Bedroom tax proves Tory taste for ‘unnecessary cruelty’, claims Oldham MP Michael Meacher

Bedroom tax is a ‘punitive and discriminatory’ policy from a ‘cruel’ Government, claims Oldham MP Michael Meacher in an explosive post on his blog.

The Labour representative attacked the Conservatives for ‘burying bad news’ as they released figures on the first few months of the tax on the same day as Prime Minister David Cameron shuffled his pack to bring more women into Cabinet.

With the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) bill also announced that day, Mr Meacher insists the Government were taking the focus away from the tax that he believes has failed to tackle overcrowding.

“This policy is unsuccessful in meeting its stated objective, is punitive and discriminatory, and says a lot about the Tory penchant for gratuitous harshness and unnecessary cruelty,” said Mr Meacher.

“Having built up an enormous fanfare to the elevation of women in the reshuffle which captivated the headlines, the Tories then used this cover to distract from two very unpleasant news items they dealt with on that same day.”

Brought into force on April 1 2013, the Welfare Reform Act 2012, popularly dubbed the bedroom tax, aimed to tackle overcrowding.

The move saw benefits for tenants in social housing fall 14% if they have a spare bedroom or 25% if they have two or more.

It is expected that two children under-16 of same gender in hard-up families are expected to share one bedroom as are two children under 10, regardless of gender.

Estimates suggested that the £23billion housing benefit bill would be slashed by £930million in just two years and 300,000 people living in overcrowded accommodation would be helped by the introduction of the policy.

But Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) research into the first six months of the policy, up to September 30 last year, suggested that it had the opposite effect, according to Mr Meacher.

And new research suggests that using the DWP’s own model, the real savings may be little more than 60% of what was projected.

The figures showed that out of 523,000 tenants targeted by the bedroom tax, 319,000 were unable to meet the housing benefit cutbacks of either £14 or £22-a-week. 

A fellow 400,000 people told the DWP that they had been forced to cut back on food and energy, or had to run up debts with friends or payday lenders in order to meet rent payments.

And there was no respite for those who chose to downsize their property as only 4.5% of tenants had been able to move to a smaller home, with a shortage of available housing allegedly the cause.

And the Labour representative laid the blame at the door of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

“It has clearly not reduced overcrowding, but it has caused hardship on a far bigger scale than IDS ever admitted at the outset,” said Mr Meacher.

“The figures also reveal that the impact of the tax is set to intensify during this year.”

Mr Meacher claimed that the 35% of tenants targeted by the tax were issued with eviction warning letters last year and that the figure must be ‘significantly higher now’.

He also suggested that most landlords believed the tax would have’ little effect’ with more than 40% saying they had three-bed houses lying empty as a result of the bedroom tax.

A veteran politician, Mr Meacher has been outspoken on tax issues before, branding tax dodgers ‘a cancer’ and accusing them of making ‘monkeys’ out of the Government last year.

The 74-year-old was first elected in as Oldham West and Royton MP in 1970 – and also spent a total of 29 years on Labour’s front bench.

He was awarded a Freeman of the Borough award last year.

Image courtesy of Jeremy Sutcliffe, with thanks.

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