes, she goes on.

     
  99.  
    @sandralaville Sandra Laville, senior correspondent for the Guardian

    tweets: There was a professional tolerance of children having sex with older men

     
  100.  
    11:05: 'Indescribably awful'

    Alan Bedford, the author of the independent review, wrote: "What happened to the child victims of the sexual exploitation in Oxfordshire was indescribably awful.

    "The child victims and their families feel very let down. Their accounts of how they perceived professional work are disturbing and chastening."

     

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