THE shadow benefits minister has said Labour cannot promise now to repeal the Government’s controversial bedroom tax.
On a visit to Newcastle Liam Byrne said he could see the need for urgency but could not rush into making uncosted policy announcements for any future Labour Government.
Labour has repeatedly hit out at the Government’s decision to reduce housing benefits for those with a spare room but so far refused to make scrapping the so-called bedroom tax a party policy.
Speaking after a speech at think tank IPPR North’s Newcastle office, Mr Byrne said: “We are not going to make promises we can’t keep. I believe very strongly that this is a tax that will cost more than it saves, but I know I have to prove that beyond reasonable doubt and that is the research that I am doing now to gather evidence from across the country.
“We hear of houses lying empty because people can’t afford the tax that would hit them if they moved in, so obviously it does not make sense.”
Locally Labour councillors have said they have heard anecdotal claims that families are reluctantly preparing to give up their home because there is no sign a Labour Government in 2015 would reverse the measure.
Asked about these claims, Mr Byrne said: “We have to work through our position as fast as we can, but no one will forgive us for making promises we can’t keep.”
He discussed the growing bedroom tax problem for the party after giving a speech on Labour’s employment policy, promising to commit a future Government to creating full employment.
Mr Byrne said such a move could be paid for from the tax revenues generated by getting people back into work, but was unclear on how job creation cash would initially be generated.
He went on to say that the Government’s job creation plan was “obviously not working”.
“The rebalancing of the economy is not happening,” Mr Byrne said. “The pound has devalued by 20% but exports have gone up by just 2%. And the efforts to rebalance the economy North and South is not happening. London is an economic area that is simply going to get stronger.
“I don’t see the move away from that happening in the West midlands where I am an MP and I don’t see it happening in the North East.”
But he made clear any future Labour government would be unlikely to return to the days of regional development agencies handing out job creation cash.
“I was a big advocate of the RDAs, the but the truth is they will not be part of the plans in 2015, rebuilding them would be tough.”