Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

South London Press Column - 29/03/13

Social housing tenants in Southwark are going to be hit really hard by the ‘bedroom tax’ when it comes in next week. Anyone living in a council or housing association property is going to find that their housing benefit will be cut if they have a spare room. This will hit 4,716 households in Southwark and 2,363 in my constituency of Camberwell and Peckham - just over half of all homes targeted in Southwark.

When these homes are first allocated, no-one is given a spare room. These are people who find themselves with an extra room because of a change in circumstances – often caused by bereavement. So through no fault of their own, they will now find themselves worse off.

The Government says this will deal with the problem of under occupancy but it won’t because there simply aren’t enough properties to move to. Southwark has up to 20,000 people on the housing waiting list and over 30,000 overcrowded households. Even the Government admits it doesn’t know what effect these changes will have on individuals or the housing supply.

They also don’t understand how disruptive it will be to make people move when their roots are in local communities close to friends, family and schools.

Even small reductions in housing benefit can have a huge impact on the finances of the poorest people. What this means for families in Southwark is that if they have one spare room they will lose £765 a year, and if they have two or more, they’ll lose up to £1,045. This is a really big chunk of money for people who are already on low incomes and will have a big impact on their standard of living.

At the same time as the ‘bedroom tax’ comes in, the Government is giving a tax cut to millionaires and is introducing government backed mortgages for people to get a second home.

For many people, a spare room is not actually a spare room at all. Disabled people often need more space, or to sleep in a separate room from their partner. Divorced or separated parents that share childcare need bedrooms in both homes for their children. And grandparents who look after their grandchildren need somewhere for them to stay.

As Southwark MP’s, Tessa Jowell and I voted against the ‘bedroom tax’ because we know it’s going to make some of the poorest people in our constituencies even poorer. The only reason it was voted through is because Simon Hughes supported it and did not vote against it even though it will have a huge impact in Southwark.

People only get housing benefit if they are on a low income and without the flexibility to move, people will have no choice but to pay. That’s why it’s called the ‘bedroom tax’. The truth is this policy will not solve the problem of under-occupation unless there are places for people to move to. What it will do is save public money by making people on low incomes worse off.

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