Labour has agreed to work with the SNP to look at legal ways of removing the bedroom tax.
For all the heat produced in the campaign over Scotland’s constitutional future, Labour and the SNP worked together yesterday as Labour gave approval to the SNP’s budget proposals for 2014-15.
Despite previous reservations, Scottish Labour’s shadow finance secretary Iain Gray pledged his party’s support for the budget following agreement with the SNP to look at the legal route that could be taken to remove the bedroom tax completely.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, Gray told MSPs:
“Mr Swinney [finance secretary] was courteous enough to invite us to meet him to discuss the budget and we were clear that we want to see that change. He agreed to work with us to find a legal way to do it, and those meetings have started. I believe that they have been constructive and I hope that he does, too. I want them to bear fruit. We can set our differences aside and do this thing on which we agree.”
“On that basis, we are willing to support the budget bill this evening, in spite of the weaknesses that we believe it embodies, so that it can come back at stage 3 enhanced by measures and funds that in effect consign the bedroom tax to history in Scotland right here and right now.”
Outlining his concerns over the limits placed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the financial assistance provided to those tenants facing arrears as a result of the tax, finance secretary, John Swinney explained:
“The crucial test is whether we can get the money to the individuals to remove the arrears that they face. The guidance from the DWP, which is consistent with the Discretionary Housing Payment (Grants) Order 2001, states that there is a limit on that.”
“I want to continue discussions with the Labour Party about the pursuit of the practical options…it is crucial that we find a way of tackling the hardship that individuals are experiencing, and doing so in a fair and effective way that meets their needs and helps us to deal with the iniquity that is a product of the bedroom tax in this country.”
Considering the politics of the day’s events, the Scotsman’s political editor Tom Peterkin noted that Labour’s efforts were in no small part about reminding the SNP that they already have powers to tackle the worst effects of the bedroom tax. Writing in the paper, Peterkin concluded:
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“With the SNP arguing that the full powers of independence represent the best way of abolishing the bedroom tax, Gray was only too keen to emphasise that mitigating measures can be taken under the current settlement.
“This week the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey suggested welfare is of ‘peripheral interest’ to the voters who will determine Scotland’s future on 18 September. Yesterday’s discussions at Holyrood would indicate that low level of interest does not apply to the political classes.”