Thursday, July 17, 2014

Proud to be a Liberal Democrat

This week's announcement that Liberal Democrat members of the Coalition government are going to be pressing the Conservatives to agree to changes in the Spare Room subsidy (Bedroom Tax) is very welcome.  It's been a long time coming - last Autumn our federal conference agreed a motion which then became party policy to do just that.  Many of us in the front line of local politics knew it wasn't working as intended.  We'd heard from some of our own members about the worry of being reassessed every year to see if their disability entitled them to another year of help.  Imagine having that hanging over you as well as coping with a disability.
The thing that other parties don't seem to get about our party is that we genuinely are democratic.  That motion was based on the evidence in front of the members. We knew that the policy needed to change.  But we also knew that simply stating our party policy wasn't enough to change government policy, where two parties have to agree.  So setting up a review was the right and proper way to go about it.  The report was completed and presented to ministers this week.  It provided the evidence needed.  Now we need the Conservatives to agree to the changes which Liberal Democrats agreed last autumn.
The basic idea of the removal of that subsidy was fair but, and this is crucial, only if there was a real opportunity to move into a smaller property and only if exemptions were fair and carefully thought through.  After a marriage breaks down there is usually a need for both parents to keep in contact with their children and that includes having somewhere for them to sleep on their nights or weekends with the absent parent.  An electric wheelchair needs somewhere to be charged up overnight.  The son or daughter in the armed forces needs to be able to sleep in a bed when they come home on leave to visit parents.  Some medical conditions mean that a couple need two separate bedrooms in order for both to have a night's sleep.  Just some of the examples of the flexibility needed in such a policy.  More were given at our conference.
The review and the report give the government the opportunity to change the policy to make it work much better.  If the Conservatives won't agree in the lifetime of the coalition then it will be a manifesto commitment from the Liberal Democrats next year.
And that's why I'm proud to be a Lib Dem this week - a member of a party which looks at the evidence and is prepared to change its policy to make it fit for purpose.  No stubborn ignoring of the facts, no sweeping them behind the chair.  This need for a policy change was recognised by us last year. North East Lib Dems led the way on it, with Suzanne Fletcher from Stockton and Julie Porksen from Berwick giving moving speeches.  We also knew that we needed independent review to convince our coalition partners and set that in train.  Now we have the report and are acting on it.

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