Nick de Bois is the Member of Parliament for Enfield North and a Secretary of the 1922 Committee.
The Conservative Party will gather in Manchester next week, but this week the conference bandwagon rolled into Brighton – only to find the headlines and agenda being stolen from them by Damian McBride, Gordon Brown’s former hatchet man. With his memoirs being serialised in the Daily Mail at the same time that Labour were hoping to have the nation’s ear, ‘McPoison’ was in danger of stealing the the show with a daily drip-feed of stories from a dark time in the party’s history.
Ed Miliband’s team knew that this rather unfortunate timing for them would occur. They also knew that until now the pages in Labour’s policy handbook remained as blank as the default expression on their dear leader’s face. They felt, no doubt, that they had an opportunity to knock these two problems on the head with one stone – by using their conference to announce apparently popular policies that would compete with McBride’s revelations. The plan would only work if these announcements were bold.
The ending of the Spare Room Subsidy was for Labour an obvious first choice. Cynically re-branded as “the Bedroom Tax” (for heaven’s sake, it’s not a tax), the policy was yet another welfare reform that Labour wouldn’t support – despite claiming that they realised tough choices have to be made. But Labour’s frontbench of millionaires have lacked perspective in their hasty pledge to reverse the ending of the Spare Room Subsidy.
Social housing exists in this country to provide homes for people who don’t have the means to buy or rent their own house or flat. It is a public provision that is heavily over-subscribed; in Enfield, the London Borough in which my constituency lies, there are some 8,500 families (yes – families, not individuals) on the waiting list. Some of them have better claims than others, and with such a scarce resource in high demand it is only right that we incentivise those with more bedrooms than they need to either move to more appropriately-sized homes or pay for the privilege of the extra space.
This has met with shrill cries from the Left about people being made to pay,who cannot afford it. But we all need to bear in mind a number of important facts that provide some much-needed perspective.
The first is that, for all the Guardian column inches and UN-sponsored reports, the proposed ending of the Spare Room Subsidy by Labour will see an estimated average reduction in Housing Benefit of £14 a week.
The second is that a Government formula ensures that social housing rents remain very, very low – around 40 per cent of the market rate. That means that in places such as Enfield, the average social rent level last year was £375 a month. Families renting in the private sector in Enfield paid an average of £1,015 a month. That’s a huge difference. While the so-called “Bedroom tax” will see claimants lose £56 a month, spare a thought for those who pay £640 a month more than average social housing tenants, and for those whose taxes subsidise social housing in the first place.
Indeed, those receiving Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit in social housing, but suffering from a shortfall in their rent can apply for an additional discretionary housing payment. To qualify, the only rule is that there must be a shortfall between benefit being paid and the rent, and the Government has made £150 million available for this.
One suspects, however, that it wasn’t the size of the ticking McBomb that blocked Labour from seeing the wider picture on this. It’s the fact that, on every major policy question facing our country, Labour are always on the wrong side of the argument. Panic simply makes them take bad decisions more quickly