HUNDREDS of people are expected to gather in Chester city centre to protest against the Government’s so-called ‘bedroom tax’.
Campaigners, trade unionists and Labour party members are planning to gather at The Cross between 1pm and 3pm on Saturday as part of a national day of action.
Protesters claim nearly 2,000 households in Chester and Ellesmere Port will be hit by the charge and could be left struggling to pay their rent.
They will be giving out information about the impact of the Government’s controversial welfare reforms and telling people where they can find help if they are affected.
Protesters will also be collecting signatures on petitions calling on housing associations not to evict tenants who can’t pay their rent because of the ‘bedroom tax’.
Ray McHale, one of the organisers and vice chairman of West Cheshire Trade Union Council, said: “While the idea of encouraging people to downsize clearly has merits, the approach of the Government ignores the reality of the situation, where most social landlords simply do not have anywhere near enough smaller property for people to move into.
“Those who move to smaller private-sector rented property are likely to see the cost of their housing benefit increase, not fall.
“There are no incentives being offered to move – which would help meet the cost of removal and redecoration, and could also be offered to pensioners.
“In reality most people will be stuck simply having to find the extra money – which is why it is being called a ‘bedroom tax’.”
Ministers say the introduction of an ‘under-occupancy charge’ will help cut the welfare bill and ease the burden on taxpayers.
From next month, tenants deemed as having spare bedrooms will see benefits cut by about £13 per week for one extra room.
Saturday’s protest was organised at the first meeting of the new Chester Benefits Justice Campaign and further demonstrations are planned.
Richard Atkinson, a former benefits advisor and founder of the Benefits Justice Campaign, said: “A very large proportion of people affected by this benefit cut are people with disabilities.
“Yet the Government refuses to exempt disabled people or people with disabled children who clearly need their own room from their draconian method of calculating entitlement.
“Instead they are directed to the local council to seek discretionary payments.
“Many live in properties that have been adapted, at taxpayers’ expense, but they are being expected to move to smaller property, and to then have the new property adapted – again at extra cost.
“This is economic madness.”