Split as Baillie claims Labour will scrap bedroom tax

A UK Labour government would abolish the so-called bedroom tax and will officially state this soon, the party’s Scottish welfare spokes-
woman has claimed.

Jackie Baillie yesterday said an announcement on the under-occupancy charge would be made shortly. But, last night, a Labour spokeswoman said the claim made by the Dumbarton MSP was at odds with UK party policy.

Labour has yet to set out its policy on cuts to the subsidy for people with unused spare rooms, but has called on the UK coalition to drop the changes.

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Baillie’s comments came ahead of two rallies in Glasgow against the change to benefits. The MSP was asked in a radio interview: “Would a Westminster Labour government abolish the bedroom tax?” She replied: “We are very clear. Labour rejected this approach when it was put to them in government, for social landlords. We have campaigned for its abolition.

“Yes we will abolish it. My understanding is that you can expect an announcement relatively soon.”

The “bedroom tax” is the term used to describe a deduction in housing benefit from claimants who are deemed to have additional bedrooms, a key part of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat administration’s welfare reform programme. Welfare policy is reserved to Westminster, meaning the Scottish Government cannot unilaterally scrap the charge, although Holyrood’s SNP administration has introduced measures to “mitigate” its impact.

Scottish Labour has launched a campaign against the charge, pledging a ban on evictions in Labour controlled Scottish councils, and calling for a Scotland-wide ban backed by £50 million of Scottish Government cash to cover rent arrears.

But a party spokeswoman refused to confirm if an announcement on the issue was imminent and dismissed the remarks made by Baillie. She said: “It goes against what we are saying; we haven’t made that pledge.”

Earlier this month, Scottish deputy leader Anas Sarwar said: “If we were in power tomorrow, we would abolish the bedroom tax.”

SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, a member of Holyrood’s welfare reform committee, said: “Labour is mired in confusion when it comes to the bedroom tax. There appear to be different policies and views from Labour spokespeople in different parts of the UK. [Leader Ed] Miliband needs to get a grip on this.

“The SNP’s position has been unequivocal: the bedroom tax would be scrapped in an independent Scotland, if we were elected to office.”