Local campaigner, Ann Holtom, is leading the opposition among Liberal Democrats in the West Midlands to the government's housing policy, the spare room subsidy, which is more usually known as the bedroom tax. In a speech to the West Midlands regional conference in Birmingham last week, Ann called on the government to go beyond the major review of the bedroom tax which Liberal Democrats forced on government ministers at their conference in September and to abolish the bedroom tax.
In her speech in support of a motion to the conference, put up by Sutton Coldfield and Erdington Lib Dems, Mrs Holtom said the bedroom tax:
- would not resolve the housing crisis
- shows no evidence that it has made any major difference to current housing problems
- victimises the most vulnerable members of society
- is grossly unfair as it removes benefits when it is impossible for tenants to move due to a shortage of smaller locally available homes
Ann also attacked Labour critics of the bedroom tax saying that when Labour was in government they introduced a similar policy for tenants in private rented accommodation. Under the Local Housing Allowance rules which Labour brought in 2008, parents with a disabled child renting in the private sector -and who needed an extra room overnight for a carer- had money deducted from payments towards rent. Yet Labour is now screaming blue murder at coalition attempts to grapple with the problems of overcrowding and housing waiting lists.
Many representatives from across the West Midlands spoke in favour of the resolution, adding their voices in opposition. Jackie Boyle from Telford said that a high and growing proportion of cases now being dealt with by housing professionals there were bedroom tax related. Heather Kidd from Shropshire added that the bedroom tax was impacting on rural communities in ways which were not foreseen and Cllr Paul Tilsley noted that Birmingham Council had not given priority to building one bedroom homes, to maximise use of space, but it was those very homes which were now needed to make the spare room subsidy work efficiently.
There were no speakers against the resolution which was carried without dissent. Ann Holtom said that she now hoped the passing of this important motion would be the first step in a process leading to the abolition of the bedroom tax becoming official Lib Dem policy by the time of the next general election.