Andrew Smith MP

On your side in Oxford East

Coalition's overhaul of the welfare system

OXFORDSHIRE_G_2013.jpgThe coalition's overhaul of the welfare system is plunging thousands of vulnerable people into poverty.

In April the new 'spare bedroom tax' comes into force, meaning many families on low earnings will be faced with a choice -- try to move to a smaller home or pay a price.

A large number of constituents have got in touch with me to voice their concerns about the tax, and rightly so.

The move to dock benefits for tenants in social housing with spare rooms will affect one in five recipients in Oxford, who will lose an average of £15 per week. As a result, individuals and families on tight budgets will have to make them stretch even further, or find somewhere else to live. This isn't easy, especially with the chronic shortage of social housing.

In many cases, tenants have very good reasons for having a spare room. They might be parents who share the care of bringing up their children and see them only at weekends, parents whose children visit but are not part of the household, or they may keep a spare room because of disability support needs . This is all going to inflict a lot of pain, for not much gain for the public purse.

On top of that, funding for council tax benefit has been slashed by ten per cent. The government has shifted responsibility to local councils, which all across the country are having to face tough decisions. Oxford City Council has had to juggle its budget to reduce the impact, but with all the government cuts they may not be able to keep this up for year after year .

There is already huge pressure on families with low incomes in Oxford, where housing costs typically account for well over half average earnings. Rising costs of food and fuel are making things harder, and even without the cuts vulnerable people are struggling to cope. There is the risk of more families succumbing to payday lenders or loan sharks to make up the shortfall, increasing poverty and homelessness.

At a time when the highest paid are getting a big tax cut, this is an unfair and damaging blow from the Conservatives and Lib-Dems on people on lower incomes. Many feel, and with justification, that the cuts to welfare spending have all the unfairness which was the hallmark of the poll tax.

These are tough economic times but it is not right that the most vulnerable are hit the hardest -- yet again the government is failing in its duty to protect those in need.

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