New 'bedroom tax' will affect 30,000 people in Devon and Cornwall
People in the South West hit by the so-called "bedroom tax" will lose around £780 a year – the biggest reduction outside of London.
The Government's impact assessment of the penalty levied on people on housing benefit if they have a spare room will affect around 30,000 people in the wider South West.
They will each be stripped of £15 a week on average – the same as residents in the South East and East.
Only people residing in London will be hit harder – losing £21 a week or £1,092 a year on average.
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Labour MP and former South West Minister Ben Bradshaw hit out at the policy that will mean people looking after disabled family members will be hit but those with a relative in jail will not. But Westcountry Conservative MP Mel Stride said the under-occupancy penalty was justified as housing benefit costs "spiralled" when Labour was in charge.
Labour yesterday launched its campaign against the legislation – which will come into force in April at the same time as the Government is giving 13,000 millionaires a tax cut worth £100,000 a year, the party says.
Under the Government's proposals, people in social housing will receive a cut in housing benefit where they are deemed to have spare bedrooms.
Ministers hotly dispute the term "bedroom tax" – arguing it is not a "tax" but a partial withdrawal of a state hand-out.
The Government figures, which have only recently emerged, are the only official estimates of how the region will be affected.
Previously, the National Housing Federation calculated 9,230 households in Devon and Cornwall will be subject to an under-occupation penalty.
Mr Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, said: "People with a disabled or sick family member or a son or daughter serving in the armed forces will be penalised but those with one in jail will not.
"In most places, including Exeter, there is simply not enough smaller social housing properties for people to move to, so they'll be forced to pay the extra when their budgets are already extremely stretched."
But Mr Stride, Conservative MP for Central Devon, said: "This is not a 'tax' but the removal of benefits for excess rooms that others on the housing waiting list are desperate for. It is also a recognition that housing benefit costs under Labour spiralled out of control."
In the Commons yesterday, Education Secretary Michael Gove branded Labour a "crew of socialist wreckers" as he issued a staunch defence of the plan.
Mr Gove maintained the move was "timely and necessary action" to deal with "out of control" welfare bills.
He claimed that while in power Labour introduced "no effective" welfare reform policies.
His comments came after Labour's Helen Goodman argued separated parents would be penalised by the policy.
Speaking during Commons education questions, she said: "The 'bedroom tax' will penalise non-resident parents who keep a room so their children can come and stay with them on a regular basis."