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PMQs sketch: Ed Miliband vs David Cameron on the ‘bedroom tax’

6 February 2013

It was cynical. It was shameless. It was low-down politics in every way. But Miliband’s stunt at PMQs very nearly worked.

His theme was the reform of housing benefit that will affect those in homes with unoccupied bedrooms. Ed Miliband calls this ‘a bedroom tax’. He kicked off by asking David Cameron about the case of ‘Alison’ who has twin sons serving in the army. While her boys are fighting abroad, Alison will be charged £25 extra per week for their bedrooms.

It’s wrong to call this a tax, said Cameron, it’s a necessary change to an unaffordable system. Miliband was waiting for him.

‘I’d like to see him explaining to Alison why her paying £25 more a week is not a tax.’

Cameron pointed out that if her sons are away, her income has fallen, so her overall entitlement must have risen. True, perhaps, but it didn’t dispel Miliband’s cunning image of hard-up patriotism abandoned by uncaring government.

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Miliband collects the needy like a squirrel hording acorns and he had many more victims stashed away. He cited a claimant named ‘Diane’ whose weekly rent would rise to £100 if she were forced into private accommodation. And Diane’s current rent is just £65.68. As with ‘Alison’ the name is crucial. It carries huge emotive force. ‘Diane’ is no faceless statistic but a flesh-and-blood human being. Poor Diane. We can see her. We can feel her, almost. She seems to come bodying forth into the chamber. We sense her humiliation as she falls to her knees and begs the system to acquire what she has – a heart. And the petty sums involved – those little 68 pennies – invest her suffering with extra incrustations of hardship and woe.

In the game of manipulative sentimentality, Miliband played his cards to perfection. The Tories fell for it. They jeered in outrage as the list of impoverished claimants grew. This was what Labour had hoped for. As the Tories yelled and gesticulated, Miliband and Ed Balls pulled faces like shocked grannies watching the finale of the Chippendales. And, like those grannies, they secretly loved what they were seeing.

Finally, Miliband went for Cameron’s weak spot: the disabled. He mentioned a married claimant with a bed-ridden wife who has to sleep in the spare room. He too will incur ‘the bedroom tax.’

Cameron caved in. Perhaps fearful of appearing heartless, he offered a concession. And quite a big concession as well.

‘If he wants me to look at a specific case, I will.’

Did he mean that? Every case is ‘a specific case’. So the PM has now committed himself, on the floor of the Commons, to reviewing every file in the entire housing benefit bureaucracy. Crumbs. That’ll knock quite a hole in his half-term break.

Labour’s backbenchers followed their leader. Helen Goodman told us about a constituent living on £24 a week after paying her ‘bedroom tax’. This distressed woman is now receiving cognitive behavioural therapy. Ms Goodman told the PM that he himself must be mentally ill if he believes £24 is a living wage.

Julie Hilling demanded to know why Cameron spent his time ‘meeting lots of millionaires’ but never ordinary hard-up voters. At this point, a light-bulb went ping in David Cameron’s brain. He remembered something. He was no abuser of heroic servicemen or their struggling stony-broke mums. ‘I hold surgeries,’ he retorted, ‘I’ve got RAF Brize Norton in my constituency. And I meet voters who want a government that’s on the side of people who do the right thing. And which is clearing up the mess left by her party.’

Labour had all the fun today. But Cameron had something more valuable. The arguments. He repeatedly asked how Labour would reduce the £23 billion bill for housing benefit. He got no answer.

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Show comments
  • Jebediah

    PMQs are fundamentally ridiculous. The PM of the day can be asked about anything at all. Nobody can ever prepare for that. All you create is a kind of bear pit sound bite engine. It’s overgrown public school stuff, as in fact is most Parliamentary “debate” with the jeering and face pulling.


    Cameron could have pointed out that in introducing the size criteria restrictions on Housing Benefit for social tenants (the so-called bedroom tax) he was merely applying the same criteria that Labour used for private tenants claiming Housing Benefit under the Local Housing Allowance rules since 2008 (pots and kettles Mr Miliband?) He could also have pointed out that the government is significantly increasing the amount of cash available for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) This is the ‘top-up’ fund available to help people whose Housing Benefit does not meet their full rent liability but who have exceptional hardship or special circumstances. This fund is part-funded by central government but awarded at the discretion of the local authority. Its certainly not awarded automatically, but any Housing Benefit claimant with a rent-shortfall can apply for DHP.

  • Span Ows

    ‘If he wants me to look at a specific case, I will.’

    Did he mean that? Every case is ‘a specific case’. So the PM has now committed himself, on the floor of the Commons, to reviewing every file in the entire housing benefit bureaucracy.

    Eh? Every case may be a specific case but DC said ‘a specific case’, which clearly and obviously means one specific case.

  • anyfool

    Lloyd Evans is there any PMQs where your hero Miliband performs badly. he was diabolical today as usual, on the rare occasion he does well he still appears to be a pillock.

  • alabenn

    When in the services you can make an allowance to your mother, i did so should her two greedy scroats if she is as poor as that slimy creature Miliband states.

