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BED TAX IS AXED; This is a victor y for the and a victory for social justice; Holyrood unites behind SNP Government plan to banish hated Tory welfare cut from Scotland; A VICTORY FOR THE RECORD AND A VICTORY FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE; PS15m TO END MISERY; Holyrood rivals back cash deal to remove burden from our poorest; EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: DAVID CLEGG

ALEX Salmond is to banish the bedroom tax from Scotland.

The Scottish Government have agreed to cover the full cost of housing benefit cuts for Scots hammered by the vicious Con-Dem policy.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said yesterday they are "more than willing" to put in the extra PS15million required.

The move - a stunning victory for the Daily Record-led campaign against the charge - will mean the misery-causing policy will effectively be abolished north of the Border.

Labour have been calling for the cash to be made available in the Scottish Government's budget, which will be finalised in a Holyrood vote on Wednesday.

And the details of the move are likely to be agreed in behind-thescenes talks between Finance Secretary John Swinney and Labour finance spokesman Iain Gray.

The deal would see Labour vote for an SNP budget for the first time since the Nationalists won power in 2007 - in a clear message of cross-party determination to rid Scotland of the bedroom tax.

However, there is still some debate over how extra cash will be allocated to bedroom tax victims.

Sturgeon wants the UK Government to change the law so the money can be provided through her preferred method of discretionary housing payments (DHPs) distributed by councils.

That would require the Con-Dems to lift a cap on the amount of money Holyrood can provide to council tenants who have fallen behind on their rent.

Labour would be happy with this method, but believe there are equally good alternatives if the UK Government should inconceivably decide to block the plan.

Sturgeon has now written to UK Welfare Minister Lord Freud asking for the cap to be lifted.

She said yesterday: "The bedroom tax penalises some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We know that more than 12,000 children are affected and 80 per cent of households hit contain an adult with a recognised disability.

"We have already provided as much help as legally possible to those suffering from this unjust policy but we are unfairly restricted in what we can do.

"For example, despite Scotland having 20,000 more households affected by the bedroom tax than London, the DHP allocation for Scotland in 2014-15 is PS35million less than London.

"The Scottish g Government are currently spending up to the legal limit in order to mitigate the effects of the bedroom tax on people across Scotland.

"We are more than willing to put in the extra PS15million, which would increase the amount of help available to a total of PS50million.

"If Westminster lifts the legal cap - which they can easily do - we will be able to help the 76,000 people in Scotland who are suffering from this cut.

"In order to make this legally possible, Westminster needs to lift the cap for Scotland and UK ministers should act now."

Under the bedroom tax, claimants lose 14 per cent of their housing benefit if a spare bedroom is deemed unoccupied. The cost ranges from PS14 to PS25 a week.

The move has hit disabled and vulnerable people hardest, plunging many into rent arrears and the arrears, Record has been in the forefront of the bid to abolish the tax.

The Scottish Government have already pledged to spend PS68million in each of the next two years to mitigate changes to the welfare system introduced by the UK Government.

They have also agreed to contribute PS20million each year to the DHP budget, which is also getting PS15million from the UK Government.

An extra PS15mil lion in Wednesday's budget would take the amount up to PS50million - the total cost of the bedroom tax in Scotland.

Scottish Labour last night welcomed the commitment to provide the extra money.

Welfare spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: "A U-turn on the bedroom tax is a victory for common sense but more importantly a victory for the thousands of social tenants who would have the burden of the bedroom tax removed.

"We have consistently urged the SNP, over more than a year, to support tenants and social landlords by providing the money to cancel out the bedroom tax in order to stop people building up rent arrears.

"It's time to get this money out there to help the people that need it by using any of the ways we've suggested, such as toppping up the Scottish welfare fund or by local authorities creating hardship funds.

"Faced with my Member's Bill and evidence of clear legal mechanisms that enable the Government to provide the r resources, there is no further obstacle to effectively cancelling out the bedroom tax in Scotland.

"I am delighted that John Swinney has finally listened and is prepared to make the right decision.

"I want to pay tribute to those who have campaigned tirelessly against the bedroom tax, including Govan Law Centre and the No2 Bedroom Tax campaign who petitioned the Parliament, and, of course, the Daily Record.

"Scottish Labour listened and acted and our joint efforts put pressure on the SNP Government to change their minds."

Labour's Gray confirmed last night that his party will vote for the SNP budget if it includes the PS15million bedroom tax provision.

"If these measures are confirmed in Parliament on Wednesday we will on balance be able to support the Scottish Government's budget for next year," he said.

Last week, Holyrood's welfare reform committee called for the UK Government to axe the tax or give Holyrood the powers to get rid of it.

They made the demand after publishing the damning findings of a detailed investigation. They concluded the tax is unfair, hitting the vulnerable hardest and possibly actually costing the public purse money.

And there are fears the bedroom tax is set to get even worse. Con-Dem plans to introduce a new universal credit will see families hit by the bedroom tax within three months of a loved one dying and their room becoming unoccupied.

How it will be done

PROVIDING extra cash to councils for discretionary housing payments is seen as the easiest way for the Scottish Government to get rid of the bedroom tax.

The money is given to social housing tenants who receive housing benefit but are still struggling to pay their rent.

Uptake has soared since the bedroom tax was introduced in April last year.

The Scottish Government have already provided PS20million to allow local authorities to top up their 2013-14 DHP and repeated the commitment for 2014-15.

This is the maximum amount they are allowed to allocate. Meanwhile, the UK ,Government are giving PS15million, taking the total to PS35million.

As the total impact of the bedroom tax in Scotland is around PS50million, another PS15million would effectively abolish the tax in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon has written to Lord Freud asking him to remove the cap. But there are other ways the money could be got to bedroom tax victims.

Labour and campaigners like the No2BedroomTax group's Alan Wyllie have suggested Holyrood could supplement the income streams of social regulated landlords or create a prevention of homelessness fund to address the crisis.

Flagship policy in tatters

TORY bungler Iain Duncan Smith faces a showdown with MPs today over another controversial welfare policy.

MPs will demand to know why two years and PS130million have been wasted on the Work and Pensions Secretary's failed universal credit project.

Smith will be forced to explain himself at a hearing of the Commons work and pensions committee.

Universal credit emerged during the UK Government's review of the welfare system which also brought the bedroom tax.

It is seen as way of streamlining the benefits system and merging six benefits and tax credits into one payment directly to the claimant.

But its set-up has been plagued with problems after a new computer system was unable to cope with the huge amount of information to be processed.

That's led to Labour branding the man behind the scheme "In Deep Shambles".

And senior Tory figures are also said to have lost faith in his ability to implement it.

CAPTION(S):

WILLING TO ACT Sturgeon

MASS DISAPPROVAL A demo at Holyrood and a disabled protester in Stranraer

UNDER FIRE Smith

VERDICT An anti-Tory demo demonstrator

BILL Labour's Jackie Baillie

DEAL Scottish Labour's Iain Gray

BUDGET The SNP's John Swinney

DEMO One of the protests against the bedroom tax

VICTIM OF TAX Disabled Lorraine King from Penilee, Glasgow, joins a protest
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Title Annotation:News; Front Page
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 3, 2014
Words:1390
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