Lib Dem opposition to welfare cuts is hollow

On Friday morning last week I read Edinburgh West Lib Dem MP Mike Crockart’s STV local piece bemoaning the Westminster Government’s changes to the welfare system. As an MP that takes a keen interest in this issue, I’m afraid I nearly choked on my cornflakes.

Mr Crockart was specifically referring to the cuts in Housing Benefit for people in housing association or local authority accommodation that is deemed to be too large for their needs. From April 2013, working-age tenants will experience a reduction in their entitlement for every spare room in their house. One in seven Scottish tenants will be left worse off. The Government’s defence is that this will encourage people to move to smaller housing.

Unfortunately Ministers have failed to account for places like Edinburgh where there is an acute shortage of one bedroom properties. Downsizing will be difficult if not impossible. The effect of the Government’s ‘bedroom tax’ will instead be to force hundreds of low income families to dig into savings or declare themselves homeless.

So what surprised me so much about Mr Crockart’s piece was his claim that:

I did not vote with the Government on under-occupancy.

I’m afraid to inform readers that this is not strictly true.

What is true is that Mr Crockart DID vote in favour of an amendment to the Welfare Reform Bill – the legislation that contained the policy – to remove the provisions for the bedroom tax. Unfortunately this didn’t extend to all his fellow Lib Dems, and despite Labour’s best efforts the amendment was defeated.

Where he is being somewhat misleading is that, prior to this defeat, he had voted in favour the bill as a whole both at second and third reading, with the provisions on the bedroom tax entirely intact.

I like to be as fair minded as possible towards my fellow parliamentarians, and I appreciate that some MPs will sometimes be persuaded by their party leaders to vote for things that they don’t themselves agree with.

However where I draw the line is when that same MP subsequently makes public claims about their position which bear no relation to what actually happened in reality.

I’m afraid Mr Crockart is guilty of that classic Lib Dem trait – political opportunism. He’s said one thing to please his constituents, but done another to please his party leader.

And what’s worse is that the negative impact of the Welfare Reform Bill (or Act as it is now) isn’t limited to the bedroom tax:

  • There’s the uprating of housing benefit in line with inflation as opposed to local rents;
  • There’s the 20% cut to the Disability Living Allowance budget;
  • There’s the means testing of sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance after a year;
  • And there’s the introduction of charges for single parents to use the Child Support Agency.

I appreciate that savings have to be made to reduce the deficit. But these changes don’t hit benefits scroungers. They hit ordinary hard working families, the sick and disabled and children.

  • The housing benefit cuts will lead to a widening gap between benefit payments and what tenants have to pay, and will mean people in work won’t be able to pay their rent.
  • Slashing DLA will mean disabled people won’t be able to pay for care or mobility aids and will thus lose their independence.
  • Cuts to ESA will mean people who have both saved for their retirement and paid their taxes all their working lives could lose out if they fall ill.
  • Charging for the CSA will make it more difficult for parents to get child maintenance from former partners, and their children will lose out as a result.

It’s a shame Mr Crockart and his fellow Lib Dems didn’t join with me in voting against these measures when he had the chance.

An edited version of this article originally appeared on STV local.

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