Thousands of disabled people would lose £700 a year under the Government’s proposed ‘bedroom tax’, the Labour Party argued today.
During Prime Minister’s Question Time, Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband (Doncaster North) asked if the Government would support proposals from the EU Commission on capping bankers’ bonuses.
In reply, Prime Minister David Cameron (Witney) said bonuses were a quarter of the level that they had been under the previous Labour Government.
Following this, Mr Miliband pointed out that a Conservative MEP had led the negotiations on the bonus cap, whilst Chancellor George Osborne had campaigned against the policy.
Responding, the Prime Minister said the UK accounted for 40 per cent of the EU’s financial services, adding it was important to retain the nation’s position as a leading financial centre.
The Labour Leader called Mr Cameron out on his previous remarks from 2008 that “as a free marketeer... [he felt] the problem of the last decade has been too much regulation”. He claimed the Prime Minister was “straining every muscle” to help bankers, whilst thousands were losing £700 a year because of the Government ‘bedroom tax’.
However, Mr Cameron described the bedroom tax as a “spare room subsidy”, calling on Labour to apologise for its record on debt and the deficit.
Following, Mr Miliband said the Government was getting good preparation for Opposition, referring to news reports of a post-2015 leadership campaign being mounted by Home Secretary Theresa May.
He then claimed that the Government’s impact assessment showed that disabled people would lose £306m from the change, whilst there was only the Hardship Fund of £25m to help mitigate the changes.
Retorting, the Prime Minister claimed that there was no cut in the money going to disabled people, adding that Labour was creating unnecessary panic confusion among groups like pensioners on the spare room subsidy.
The Labour Leader then reiterated his previous point that the Government’s Hardship Fund would be insufficient to cover the cost of the bedroom tax.
Responding, Mr Cameron insisted on the need to reduce the Housing Benefit budget, whilst treating those in social housing the same as those in private housing.
Mr Miliband claimed that the Prime Minister was perceived to be out of touch by the country.
Labour had opposed £83bm of welfare saving, which only served as proof that Labour would raise borrowing, Mr Cameron declared.
From the backbenches...
Labour Backbencher Derek Twigg (Halton) cited comments by the Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, who said that the Bedroom Tax was an ill-thought-out and unfair policy which would force many disabled people to cut back further. He asked if the Government would drop the “callous” policy. Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron argued that the Bedroom Tax was not a tax. Only Labour would call a benefit reform a tax, he charged, explaining that pensioners, people with severely disabled children and those in receipt of round-the-clock care would be exempt.
Conservative Backbencher Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) said a huge increase in the number of people dying from Alzheimer’s Disease underlined the need to provide greater support for dementia research. In reply, Prime Minister David Cameron called for a determined push to cure dementia in the way cancer or strokes had been targeted.
Conservative Backbencher Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) pointed to International Women’s Day on 8 March, and called for the Government to call upon the Indian and Pakistani Governments to advance the “gender agenda”. Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron said that Mr Pritchard was right to raise the issue, explaining that female genital mutilation was “a completely unacceptable practice” and that an announcement would be made. More would also be done to crack down on the practice of forced marriages, he added.
Labour Backbencher Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) said he was ashamed that a food bank was opening in his constituency. In reply, Prime Minister David Cameron said the use of food banks went up ten times under Labour. The Government had allowed job centres to point people towards food banks if they needed them.
Conservative Backbencher Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) asked if the Prime Minister agreed we could not deal with the deficit by borrowing more. Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron said this was an important point, arguing the Opposition’s policy of borrowing less by borrowing more was extraordinary.
Labour Backbencher Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) asked how NHS Chief Executive Sir David Nicholson could stay in post and if the Prime Minister would sack him. Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron said that Sir David had apologised and acknowledged the mistakes made. Part of the problem with regard to Stafford Hospital was that patient care was relegated, he continued, adding that other people should be thinking of their positions.
Liberal Democrat Backbencher Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) said governing parties could win by-elections if they stuck by their leader and campaigned hard. In reply, Prime Minister David Cameron said he would welcome the member for Eastleigh “for the period of this Parliament”.
