Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps provoked scorn from Government critics today by using his own children’s living arrangements in an attempt to justify the controversial “bedroom tax”.
Mr Shapps said housing benefit claimants should not mind giving up spare bedrooms because his two sons share a room. He also has a young daughter. But it subsequently emerged the millionaire former housing minister’s children could have their own space if one of the four bedrooms in the family home hadn’t been converted into a study.
The bedroom tax, which comes into force tomorrow, penalises tenants in social housing who have a spare room by reducing their housing benefit. Under the government’s rules young children are expected to share a room.
In his bullish defence of the policy, Mr Shapps also attacked four churches who criticised the package of welfare measures as unjust. He told Sky News: “It is wrong to leave people out in the cold with effectively no roof over their heads because the taxpayer is paying for rooms which aren’t in use. People share rooms quite commonly – my boys share a room.”
But immediately after his comments Sky News’s political producer Vincent McAviney revealed that Shapps lives in a four-bedroomed house in his Welwyn Hatfield constituency.
“@grantshapps has told me that his home has 4 bedrooms with one being used as a study, ergo his children do not have to share room,” he tweeted. Attempts to contact Mr Shapps were unsuccessful this evening.
Critics of the bedroom tax argue that while it is reasonable to expect young children to share it is more difficult for teenagers, especially of opposite gender, and that moving young children stores up trouble for the future. Mr Shapps, who earns £65,738 as an MP, has three children. His eldest son was born in 2001 and his twin son and daughter were born in 2004.
Mr Shapps’ attempts to compare his family situation to those of people affected by the bedroom tax was today mocked by opponents, with many pointing out that his arrangements were by choice, and easily changed when his children grow older. Brett Sparkes, of the union Unite said: “Grant Shapps is living in private accommodation which he owns so therefore the lack of social housing bears no resemblance to his situation.”
Reverend Paul Nicolson of the Taxpayers Against Poverty campaign group said: “What is being created by these reforms is debt and poverty of people who are already in debt and poverty. Having a four-bedroomed house is no platform for criticising people on benefits.”
The comedian Josie Long tweeted: “Grant Shapps’ children share a bedroom because he needs all of the other rooms for his online aliases” – referring to an online business venture he founded under the name Michael Green.
Mr Shapps also hit back after four churches – the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist and United Reformed Churches and Church of Scotland – criticised the welfare reforms unjust. “Where were these people jumping up and down as those housing waiting lists doubled under the previous administration?” he asked on BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.