Bedroom tax bungle

YOU may have seen the coverage in the Hartlepool Mail of the protest that took place on Saturday morning over the Government’s proposals on the bedroom tax.

This was organized by the Manor Residents’ Association, and Owton Manor will be one of the parts of the town badly affected.

These proposals mean that the Government will cut Housing Benefit for people with a spare room in their home provided by Housing Hartlepool.

It will affect about 1,500 people in Hartlepool, hitting them with an average additional cost of about £730 a year. Across the country, it has been estimated that two-thirds of the households affected are home to someone who is disabled.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a large number of people coming to see me at my constituency surgeries to let me know about their individual circumstances and how the bedroom tax will affect them.

The Mail ran the tragic story of Becky Bell’s family. Everybody will know the story of Becky, who lost her battle with cancer at the age of only seven.

Becky’s ashes are kept in her room, which has been left exactly as she left it, with her toys, clothes and possessions kept in the room.

Becky’s family have been told to pay an extra £56 a month because they have a spare room, only it is not a spare room: it is Becky’s room.

The fact that Becky rests in her room is a source of comfort and a part of the grieving process for the family.

After suffering the worst thing imaginable for a parent – the loss of a child – Becky’s family are being put through more grief. I don’t think a welfare state should be that lacking in sensitivity.

I had a couple with a severely disabled child, who have been advised by their GP that, because of the nature of the child’s disability, they shouldn’t really share a room with their brothers and sisters because of a possible risk to their safety.

I had a dad whose marriage had sadly broken down and who wants to be a loving, caring and hands-on father with his children and who is desperate to have them stay with him at weekends and in the school holidays – the Government has told him he is under-occupying his house because his kids don’t stay with him all week and therefore he faces an extra bill of about £25 a week, money he cannot afford.

This means that he has to leave his home and move into smaller accommodation – he is frightened he won’t see his kids and they’ll become increasingly distant from him.

On Saturday at the protest I heard still more stories. A family whose son and his children are serving our country in the Forces and who stays with his mam and dad when he returns to the UK.

That will be made more difficult to do because of the bedroom tax.

I spoke to a woman in her 50s who has worked all her life, watches every single penny because she has to and has just treated herself – if that is the right word – to a washing machine for the first time.

She pays £15 a fortnight for this washing machine. With an extra £14 a week to find for the bedroom tax, she said she is having to think about not eating on two days in the week.

The only way you can move people with any degree of success or sensitivity is not to penalize them with an extra charge, but to build more appropriate housing such as smaller bungalows.

The Government has failed to do this – in fact, its own impact assessment acknowledges that there is a shortage of smaller properties for tenants to move into.

On Monday I will be presenting the petition of over 1,000 signatures organised by Manor Residents’ Association to the House of Commons.

I hope the Government will listen and climb down from this unfair proposal which hits people who can’t afford it.

I’m not hopeful the Government will listen.