    • telemachus

      Slimy maybe but remember the game plan to replace him with the Charismatic Ed after the historic victory in 2015

  • Grrr8

    A depressing pmqs. Both leaders lied. Cam probably less so as social housing’s privileges are themselves a scandal, never mind those who receive both social housing and HB. Cam would be more credible if he focused on fairness as opposed to deficit reductions.

  • Radford_NG

    It’s not Miliband calls it the bed-room tax;he’s just picked-up the common term….might as well complain of the expression `poll tax`……This policy doesn’t start by addressing the actual problem:the difficulty for those on low income to be able to down-size or move house for employment.There is no dynamic (social)housing market.

    • Grrr8

      Yep! I was amused to hear Milliband talking about social housing reserved for the most vulnerable. Definitely doesn’t align with the secure tenancies with tenure or entitlement even if you own another home. State needs to get out of housing.

      • wycombewanderer

        You mean vulnerable as in Bob Crowe, Baroness Uddin and Frank Dobson?

  • LB

    So two adult children earning money.

    Here’s a hint Alison. Charge them 7.50 a week for storage.

    • telemachus

      Can you believe it
      Cameron allows sound bite after sound bite to play in the Mirror and Sun
      We are on a roll to 2015

  • Chris lancashire

    Usual rock steady performance from Cameron in the face of pathetic party politics from a bankrupt leader with no idea how he would deal with the financial mess he left behind.

    • telemachus

      Oh yes
      You forget the planted thoughts that will ring thru to 2015
      ‘He added that the prime minister “misunderstood the point of social housing – part of its purpose is to protect the most vulnerable”. Miliband also highlighted Tory promises to protect rich homeowners from a mansion tax and asked: “What is it about the plight of those people that you find so much more compelling than those hit by the bedroom tax?” ‘

      • Chris lancashire

        No tax tele old son, reduced benefits. Big, big difference. But I don’t expect you to understand that. And Miliband certainly doesn’t – just like he has no clue how to reduce the defecit.

        • telemachus

          Just like the 5% pay rise for the rich is really a tax cut
          Now I understand

  • Its_not_craig

    Really James?

    “Labour had all the fun today. But Cameron had something more valuable. The arguments. He repeatedly asked how Labour would reduce the £23 billion bill for housing benefit. He got no answer.”

    I want a Conservative Party leader who could win the debate explicitly – not the implicit ways you and the rest of Cameron’s sycophants are desperate to claim every week.

    Watching this on Telly, it was embarrassing to see a Conservative Prime Minister be so comprehensively outplayed by a political pipsqueak like Milliband.

    The sooner you and Fraser wake up to the fact that your fawning support For Cameron is in some small way helping to keep the buffoon in a job, our borders unprotected, Nick Clegg in a position of power and our debts rising – the sooner we can get rid of the clown and have a leader capable of winning a bloody election in the first place.

    • HooksLaw

      You miss the point – in cutting benefits not least benefits over generously given away in the first place – there will always be a list of losers. Opposition can always list them and the more that is needed to be saved the longer the list. You can’t avoid that.
      If Cameron ‘repeatedly’ asked how the welfare bill can be reduced then that is the only response. Labour have a leader who cannot give an answer.

      • jaydeepee

        Though it is PMQ’s and not Opposition Leaders questions. Cameron is the PM so Miliband doesn’t have to answer his question.

        • Chris lancashire

          No and when Gordon Brown was PM he didn’t answer the question either.

        • Tim Reed

          …fortunate, as Miliband and Labour currently have no answers to this one, and never will.

    • DWWolds

      You must have watched a different PMQs from the one I saw. The overall impression I was left with was that :

      1.Labour still will not acknowledge the mess they left behind.

      2. They still believe that if they were in power they would be able to spend, spend and spend some more.

      3. They still do not have any understanding of a basic reality of life – that unless you have people who create wealth and pay taxes you cannot keep giving money to people who do not.

      • LB

        Neither acknowledge the diasterous mess, and the consequences.

        5,300 bn pounds, the pensions, is omitted from the accounts so people don’t realise the mess.

      • Tim Reed

        4. Labour still don’t understand that paying less tax is not the same as receiving benefit, and that (in this case) receiving less benefit is not the same as paying more tax. In short, they’re still financially illiterate.

        • 2trueblue

          Yes they have real problems understanding the ‘bedroom tax’, Jacqui Smith had a real problem with the bedroom in her sisters house that we paid for.

        • Grrr8

          Eh, I think u and Cam are the winners of the illiteracy contest. Any economist will tell you that there is no diff between a tax increase and a benefit decrease for an individual household. IDS says this too as someone astutely observed on twitter.

          • Tim Reed

            No difference??…except that a tax increase takes away more of what YOU have earned, whereas a benefit decrease takes away some of what OTHERS have earned.

            The difference is in our definitions of ‘entitlement’.

          • Eric Priezkalns

            Your point is well made. That was why Labour introduced means-tested ‘tax credits’. They did it to increase benefit payments whilst making it sound like a tax cut.

            • Grrr8

              A practice also used in the US, via something called the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

              • Eric Priezkalns

                Yes, I believe that Labour were inspired by Bill Clinton’s political tactics. Clinton increased tax credits shortly after winning his first election.

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