New figures have sparked fury from MPs who say the government knew a chronic shortage of housing would leave families unfairly losing money
MP Ian Lavery
Tens of thousands of people across the North were already waiting to downsizebefore the bedroom tax came into force, The Sunday Sun can reveal.
Almost 40,000 households across the North of England were on the waiting list for one-bedroom social homes just as the so-called Bedroom Tax came into force - half the total number of households on the list.
It compares with just 22% of households on the waiting list who were hoping for a social home with more than four bedrooms.
The controversial tax, which has reduced housing benefit available to families deemed to have extra bedrooms, was brought in by the coalition in April 2013.
Opponents warned at the time that people had ‘spare’ bedrooms only because of a lack of available smaller properties following years of councils selling off their social housing stock.
Now, figures obtained by the Sunday Sun reveal a chronic shortage of smaller homes in the North of England leaving thousands of households unable to move out of larger homes.
Meanwhile, they continue to be hit with cuts to their housing benefits despite major opposition to the policy.
Labour MPs across the North have reacted with fury at the figures, which they say highlight their concerns that thousands have been unfairly hit with the “pernicious” and “ideological” bedroom tax thanks to government failure to build enough homes.
Among them, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery slammed the bedroom tax which he claimed was making the most vulnerable pay for the shortage of housing across the region.
He told The Sunday Sun: “It’s a complete and utter bottleneck where families can not move because the homes are not available. They are then subject to this pernicious tax while they are struggling to make ends meet at this moment in time anyway.
“The government knew the consequences of this. They did understand and they still pushed ahead with this. The election can not come quick enough for these people.”
And Blaydon MP Dave Anderson said the figures dispel a myth about people who are being hit by the bedroom tax.
He said: “This blows the myth out of the water and Labour will be rid of it. It was a pretence and a myth right down the lines about people having too many bedrooms.
“There simply aren’t enough one-bedroom properties for people to move into. It’s nonsense. These are people, human beings in houses they have been living in 40 years. We’re talking about them as if they’re subhumans. It’s a disgrace.”
And Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, who was housing and planning minister from 2007 to 2009, said that housing supply had failed to keep up with a changing society that was seeing an aging population with more people moving to one-bedroom properties as partners passed away and children left home.
But he denied that Labour had been part of the problem or that they too had failed to ensure enough homes were built.
He said: “I would strongly disagree with that. We knew in full terms about the changing society. That’s why we needed to build more homes because we understand people are living longer and more people are living in one-person households.
“This government will have been aware of that too, and yet they still impose this grossly unfair tax. They know they don’t have the properties, they knew all along the difficulties this would” cause.”
And he added: “Where are the priorities with this government? It is not with people in the North who are suffering with housing problems. It’s about indifference - they don’t care about communities in Hartlepool.”
But a government spokesperson said the government was committed to building new homes across England and claimed ending the spare room subsidy had been a “necessary” move.
She added: “Nearly 217,000 affordable homes have been delivered in England since April 2010. Our affordable homes programme is on track to deliver 170,000 new affordable homes between 2011 and 2015, with £19.5 billion of public and private funding.
“We have also given the North East of England £13.8m since 2013 to support vulnerable people affected by welfare reforms and there has been a 12% fall in the number of people in the North East affected by the policy, as tenants take action.
“Ending the spare room subsidy was absolutely necessary to get the soaring housing benefit bill under control, return fairness to the system and make better use of social housing stock.
“Every day the policy saves taxpayers over £1m.”
The North MPs were joined in their criticism by Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, and Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland. All five reiterated Labour’s pledge to abolish the bedroom tax if they win this year’s election.
The party became one step closer to delivering the promise in September 2014, when Labour and the Liberal Democrats came together to voted in favour of a bill brought in by Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George.
If passed, it will mean the bedroom tax will not apply unless a tenant has been offered a different property and has refused to move.
But prime minister David Cameron has shown no sign of revoking the policy, while a government spokesperson said it was saving the taxpayer £1m every day.