UK Politics

Lib Dem conference: Members back review of housing benefit changes

protesters outside Lib Dem conference in Glasgow
Image caption Protesters gathered outside the conference to oppose the under-occupancy charge

Lib Dems have backed a review of the government's controversial housing benefit shake-up.

Party members want to assess the policy of cutting support for social housing tenants deemed to have too many rooms.

In a separate vote, they endorsed their leadership's policy of seeking to shift the burden of future taxation from income to sources of "unearned wealth" - through a so-called mansion tax.

Calls to raise the top income tax rate to 50p were only narrowly rejected.

In the last of a series of debates at the party's conference in Glasgow, delegates voted overwhelmingly to review housing benefit rules.

They called for an immediate review of the impact of the policy, dubbed the "bedroom tax" by critics and called the "spare room subsidy" by the government.

They want to review to to look at the money saved, costs incurred and the affect on vulnerable tenants.

Activists took to the stage to denounce the policy, with one councillor calling it "reprehensible" and "evil".

Earlier, the party voted to approve a series of tax proposals.

Although not binding on government, the party says the outcome of Monday's conference votes means that its "fairer tax" message will differentiate it from the Tories and Labour in the run-up to the election.

Speaking in Glasgow, deputy party leader Simon Hughes said the Lib Dems had "won the debate" on tax after securing a rise in tax allowances which means that, by the end of 2015, no-one would pay tax on their first £10,000 of income.

'Political credibility'

But he urged the party to go further by raising the income tax threshold to the equivalent of a full time job on the minimum wage and linking the allowance to future rises in the minimum wage.

"We must go further and faster to make sure we don't just champion the people at the bottom but deliver for them," he said.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said the party should focus on making the case for a tax on high-value properties rather than raising income tax levels, saying this was crucial to the party's "economic and political credibility".

The so-called mansion tax is a longstanding Lib Dem commitment but has been vetoed by their Conservative coalition partners.

Mr Cable accused the Conservatives of scaremongering about its impact, suggesting that research indicated that only 365 properties in his Twickenham constituency - where house prices are among the highest in the UK - would be caught by the proposed levy.

The coalition government cut the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p in 2012 although many Lib Dems were sceptical about the move - which Labour has dubbed "a tax cut for millionaires".

Lib Dem MP John Leech said "the only way we can dissociate ourselves from this top-rate Tory cut is to commit ourselves to reintroducing it". Activists rejected calls for the top rate of tax to return to 50p but only by 224 votes to 220.

A party spokesman said it believed the top rate of tax was "at about the right level", and was broadly in line with other European countries, but that there were different views in the party.

Meanwhile, the party has been forced to deny that it wants to ask those on salaries of £50,000 to pay more in tax.

The party leadership distanced itself from a briefing memo, accidentally sent to journalists, suggesting that it was considering asking those earning more than £50,000 to make a larger contribution.

Party officials said the internal party memo had been mistakenly taken from an out-of-date document.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites