Hull unites to support families hit by 'bedroom tax' benefit cuts
Hull's leaders are uniting to offer help to low-income families facing benefits cuts under the so-called "bedroom tax".
Thousands of households in council and housing association properties across Hull will see their benefits reduced by up to 25 per cent from next month because they have been classed as having spare bedrooms.
It means they will all have to pay higher rents.
Unemployed Brian Allen, 53, of River Grove, west Hull, is just one wondering how he will cope.
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He currently lives on £71-a-week Jobseekers' Allowance but faces having to pay £19.80-a- week towards his rent from April 1, because he lives alone in a three-bed council house.
"To save money I don't usually have the heating on and don't use the hot water much," he said.
"I get by on eating basic food, looking for offers like three tins of beans for £1 or two loaves of bread for £1.
"Once I've paid the bills and bought my food, there's not a lot left so I am going to really struggle."
When he moved into the house 13 years ago he was living with his now ex-partner and their two children.
His daughter Joanne, 26, died two years ago from pneumonia and her ashes are scattered in his back garden.
Mr Allen, who last worked as a binman on a one-year training contract, said: "It's not that I don't want to work, but trying to get a job with decent hours is very hard.
"I'm at the job club twice a week and I've got an interview next week so I'm keeping my fingers crossed but this bedroom tax just seems wrong. It almost makes me feel guilty for being unemployed."
He said moving to a smaller council property was not an option,
"For a start, there aren't any and even if there were I would have to pay to change certain things, like new flooring and removing the fishpond I've built in the garden here .
"That all costs money, which I don't have.
"There's also a little memorial area for Jo where her ashes are scattered.
"She grew up here before moving in with her boyfriend just round the corner from here.
"It would be very hard to leave that behind.
"When we moved here, the house was full. Things change in life, kids grow up, people split up, but it's still a home. Now I'm getting penalised for that."
Campaigners claim the Government welfare reform is unfairly penalising people who cannot downsize because of a shortage of smaller social housing properties.
There are currently about 70 one-bed council homes available in Hull.
Now the city's MPs are joining forces with church leaders, charities, social enterprise bodies and Hull City Council to launch a one-stop support service.
Hull West and Hessle MP Alan Johnson said: "The idea for this started when the Bishop of Hull contacted me to ask if there was anything the church could do locally to help.
"Most of the people facing these cuts are in a very vulnerable position, either financially or from a health point of view.
"Because there just aren't enough smaller properties to move into, they don't really have a choice in this.
"That's why I think it's right to call it a tax."
Mr Johnson said a co-ordinated approach to helping people facing financial hardship was one of way of responding to the issue.
"By the churches, charities, social enterprises and the council working together on this, we can identify the people most in need and then give practical help, whether it's through advice and support on jobs and training or access to a local food band," he said.
"Make no mistake, the impact on the working poor of Hull is going to be significant, whether it's through the bedroom tax, the changes in council tax payments and universal credit or the new disability benefits system being introduced later this year.
"It seems the Government is slowly waking up to some of the consequences of these reforms if the number of U-turns we are seeing on aspects of the bedroom tax are anything to go by.
"However, it's not clear how some of these U-turns will work out in practice and we are only a couple of weeks away from its introduction."
Mr Johnson said the city council had agreed to administer the proposed new service with regular meetings planned involving representatives from each organisation.
"It needs to be joined-up, co-ordinated effort," said Mr Johnson.