Housing benefit cuts 'socially destructive' - SNP

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Government plans to cut housing benefit for social housing tenants deemed to have too much living space have been branded "socially destructive", during an opposition debate on 27 February 2013.

Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Green Party jointly tabled a motion urging the government to abandon the policy, called the "under-occupancy charge".

Housing benefit payments will be reduced for tenants in council or housing association properties with empty bedrooms.

The government insists it must cut the £23bn annual housing benefit bill as part of its austerity programme.

The SNP's Eilidh Whitehead warned the policy would cause "chaos, hardship and distress".

"It is a shameless attempt to penalise disabled people and asking them to carry the can," she told the Commons.

'Fair, measured and just'

The Labour frontbench lent its support to the motion. Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said the policy was "unique in its cruelty".

"This is not about bringing spare bedrooms on to the market, this is about hurting vulnerable people and asking them to pay extra," he claimed.

But Work and Pensions Minister Steve Webb branded the changes "Labour's cuts", arguing they were necessary to deal with the legacy left by the previous government.

Several Conservative MPs rose to speak in support of the government's proposals. Among them was Jacob Rees-Mogg who described the plans as "fair, measured and just".

He highlighted the problem of families living in small accommodation who could not get social housing because of the "under-occupancy problem".

He suggested tenants with spare rooms could take in a lodger to offset the fall in benefit.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes said the party still had reservations about aspects of the proposals.

"There are categories, such as those with disabilities, those who have to have separate rooms, those with teenage or university children or service children, who I hope you will still address because I don't believe their needs are being adequately met so far," he said.

The government says it has promised to help the most vulnerable and protect those with particular needs.

Mr Webb said ministers were also prepared to consider blanket exemptions for foster carers.

But Mr Rees-Mogg warned against broad exemption saying people would try to fit the categories to avoid having to give up a spare bedroom.

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