Nick Clegg hopes Sheffield people would ‘welcome’ his party’s call for reform of the bedroom tax – a shock shift that has come under fire today.
Around 6,000 people across Sheffield have had their benefits slashed, some forced from their homes, after rules on spare rooms for social tenants changed.
Liberal Democrats voted for the reform but now want only people who turn down suitable smaller homes to see a reduction, and for disabled adults to be exempt, after report showed almost 60 per cent of households affected were in arrears.
Many people were also forced to cut back on essentials.
The shift led Labour members nationally and locally to criticise the Deputy PM, accusing him of ‘unbelievable hypocrisy’ over the move.
Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg said today: “Following the evidence published this week which showed some unfairness within the system, we’re suggesting that only those who turn down suitable smaller homes will see a reduction in their benefit.
“What’s more we should also exempt disabled adults, just as disabled children are already exempt from any reduction in their benefit. These reforms would make things significantly fairer.
“I hope most Sheffielders would welcome the fact the Liberal Democrats will push to reform the spare room subsidy to make it fairer.
“At the moment we have Conservatives saying let’s just carry on despite the evidence and we have the Labour sticking its head in the sand saying there’s no problems with the rising costs of housing benefit, when there clearly is.
“Liberal Democrats are the only ones committed to tackling the problem in the fairest way possible.
“These commitments will be in the Lib Dem manifesto and we will push for it as government policy right away.
““This change, combined with a commitment to build 300,000 houses a year in the next Parliament, will build on the progress we have already made to address Britain’s housing problem.”
But Harry Harpham, cabinet member for homes at Sheffield Council, said the tax should be abolished.
He added: “The bedroom tax doesn’t want reforming, it wants abolishing and we believe that this eleventh hour intervention from the Lib Dems is nothing more than a cynical stunt 10 months before a general election and the people of Sheffield will see straight through it.
“Playing such cynical politics with such a serious issue just goes to show that the Lib Dems are treating people with contempt.
“After all it is the Lib Dems who have spent the last four years colluding with the Tories to implement the bedroom tax, without the support of the Lib Dems the Tories wouldn’t have been able to introduce it in the first place.
“It is no wonder that no one believes a word the Lib Dems say any more, if they genuinely wanted to stop the Bedroom Tax they would not only have voted to block it but even now they could stand up to the Tories and say enough is enough and make them abolish it.”
Labour has said it would scrap the bedroom tax if it got back into Government.
Oliver Coppard, the Labour candidate for Mr Clegg’s seat next year, said 1,708 people were affected in Hallam and they were being forced to pay up to £854 every year.
He added: “With 293 days to go until the next election, Nick has finally realised what 1708 people in Sheffield Hallam, the Labour Party, the UN and campaigners across the country have known since the Bedroom Tax was introduced, it is a deeply damaging and unfair attack on the most vulnerable members of our society.
“For the vast majority of those affected, there is nowhere smaller to move to, hitting vulnerable people through no fault of their own.
“Nick Clegg’s U-turn is nothing but a cynical political stunt that will come too late for the thousands of people whom the Bedroom Tax has placed in incredibly difficult circumstances.
“If he didn’t know that 1,700 people were being hit by the Bedroom Tax in his own backyard he wasn’t doing his job properly, and if he did, why hasn’t he acted sooner?”