A Tory MSP has been criticised after claiming that there “is no such thing as the bedroom tax”.
Michelle Ballantyne made the comment on Thursday as Holyrood’s Social Security Committee considered a petition calling for more money to be made available to mitigate welfare cuts.
Having been asked by SNP MSP Keith Brown if the Scottish Conservatives would support mitigating the policy in Scotland, Ms Ballantyne denied the existence of the tax.
In an exchange, Ms Ballantyne said: “Committing to mitigating something forever and a day is not necessarily relevant if the whole thing changed anyway.”
Mr Brown then asked the MSP: “If the ‘bedroom tax’ stays in place, will you be committed to mitigating it in Scotland?”
Ms Ballantyne replied: “There’s no such thing as a ‘bedroom tax’, so I wouldn’t even go down that route.”
The policy, introduced by the UK Government in 2013, means that tenants in social housing have their benefit reduced by 14% if they have a spare bedroom or 25% if they have two or more.
It was intended to cut the housing benefit bill and free-up housing. However, it has been described as being damaging to low-income families and vulnerable people.
The measure became informally known as the ‘bedroom tax’, although it was part of a number of changes in the Welfare Reform Act 2012.
The Scottish Government has indicated that it plans to spend more than £61 million next year through Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) in order to mitigate the tax.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Nicola Sturgeon said that Ms Ballantyne’s comments would come as news to people subjected to the tax.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Perhaps Michelle Ballantyne will want to explain her comments? I would hope that Jackson Carlaw would want to take a very close look at her comments.
“But it doesn’t augur very well if the Tories don’t even understand the basics of what people across the country are experiencing in terms of their welfare policies, then what chance do we have of persuading them to change them?
“It’s an appalling comment, if indeed it was made, and I hope that Michelle Ballantyne will retract it at the earliest opportunity”.
The Conservative MSP has been criticised previously for comments on welfare policies, having said in October last year that “people on benefits cannot have as many children as they like”.
Speaking at the time during a Scottish Parliament debate on inequality, Ms Ballantyne said: “The two-child limit is about fairness. It is fair that people on benefits cannot have as many children as they like while people who work and pay their way and don’t claim benefits have to make decisions about the number of children they can have.
“Universal Credit may have its flaws, but the thinking behind the system is sound.”