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No tears as door closes on the bedroom tax

The bedroom tax was an ill-conceived policy that has brought hardship to thousands of low-income households, so news that, in Scotland, it is to be effectively neutralised thanks to the handing of new powers to the Scottish Government merits celebration.

A great many social housing tenants will sleep easier knowing that the financial worries they have faced as a result of this tax will soon be over.

The iniquity of what the Coalition calls "removal of the spare room subsidy" has become glaringly obvious since it was introduced just over a year ago. More than 70,000 tenants in Scotland are affected by the policy, which reclaims housing benefit from those who have a spare room in their home, at the rate of 14% for one room and 25% for two or more. Some 80,000 households have been hit in Scotland and many of those affected are disabled people who need their spare room for carers or to store equipment.

The policy was supposed to encourage people to move to smaller properties and thus save the Government money but it has failed in that aim because of the shortage of single-bedroom flats and because of people's understandable aversion to exchanging communities where they have a support network for places where they are isolated. Thousands have been left struggling to pay their rent.

The policy is not only shaping up to be a key election issue (Labour have pledged to scrap the bedroom tax if returned to power and the SNP have said they would also do so in an independent Scotland) but Scottish Government ministers campaigning for independence have treated the tax as a totem of all that is wrong with Westminster government. With the referendum polls tightening, the Coalition has responded.

In future, the Scottish Government will be able to set its own cap on so-called discretionary housing payments (DHPs), made to help those struggling with the effects of the tax, and it can choose to find the money out of its overall budget to reimburse every affected household in Scotland. North of the border at least, it is cheerio to the bedroom tax.

The Scottish Government is claiming victory after calling for the powers to be devolved earlier in the year but there is a clear potential win for the Coalition too. It will hope its actions will help take the sting out of further attacks on the policy in Scotland. The move is also significant for another reason, namely, in effect, giving the Scottish Government power over a welfare matter; one that, as a rule, is reserved to Westminster.

Could this be an indication of how greater Scottish devolution might look in the event of a No vote? Last summer, the then Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said there was a strong case for devolving aspects of welfare to the Scottish Government.

Having helped effectively to scrap the policy in Scotland, the question must now be: what is to become of the bedroom tax across the rest of the UK? LibDem ministers have made clear it might not survive a government review that is under way, and nor should it. The bedroom tax is unfair, ineffective, and should be abolished.

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Local government

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