One of the new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament as a result of the 2014 referendum and the Smith Commission gives us the ability to abolish the hated Bedroom Tax.
The Scottish Government already provides funding to make sure that no one in Scotland has to pay the Bedroom Tax – but we want to abolish it completely. It shouldn’t be on the statute book at all.
It’s worth reminding ourselves of the harm the Bedroom Tax would do if tenants in Scotland did have to pay it. More than 70,000 households – 80 per cent of them with a disabled adult – would have to pay it.
Councils in England – where tenants do have to pay – have already reported a rise in rent arrears, and a University of Newcastle study into the health effects of the Bedroom Tax found higher levers of hunger, poor diet, anxiety and depression. DWP statistics out just last week showed the average charge across GB was £15.22 a week.
Avoiding those outcomes is why we ensure no-one in Scotland pays it now and also why I want to abolish it as soon as possible. I’m delighted that there’s support across the Scottish Parliament to do that.
However, there is a potential problem. Despite previous commitments, we don’t yet have confirmation from the UK government that when we abolish the Bedroom Tax, they won’t apply the benefit cap to those who benefit.
The danger is that they will treat our removal of the Bedroom Tax as additional benefit income that the affected households would have.
That would result in an utterly ridiculous situation – the help that the Scottish Government would be providing by removal of the Bedroom Tax would be clawed back by the UK Government cutting other benefits!
Let me be clear, time and again, up to now, everyone including the Tories agreed that the benefit cap wouldn’t affect social security decisions taken by the Scottish Government.
The cross-party Smith Commission agreed and the Secretary of State for Scotland confirmed it in the House of Commons – under pressure from SNP and Labour MPs. And the financial arrangements for the Scotland Act put it in black and white.
That rule is fundamental to our delivery of a Social Security system in Scotland and we need absolute clarity from the UK government that they won’t take funds off the very people we are trying to help.
We’ve seen the callous and uncaring approach taken by the UK Government to the welfare system. We don’t want to see that continued in Scotland in those areas – still far too limited – where we have the power to make a difference.
So today – when ministers from the Scottish Government meet with the DWP in London – it’s essential that we get absolutely clarity that there will be no claw back of social security when we abolish the Bedroom Tax.
That’s not what the Scottish Parliament signed up to.
The Westminster Tories might think they can do what they want to Scotland and get away with it – but we cannot let that happen here. I hope all parties in the parliament will agree with me and be clear that we cannot let the Tories go back on their promise.
-This article originally appeared in the Daily Record