November 19, 2013

Bill Esterson

Last Tuesday, Parliament was told about the case of a man who received worrying letters about rent arrears while in hospital for a triple heart bypass because he suddenly had to find another £18 a week to keep the specially adapted home he had lived in for most of his life. 

MPs were also told about a woman with young children who had found another flat with a family and wanted to swap, but she was in a Catch-22 situation because she could not move until she had paid off the arrears she had built up. 

And we also heard about a family with a disabled son who have discovered that the room that carers stay in is now designated as a spare bedroom with a charge of £14 a week. 

These stories of real people in our country were of course described in a debate called by Labour about the effects of the bedroom tax. If we win the next election we will scrap the bedroom tax but on November 12 we gave all MPs the chance to vote to end the misery being caused to people across the country right now. 

Labour called the debate in order to bring the Government to their senses and to ask MPs from all parties to consult their consciences and their constituents and call a halt to the havoc this heartless policy has unleashed. 

In particular, we hoped that Lib Dem MPs would vote with us but sadly, 31 Lib Dem MPs voted to keep the bedroom tax and voted with their Conservative partners in government. They included Southport’s Lib Dem MP, John Pugh, who sadly ignored the effect of the bedroom tax on hundreds of his disabled constituents and on hundreds of children. 

In Southport, 1,292 households are hit by the bedroom tax, according to the House of Commons Library and they have to pay £568 extra a year for one spare bedroom and £1,014 for two spare rooms, which for disabled people with no chance of working is of course completely impossible. And for people on zero hour contracts or minimum wage part time jobs with no opportunity for extra hours this is almost impossible as well. 

In my constituency of Sefton Central, 1,091 households and in Bootle 1,343 households have to pay the bedroom tax. 

Over 400,000 disabled people are having to pay the bedroom tax, whether they have dialysis equipment which needs somewhere for storage or whether they need a carer to stay overnight or whether their partner has to sleep in another room. 

And nearly as many children are affected by the bedroom tax as their parents and carers have to pay for them to have their own room. And  remember that the same government that says that teenagers must share a room or their parents must pay the bedroom tax also says children should have their own room so that they can do their homework in peace. 

I think they call that double speak but it certainly isn’t in the interest of the children in our poorest families.

The bedroom tax was supposed to help with overcrowding by moving people from homes with spare rooms to smaller properties so that people who needed more space could move into bigger properties. Yet across Merseyside this is not the case. 

There are now no empty three bedroom houses and two bedroom flats in some places. 

Meanwhile, in Sefton alone, there are 4,963 people waiting for a one bed flat or bungalow with just 10, yes 10, available. 

The bedroom tax doesn’t help with overcrowding because the overcrowding is in a different part of the country from the so-called under-occupancy. And it won’t save money either because already housing associations are having to evict tenants who cannot pay the tax, so the tax is not being collected. And once evicted, the families made homeless by this government have to be re-housed in the private sector in temporary accommodation that costs far more than the homes they have left.

The bedroom tax doesn’t work but it is also cruel and unfair. 

It targets the poorest in our country. It hits disabled people and children. And it is causing misery. 

Shame on the Tories and on the Lib Dems for supporting such a vicious attack on vulnerable people. 

Labour will scrap the tax and we will scrap it the day we are elected to government.


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