Nine months after its introduction, the “bedroom tax” remains one of the most divisive of Coalition policies.
For all its caution in making policy commitments, Labour has pledged to abolish the scheme as soon as Prime Minister Ed Miliband can sign off the paperwork and Liberal Democrat MPs are increasingly worried about its impact.
David Cameron prefers the term “spare room subsidy” to describe the move to trim benefit from people in council or housing association properties who are assessed to have surplus space.
He argued that the initiative was essential to reverse increases in spending on housing benefit and to encourage a more even distribution of accommodation across the country.
His argument was undermined by the omission of pensioners from the policy – a decision driven, Government sources privately admit, by the large numbers of over-65s who turn out to vote.
Critics pointed to the shortage of one-bedroom properties available for tenants forced to “downsize” and charities claimed a surprise recent rise in homelessness was linked to the “bedroom tax”.
Stories about its impact on the needy and vulnerable have abounded. The man losing benefits because he has a room for his kidney dialysis machine. The mother who has an unwanted spare room after her nine-year-old son died in a fire. The 59-year-old set to lose the home she has lived in since she was eight years old.
The Treasury set aside an extra £120m to mitigate the effect of the changes. Today’s Local Government Association analysis suggests this might not be enough, and it is certain that the controversy over the policy will run through to the next year’s general election.