UK Politics

Brick up spare rooms, urges Labour MP Frank Field

Senior Labour MP Frank Field has urged landlords to take "direct action" against housing benefit changes.

The government wants to end what it calls the "spare room subsidy" for social tenants, but critics have dubbed the move a "bedroom tax".

In a Westminster debate, Mr Field said landlords should "brick up" doors and "knock down the walls" in defiance.

He called the change "grossly unfair", but ministers say it is necessary to free up housing stock and cut waste.

From 1 April, changes to housing benefit affecting working-age social housing tenants deemed to have spare bedrooms will mean a 14% cut for those with one extra room and of 25% for those with two or more.

Mr Field, a former welfare minister who represents Birkenhead in Merseyside, said during a debate in Westminster Hall: "It unfairly affects constituencies in the North West.

"I've been in the House over three decades. I've witnessed many so-called welfare reform measures. I have not ever witnessed a measure which is so grossly unfair as this measure is.

"This is about a supply-side issue, but we are trying to control the demand of people on low income to fit on with the regimented holes in which the government would like to fit them."

Nine Years War

Mr Field added: "I feel so strongly about what the government is doing to constituents and similarly placed constituents around the country that I make a call to landlords - both social housing landlords and to housing association landlords - to defy this act by not only not operating it but to do as landlords did after the Nine Years War [in the late 17th Century], when the government similarly stretched for money imposed a window tax.

"They bricked up those windows. I hope landlords will brick up the doors to spare bedrooms and, where appropriate, they will knock the walls down of spare bedrooms, so that the properties fit the tenants - safely, one hopes - of the tenants thereby.

"I've never, ever, ever asked for direct action before. I do so this afternoon because I feel this measure is so grossly unfair."

Mr Field also said the police feared that the housing benefit change would encourage landlords to make up the difference by letting out their spare room to grow cannabis.

The government says it wants to bring social housing tenants in line with its provision in the private sector, where size criteria already apply.

Intended to reduce a £21bn annual housing benefit bill, the measure is also aimed at encouraging greater mobility in the social rented sector, it adds.

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