YESTERDAY the draft Scottish Budget was published. It hardly caused a ripple in the UK press.
At Shelter Scotland we believe the so-called bedroom tax – or spare-room subsidy – is bad policy. It should be scrapped. Responsibility for that lies squarely with the UK Government in Westminster.
But, as the director of a charity that deals with people and their housing crises here and now, I can’t just wait for the UK Government to eventually do the right thing.
I also want to see councils and the Scottish Government do what they can to make things better – at the very least to take the sting out of the bedroom tax.
That’s why I was outside the Scottish Parliament in the rain yesterday, with Shelter Scotland’s bedroom tax monster, highlighting the 82,500 households in Scotland who are affected, and calling on the Scottish Government, in its budget, to ease the fear of mounting debt and eviction which these households face.
I’m pleased that Finance Secretary John Swinney heeded the bedroom tax monster’s warning. I had called for £20 million to top up rent payments for those struggling most with the bedroom tax right now.
While it still won’t help everyone affected, we know that at least one in seven families and individuals can now be helped – rather than the one in 18 before yesterday’s announcement. That has been delivered and it is good news for thousands of households across Scotland.
But that’s just in the short term. The bedroom tax is controversial precisely because there are so few homes, such little choice.
So I also asked the Scottish Government to commit to 10,000 affordable rented homes a year, reducing waiting lists and creating jobs. We remain some way short of that, sadly.
So, plaudits to Mr Swinney for recognising the short-term crisis. Let’s translate that into long-term choices now and in the years ahead.
Graeme Brown is the director of Shelter Scotland. To support the campaign against the spare-room subsidy, go to www.bedroomtaxmonster.co.uk