AN IRISH campaigner has backed international calls for the British Government to scrap it’s so called ‘bedroom tax’ because of its ‘disproportionate’ impact on disabled people.
Athlone-native Andy Greene is a leading member of British lobby group Disabled People Against Cuts, formed to support disabled people across the country who have fallen victim to the austerity measures.
“Britain must stop penalising people for having extra rooms they use to meet assessed needs,” he told The Irish Post.
The campaigner believes the United Nation’s housing investigator was right to point out the “disturbing” effects of the controversial policy – which he feels disproportionately affects the disabled – in a statement issued a fortnight ago.
“You cannot deny that when two third of people affected are disabled people, that this is not discriminating against disabled people,” he added.
Council housing tenants deemed to be living in larger properties than they need receive a cut in their housing benefit under the Government’s spare room reforms.
“People are now faced with a choice of dipping into their often meagre incomes to pay rent or feed themselves,” Mr Greene said.
“They run the risk of having legal action taken against them and eventually being made homeless, or being moved into smaller and often inadequate houses,” he added.
Campaigners argue that in a large number of cases, disabled people need extra rooms to store wheelchairs and medical equipment.
In recent weeks Raquel Rolnik, the UN’s special investigator on housing, said she was disturbed to learn how hard the bedroom tax is hitting the “most fragile” members of British society.
“People in testimonies were crying, saying ‘I have nowhere to go’, ‘I will commit suicide’,” she added.
Ms Rolnik, who spoke to dozens of people affected by the policy across Britain and the North of Ireland, concluded the policy could be violating human rights and should be abolished.
According to the Government’s own estimates, two thirds of households affected by the bedroom tax include a disabled person.
No official figures exist for the impact of the policy on the Irish community; however The Irish Post revealed earlier this month that the Irish claim more disability benefits in Britain than nationals of any other country except Pakistan.
Mr Greene said the Irish are also well-represented in the Disabled People Against Cuts organisation, accounting for a quarter of its steering group.
Responding to the UN statement, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Britain has a very strong housing safety net and even after our necessary reforms we continue to pay over 80 per cent of most claimants’ rent if they are affected by the ending of the spare room subsidy.”
Ministers estimate the average household affected by the cut will lose £14 a week and argue that those renting in the private sector do not get spare rooms for free.