David Cameron’s former speech writer Clare Foges isn’t the only Tory worried about the impact of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’. In a column in The Times today, Foges argues that the Conservatives should ‘move on from the bedroom tax. It is not working as had been hoped and will remain a fly in the one-nation ointment. Have a principled mea culpa moment and move on’.
I’ve written before that it’s nigh-on impossible to find a Tory who privately thinks that the policy has worked out well, either politically or in terms of the impact it has had on the very vulnerable people it hits. The Tories have said nothing about changing it since returning to government, yet as Foges argues, a ‘principled mea culpa moment’ would allow the party to move on. Better still, it would be a refreshing and rare admission from politicians that they made a mistake and had listened, rather than the rather stereotypical tendency to plough on while deploying increasingly ridiculous arguments to justify the policy.
A number of Tories have returned from the election campaign believing that the policy is something they need to address, even though it was something they supported when it was introduced. One has written to Iain Duncan Smith conveying the concerns of members of his own Tory association about the policy. Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham tells the Work and Pensions Secretary that ‘I believe the time has come to review this policy and for you to take on board feedback from constituencies as to what is going well and what needs to potentially be reviewed and amended’. He complains that ‘several senior members of my association have expressed concern to me over some of the practical and logistical aspects of this legislation and its impact’.
One particular group hit by the policy is single fathers, who may not be able to afford a spare room for their children to visit, and therefore lose their visiting rights. Kawczynski calls this ‘deeply worrying’.
I understand that there are moves at a higher level in the Parliamentary party to echo these concerns, given the ‘bedroom tax’ was raised as an issue on the doorstep by voters who were not affected by it, but who thought it showed the Tories had the wrong motives on welfare. Given the Conservatives have won an election, they now have the space to allay those fears about their party, and a graceful U-turn might just be one of the best ways to do that.