Former Gateshead MP Baroness Quin has told the House of Lords of the pain of bedroom tax for North East families.
The Labour politician introduced a debate on the controversial policy which sees families charged for having extra bedrooms in council properties.
She labelled the policy “indefensible” and vowed to keep criticising it until “the Government see the error of their ways.”
Baroness Quin, former prisons minister, Minister for Europe and junior agriculture minister, told peers: “My Lords, I am pleased to be introducing this debate and delighted that it has attracted a good number of speakers. I am delighted but not surprised because the crisis in housing and the effects of the bedroom tax in particular have been raised repeatedly in this House in recent weeks and months.
“The bedroom tax... given its pernicious effects, needs to be aired at every opportunity until, hopefully, the Government see the error of their ways.
“However it is important to set the bedroom tax within the wider housing and economic context. For example, it needs to be set against the overall and desperate shortage of affordable homes.
“It also needs to be set against the problems in the private rented sector at a time when private rents are soaring and there is a crying need for the sector to be better regulated.”
She cited Shelter figures which show the number of families who live in emergency bed-and-breakfast accommodation is now at its highest for nearly 10 years and homelessness is increasing.
“We know that the Government’s thinking behind introducing the tax was the need, as they saw it, to free up housing to allow those in overcrowded accommodation to find suitable homes,” she told the Lords.
“However, the problem was that there was a complete mismatch between the areas of the country where there was overcrowding and those areas where there was underoccupancy, so that this often quoted overall figure was largely meaningless and misleading.
“For example, the National Housing Federation pointed out from the outset that in the north of England—in the regions of the North East, Yorkshire and Humberside, and the North West—families affected by the bedroom tax outnumbered overcrowded families by 3:1.
“Examples have flooded in from around the country about the lack of smaller properties available to those who, designated as underoccupying, signified their willingness to move.
“Of course, there is the clear unjustness of a situation where people who are willing to downsize but cannot find alternative accommodation still have to pay the tax.
“There is much distressing evidence of those in arrears for the first time as a result of the introduction of the bedroom tax. Many of those people, who have previously been able to meet their bills, are I think horrified and traumatised to find themselves in an upsetting and unfamiliar situation. The sum involved in the reduction in benefit can mean the difference between keeping your head above water and sinking below the poverty line.
“All benefit and welfare changes are complicated, as we know, simply because of the variety of individual circumstances involved, but in this case the complexity seems to have turned into a nightmare.
“I was delighted when my party’s leadership gave a firm commitment to repealing this tax. I call on the Government now to follow suit before even more hardship and misery are caused as a result.”