Bedroom Tax must be implemented with compassion, says Barton MP Martin Vickers
THE fuss in recent days over minimum unit pricing for alcohol is a classic example of the difficulties governments of whatever colour face when deciding the best way forward with some complex area of policy.
Modern democracies have to launch consultations on contentious policy issues which is all very reasonable but of course opposition parties love to play politics.
The alcohol pricing issue is a classic example. One minister, perhaps because his area of responsibility is health, reflects the view of many in the medical profession and says that on balance he or she favours trying to reduce consumption by increasing the cost, whilst another more inclined to personal freedom and encouraging individual responsibility or maybe has many constituents employed in the brewing industry says it is best left to the market to determine.
The immediate response is accusations of chaos and confusion, shouts of U-turn, it's as if ministers weren't allowed to have opinions of their own and play a part in influencing decisions. Once a decision is taken collective responsibility comes into play and ministers must stick to the agreed policy without which government would become completely unmanageable.
My own preference is not to interfere with the free market but to encourage a more robust approach by the police supported by the courts. In questions on this subject last week it was revealed it cost around £60 to process an arrest for being drunk and disorderly but that doesn't seem too bad if fines starting at say £500 and ranging up to £5000 plus costs were to be imposed.
Whether you think of the so-called Bedroom Tax as a tax – which it isn't – one thing's for sure, like the community charge any attempt to call it anything else is doomed to failure.
We have a situation whereby there is a massive gap between the availability of social housing and the demand for it.
One of the reasons is that many houses are under-occupied – one person in a two or three-bedroom property. Often this comes about through the normal changes in family circumstances such as children leaving home and the death of one of the parents.
The difficulty is that houses are not just bricks and mortar they are homes full of memories and moving out can be a painful wrench.
Now what if you're a family of four living in awful conditions having been sitting on the waiting list for months or even years desperate for a property? Your view of allowing under-occupation is quite simply that it's wrong and unacceptable. How are we to square this particular circle?
What is essential is that the decisions are arrived at in a sympathetic way at a local level. I have reservations about the policy and in May 2011 the parliamentary record Hansard shows me as saying:
"The Government's aim not just in the Bill, but in all their policies, is to build and strengthen communities, but strong communities mean strong, stable and settled communities. I have a concern about the Bill, so I put this simple question to the Front-Bench team: how will the Bill and the tenancy provisions build stronger, more settled communities? I am afraid that I remain unconvinced. It has been said that people grow attached to their homes. They are not just bricks and mortar; they are homes, not houses. More flexibility for the landlord means more inflexibility for the tenant."
Put simply we have a problem, the Bedroom Tax is part of the solution but it must be implemented with compassion and in a sympathetic manner.
For all their shouting and criticisms of the past week the Labour Party has shown itself bereft of a solution. They repeat the problem and hope that in doing so they will be seen to identify with those affected – but that's no solution.