Monday, 18 March 2013


Grant Shapps's use of different names himself (see below) has been confirmed as true by the Conservative Party 

It's taken a while and a Freedom of Information request and a review of the original response to that request but the political origin of the phrase 'spare room subsidy' as in 'removal of the SRS' (which campaigners call the 'bedroom tax') has at last been officially confirmed.

As revealed originally in this blog the phrase 'Spare Room Subsidy' was first used in public by Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps on 17 February 2013 - see UPDATE 31 January 2014 below. 

Now the DWP has confirmed that the first use in DWP documents was 28 March 2013.

"The earliest public use of the phrase “removal of the spare room subsidy” in official Departmental publications issued to local authorities can be found in A11/2013 dated 28.3.13.

Housing Benefit or Subsidy Circulars issued prior to A11.2013 used the phrase “social sector size criteria” or “size criteria” which mirrors what is specified in the relevant legislation dealing with the introduction of the policy."

The DWP goes on to confirm it was first used by a DWP Minister a month before that on 27 February 2013

"The first use of the term “removal of the spare room subsidy” by a Minister of the Department for Work and Pensions, namely the Minister of State for Pensions  was during an opposition day debate on the 27 February 2013 about “Housing Benefit (under occupation penalty)”. [27 February 2013, Official Record, Column 334].

"There are no references to this phrase prior to this date in electronic or word documents. This term was later formally adopted as the name for the policy within Departmental publications after this public statement in Parliament by a Minister of the Department."

So what of the use ten days earlier by Grant Shapps MP on 17 February 2014 - see below.

"The Department would not be aware that the term was used by the Right Hon Member of Parliament for Welwyn Hatfield in his political capacity as [Conservative Party Chairman and Minister without Portfolio] in a Radio Interview at an earlier date.

This would be regarded as a party political issue..." 

So there we have it. The phrase 'Spare Room Subsidy' is party political and was first used by the Chairman of the Conservative Party 'in his political capacity' ten days before being adopted by DWP Pensions Minister Steve Webb and then a month later in official departmental documents.

Read the full FOI review response


The BBC set out its policy over being neutral on terminology in this advisory note
"The official name for the 'bedroom tax' is the 'under-occupancy penalty.' It is not 'the spare room subsidy.'

Like 'bedroom tax' this is a politically-loaded term so shouldn't really be used without attribution in headlines. Something more neutral -eg 'housing benefit changes' might be better as 'under-occupancy penalty' is not a well known and instantly understood term. And of course if we say 'what Labour call the bedroom tax' or 'what the coalition refer to as the spare room subsidy' in the body of any report, then of course the more familiar terminology can be used. The key is attribution - as both terms are contested and contentious."

Here is the transcript of the first public use of the phrase Spare Room Subsidy by Conservative Chairman Grant Shapps on BBC Radio 4, The World at One, 17 February 2013 at 13:12:10

"Labour have very cleverly deemed this to be a tax of course it’s exactly the opposite to a tax…. It’s a spare room subsidy that’s being paid through the benefits system on a million empty...bedrooms which makes no sense…we’re not using the housing that we have in this country in a proper way…it’s accurate to call it a spare room subsidy that’s the point." 

The earliest written reference to the phrase spare room subsidy has been identified. It was Conservative Chairman Grant Shapps who first used the phrase in writing in a tweet timed 13:04 on 17 February 2013 anticipating his appearance on The World This Weekend on Radio 4. Interestingly Shapps - himself no stranger to changing names - put the phrase in inverted commas and used cap initial letters thus 'Spare Room Subsidy'.

Having lost the bedroom tax vs spare room subsidy language argument in the real world, the Government takes powers to censor council publications which use the unpolitically correct phrase!  

See my new post on why the bedroom tax is, in fact, a tax  


It was the week the so-called 'bedroom tax' got political. Which is why I have placed the phrase in inverted comments AND preceded it by 'so-called'. Just to make it clear that I am not someone campaigning against it or who believes that the new social housing size criteria are in fact a tax. Though they are of course to do with bedrooms. [NB I hve changed my mind on the second point].

Last week Pensions Minister Steve Webb devised a new way of expressing the, ahem, 'bedroom tax'. He preferred to stand it on its head and told MPs he was happy to "discuss attempts to end the spare room subsidy". The DWP claims Steve Webb invented the phrase and  gave its first outing in the House of Commons just after 1.30pm on 27 February. It came of age a week later when the Prime Minister took it up with enthusiasm at Wednesday's PM Questions. David Cameron used the phrase seven times during tetchy exchanges with Labour Leader Ed Miliband and others over what they called, if I may, 'the bedroom tax'. 

The Government has now taken the line that the use of the phrase, forgive me, 'bedroom tax' marks the speaker out as a person who is against it. And the BBC is coming under pressure to balance the phrase, pardon me, 'bedroom tax' with a reference to the Government's preferred formulation.

It is reminiscent of the debate in the late 1980s and early '90s over whether the replacement for the rates in Britain was called the community charge or the poll tax. It was literally a poll tax - a flat charge paid to the state on the head (or poll) of every adult - but the law called it the community charge. So poll tax opponents and community charge supporters hugged their phrases in opposite corners of the ring and shouted abuse at each other for using the wrong words. 

The problem with today's spat is that 'spare room subsidy' is not a synonym for, I abase myself, 'bedroom tax' but in fact its opposite. Which appeared to escape the PM's notice when he told Ed Miliband "anyone with disabled children is exempt from the spare room subsidy". What he meant, of course, was they would continue to get the spare room subsidy. Except they won't. Because the rules make no exemption for severely disabled children from, begging your presence, the 'bedroom tax'. But that is a separate point.( If you are curious about it Google 'Burnip and Gorry' (other search engines etc etc) to find the court case which allows exemption from a different law and which the Government is seeking to overturn.) [NB In order to preserve the PM's dignity the Government announced on 12 March 2013 that it would not appeal Gorry and the ruling of the Court of Appeal became uncontested law].

So to balance, soorrreeee, 'bedroom tax' one needs to refer to 'ending the SRS' (my fingers are tired) in fact I'll use ETSRS as an acceptable alternative for, I am prostrate, the bedroom tax (TBT). 

Indeed when I reported on this PMQs row [on Breakfast TV on 7 March 2013] I was upbraided when I came off air by a DWP press officer for, among other things, not including ETSRS as well as TBT in the cue. 

The whole thing is descending into acrimonious acronymity which I for one will have NTDW. 

Meanwhile the Government says approaching a million social housing bedrooms are spare. And estimates it will save £1 billion over two years by trying to bring them into use by cutting the housing benefit paid to 660,000 people two thirds of whom are disabled. This one will RAR (run and run).

Meanwhile see my guide to Housing Benefit: Size Criteria for People Renting in the Social Rented Sector aka TBT/ETSRS.

BREAKING NEWS: on 7 March Steve Webb came up with a new phrase, and a genuine synonym, for TBT "the social sector under occupation charge". Perhaps we could abbreviate that accurately to 'spare bedroom charge' without fielding too many complaints. Editors please note. 

Now that the House of Commons has passed 35 pages of law without a vote to control the press in England and Wales I must say I am much less inclined to do anything but use the clear, simple, and well understood phrase 'bedroom tax. And just hope someone tries to tell me not to.