An unhappy birthday

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Today marks the second anniversary of the imposition of the hated Bedroom Tax. This unfair tax hits anyone receiving housing benefit who is deemed to have a ‘spare’ bedroom and has affected over half a million households; 771,000 people across the country.

Over two thirds of the households affected include a person with a disability with 60,000 carers being hit.

In the North East over 36,000 people are affected by the bedroom tax, losing 12% of their housing benefit for one spare room, 25% for a second. This could cost these families an average of £3,400 over the next parliament.

A study from the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University examining the impact of the tax on low income families in the North East found that those affected had had to cut back on essentials like food and heating to avoid falling into rent arrears, leading to increasing reliance of food banks, and problems with mental and physical health.

According to the Government’s own figures 57% of affected tenants are cutting back on basics and 60% fall into rent arrears within 6 months.

The aim of the Bedroom Tax was to reduce ‘under occupancy’, individuals and families occupying houses too big for their needs. Unfortunately there is nowhere for these tenants to move to. There is a chronic shortage of smaller properties to move into. Vulnerable families are stuck, forced to top up their rent and unable to move to escape the Bedroom Tax.

And why should they move? People have roots in their communities often with family and friends nearby, who may be part of a vital support network. Social housing tenants have often invested in their own properties, making their home their own, and many disabled people have had their properties adapted to help them meet their needs.

Labour has committed abolishing the Bedroom Tax as soon as possible after the election, and to ease the squeeze on housing by building 200,000 new homes a year by the end of the next parliament.

Another term of the Tories puts over 300,000 tenants in the North East at risk of being hit should their personal circumstances change, with 18,000 new people affected every month.

There’s a clear message in this election campaign: Only a Labour government will abolish the Bedroom Tax.

Helen Goodman is Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions and Labour candidate for Bishop Auckland.

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