by Stephen Tall on July 20, 2014
The Lib Dems announced a few days ago the party’s 2015 manifesto would propose reform of the ‘bedroom tax’ / ‘spare room subsidy’, which would means no tenant would have any of their housing benefit withdrawn unless they had turned down an offer of a smaller property.
It was a long overdue climbdown – as I wrote in April 2013: “The principle of the ‘bedroom tax’, then — to try and maximise the availability of social housing and reduce the chronic waiting lists — is a reasonable one. Where the policy clearly breaks down is on a human and practical level. Though the Coalition has responded to concerns raised by introducing exemptions for foster carers, military families and so on, it will not have covered every eventuality. The harsh reality is some people, some of the most vulnerable in society including the disabled, will be made poorer.”
Some political commentators have said, regardless of the policy’s rights or wrong, Clegg has made a mistake. His issue with the public is trust, and therefore to renege on a policy he’s previously supported will simply compound that impression. It’s a risk, certainly, though I take the more old-fashioned view that it’s better to take the decisions you believe to be right than stubbornly stick by decisions you think, in retrospect, are a mistake.
I was interested to see YouGov’s polling on the ‘bedroom tax’, released today (hat-tip Mike Smithson), as they’ve asked the two key questions. First, how many support it. An secondly, what do voters think of the Lib Dems’ partial U-turn? Here are the results:
As can be seen, the ‘bedroom tax’ is divisive (and has always been so), though a narrow but clear plurality oppose it. Conservative and Lib Dem voters support it, Labour and Ukip voters oppose it – reflecting the likelihood that Labour and Ukip voters are more likely to be affected by it.
What did surprise me was that Clegg’s semi-U-turn gets a reasonable hearing from voters. True, by 44% to 38% the public reckons it reflects badly rather than well on him – but that’s a lot more evenly poised than I would expect given voters’ disillusion with politicians generally, and Clegg’s own negative ratings. Some 76% of Lib Dem voters, 42% of Labour voters and 34% of Ukip voters reckon it “Reflects well on Nick Clegg – it’s right to change your mind about a policy if it turns out not to be working”. The voters most likely to think him hypocritical are… Tories.
* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.