Bedroom tax 'shocking' - UN probe
The Government's so-called "bedroom tax" is a "shocking" policy in need of being scrapped, an international investigator has said.
A United Nations official charged with examining the policy - introduced earlier this year to reduce the number of social tenants under-occupying their accommodation - said anecdotal evidence during her fact-finding visit to Britain has raised concerns about the happiness of those affected by the welfare reform measure.
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Raquel Rolnik said Britain was failing to provide sufficient quantities of affordable social housing.
She said: "My immediate recommendation is that the bedroom tax is abolished.
"I was very shocked to hear how many people feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why - being so vulnerable - they should pay for the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis."
Under the Government's welfare reform, social tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need have had their housing benefit reduced since April.
Ministers say it tackles an unfair ''spare room subsidy'' not available to private-sector renters and suggest it will save around £500 million annually as part of the deficit-reduction strategy.
But it has sparked protests across the country with critics claiming it is forcing families into poverty and will increase the benefit bill by pushing people into the private sector.
Ms Rolnik's unprecedented visit - at the invitation of the Government - has taken in trips to London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Manchester where she has spoken to people on housing estates and at food banks.
She told the Guardian some tenants were contemplating suicide due to the changes, adding that the bedroom tax could constitute a breach of human rights laws.
Ms Rolnik's final report will be presented in Geneva to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2014.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "It is surprising to see these conclusions being drawn from anecdotal evidence and conversations after a handful of meetings - instead of actual hard research and data.
"Britain has a very strong housing safety net and even after our necessary reforms we continue to pay over 80% of most claimants' rent if they are affected by the ending of the spare room subsidy.
"These changes will help us get to grips with the housing benefit bill which has grown to £24 billion this year, and make better use of our housing stock. We've given councils £190 million to support vulnerable residents who may need extra help."