Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has accused David Cameron of being out of touch over the impact of the “bedroom tax”.
Milliband claimed the cut in benefits for tenants with spare rooms in social housing would hit disabled people as well as military families.
The prime minister said the change represented part of an effort to reduce the rising cost of housing benefit.
He added that those tenants in private rented accommodation who received housing benefits did not get extra money for having a spare room. “Why should we be doing more for people in social housing on housing benefit than people in private housing on housing benefit?”
Cameron said Miliband needed to set out what he would do to tackle the welfare budget, including the £23bn housing benefit bill.
Cameron said: “We know he is against capping welfare, we know he is against restricting welfare to below the rate of increase in wages. We know all the things he is against, we are beginning to wonder what he is for.”
But Miliband said the policy showed “the only people he listens to are a small group of rich people and powerful people at the top … that’s why he has come up with a policy that is unworkable and unfair. He is a prime minister who is weak, incompetent and totally out of touch.”
Under the changes which are due to come in to force in April, tenants in social housing will have their benefit reduced by 14% if they have a spare bedroom or 25% if they have two or more.
Miliband highlighted Alison Huggan’s story. She has two twin sons in the army. He said “The prime minister’s bedroom tax means that while her sons are away she will be charged more for their bedrooms”.
Alison Huggan said: “I resent the fact that both my sons are serving and protecting their country and, in return, they will not have a home to come home to when they are granted their much-needed leave”.
Cameron told the Labour leader: “This is not a tax, this is a benefit.” He added: “All the time Labour was in government, if you were in a private rented sector home and you were in receipt of housing benefit you did not get any benefit for empty rooms. It is only fair we treat people in social housing the same way.”
Cameron said if anyone is away from home “their earnings aren’t counted and, therefore, the benefits of that person are likely to go up.”
Miliband told him: “I look forward to you explaining to Alison why her paying £25 a week more from April is not a tax on her.” He added that the prime minister “misunderstood the point of social housing; part of its purpose is to protect the most vulnerable”. Miliband also highlighted Tory promises to protect rich homeowners from a mansion tax and asked: “What is it about the plight of those people that you find so much more compelling than those hit by the bedroom tax?”
Cameron retorted that Labour did not introduce a mansion tax in 13 years in government or build enough social housing.
He told Miliband: “If you think that we are spending too much on housing benefit, you just said the bill is going up, why do you oppose each and every attempt we make to get the welfare bill under control? The fact is the public can see we are on the side of people who work hard and want to do the right thing. All you can ever do is spend more money.”