Labour accused of 'scaremongering' in housing benefit row

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Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has accused Labour of "deliberately trying to confuse people" about the impact of the government's plans to change housing benefit.

At work and pensions questions in the Commons on 11 March 2013, Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom asked the secretary of state whether he agreed that: "It is despicable for members of the opposition to be scaremongering unnecessarily people who are in a vulnerable position already."

"They know what they've been about over the last few weeks," Mr Duncan Smith replied.

Alluding to the opposition's decision to describe the reforms as a "bedroom tax", he said: "They have deliberately set about trying to confuse people with their ridiculous title."

Housing benefit is paid to less well-off tenants to help with rent. Typically claimants receive between £50 and £100 a week.

But from April 2013 families deemed to have too much living space by their local authorities will receive a reduced payment. This change affects council tenants, and those who rent from housing associations. It does not affect private sector tenants, who already receive payments in line with the number of rooms they occupy.

Labour spokesman Ian Austin predicted that the availability of smaller accommodation would be a problem. "Isn't it the case that there just aren't enough homes for people hit by the bedroom tax?" he asked.

He claimed that soldiers and pensioners would be affected by the change, "but if you get sent to prison, you could keep every penny. They're hitting pensioners but safeguarding prisoners.

"So how can it be right that you've worked hard all your life, and you lose your job, if you serving your country, if you're disabled or a pensioner, you could lose out?" Mr Austin asked.

But Mr Duncan Smith said: "I do wish he would get his facts right. Convicted prisoners are not exempt. So he is wrong.

"With respect, his noise covers a complete lack of intelligence. Monkeys can jump around, but the noise they make isn't necessarily relevant."

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