Labour PPS to Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) asked whether the withdrawal of the NHS competition regulations were down to his Government’s incompetence or an indication that GPs and clinicians did not trust the Coalition Government. Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron said the regulations did not introduce any new policies, but simply built on what the previous Labour Government started to do. He questioned why we should be afraid of utilising the private sector within the NHS.
Conservative Backbencher Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) asked if the Government agreed with a Monitor report advocating the closure of vital services in the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust. In reply, Prime Minister David Cameron said Monitor would be consulting with the Trust and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the matter, adding he and Mr Hunt would be happy to meet Mr Lefroy to discuss the matter.
Labour Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Chi Onwurah (Newcastle Upon Tyne Central) said the CBR had reported that one in ten people in Newcastle had borrowed money to pay for food. From April, thousands of families would suffer from the ‘bedroom tax’ and council tax obligations. Would the Prime Minister personally benefit from the cut to the top rate of income tax, she enquired. In reply, Prime Minister David Cameron said in Newcastle there were thousands of under-occupied social houses.
Conservative PPS to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond Claire Perry (Devizes) said that last year over a hundred women were killed by men in the UK. She asked whether the Prime Minister would use International Women’s Day to recognise work done by Wiltshire Police on trialling new ways of supporting victims of domestic violence. Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to the work of Wiltshire police and the local authority on this issue.
Labour Backbencher Mr Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley) asked if the Government would agree with a report by the TUC that wages in the UK had fallen by 3 per cent, whilst bankers received bonuses. In reply, Prime Minister David Cameron said the Government had taken tough action to address the debt and economic mess left by the previous Government.
Conservative PPS to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) welcomed the OFT’s action against payday lenders. In reply, Prime Minister David Cameron said he also welcomed the move as a number of lenders had acted irresponsibly. The OFT would levy fines against these operators if they did not improve their practices. Further, the OFT was considering referring the entire sector to the Competition Commission.
Labour Backbencher Sarah Champion (Rotherham) highlighted that Rotherham College of Arts and Technology had received a funding cut, despite Rotherham having high levels of youth unemployment. She asked why millionaires received a tax cut, whilst young people received nothing. Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron said youth unemployment had fallen since the election.
Conservative PPS to Transport Minister Simon Burns Julian Sturdy (York Outer) asked if figures that showed that net migration had fallen since the election was a vindication of the Government’s immigration policies. In reply, Prime Minister David Cameron said net migration had been over 200,000 a year under Labour, pointing out that the Opposition would be making a “fake apology” on his party’s past policies in a TV broadcast to be made that night.
Labour/Co-operative Backbencher Mr Steve Reed (Croydon North) said that, under Conservative proposals, every policy station in Croydon would close and that the number of police officers had declined. He asked if this represented yet another broken promise. Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron argued that the number of neighbourhood police officers in London had increased, and that crime was “down in the Met”.
Liberal Democrat Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) asked how talks between the Conservatives and UKIP were going. Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron said the Eastleigh by-election had been an honest fight. Labour had gone “nowhere” in the result, he stated.
Labour Shadow International Security Minister Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) said his constituents were concerned about tax evasion by big business and individuals. He asked whether the Prime Minister would pay his entire 45p tax rate that he had cut from 50p. Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron said the 50p rate did not produce as much money as the 45p rate.
Conservative Backbencher Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) asked what the Government would do to address concerns among Leicestershire over HS2. In reply, Prime Minister David Cameron said he understood “the local unease”, adding a large compensation scheme would be put in place for those who were affected.
Plaid Cymru MP Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) said that the Government was giving £150m to local authorities to help streamline the adoption process, yet was removing the exact figure from other, wider social care grants. Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron said it was important to make progress in increasing the rate of adoptions.
Conservative PPS to Leader of the House of Commons Andrew Lansley John Howell (Henley) said new car sales were up eight per cent in February. In reply, Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed this news as further evidence that the economy was rebalancing and adding jobs. However, there was a long way to go.
Conservative Backbencher George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) asked if the Government would support the outcome of the recent elections in Kenya. In reply, Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK wanted to see free and fair election completed in Kenya.
Labour/Co-operative Shadow Crime Prevention Minister Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) asked the Prime Minister to commit to cutting the charges of legal loan sharks. Responding, Prime Minister David Cameron pointed to work being done by the Office of Fair Trading on this. He said if there was not an effectively regulated system, there was an increase in loan sharks.