THE coalition government has split over a controversial element of welfare reform, after the Liberal Democrats announced a U-turn on the “bedroom tax” which would reduce the number of people who face losing their housing benefit.
The row came amid reports Prime Minister David Cameron has tired of the coalition and plans to run a minority government after the next election if the Tories are the biggest party but fail to win a majority.
The latest spat came when Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, announced his party now wants people to lose money for having a spare room in their council or housing association home only if they have been offered and have turned down smaller accommodation.
The move comes as many within the Lib Dems fear that the bedroom tax is unfairly penalising less well-off people in social housing. Critics, led by Labour and the SNP, have pointed out that many people losing housing benefit over the bedroom tax do not have the option of moving to homes with fewer bedrooms.
The issue had been a key topic in the independence referendum debate, with the SNP highlighting it as a reason why voters needed to vote Yes, to escape Tory policies.
However, it then emerged that the Scottish Government has the power to effectively end the bedroom tax now with a subsidy to councils.
Despite the Lib Dem announcement, the Tories still argue that the measure is fair because there are many families on the waiting list for larger accommodation.
A study, published by the Department for Work and Pensions on the day of the reshuffle, found widespread concern that those affected were “making cuts to household essentials” or incurring debts to make up the shortfall.
The report found 522,905 households were affected by the policy in August 2013, which equates to 11.1 per cent of social tenancies.
As the row escalated, Mr Clegg told LBC radio the “headbangers” had taken over the Tories amid belief they are preparing to withdraw from the European Convention of Human Rights.
He also claimed it was “complete baloney” for the Conservatives to claim that they were surprised by the Lib Dem announcement on bedroom tax, saying: “We have constantly said that we want to look at how this policy is working in practice.”
But Mr Cameron’s official spokesman said that the Lib Dem policy shift had not been discussed with the Prime Minister or the Chancellor.
Reports have claimed that Mr Cameron has “privately signalled” to his MPs that they will not consider a new coalition after the general election, even without a majority.