A mother from Plymouth who had to move house after the introduction of the controversial “bedroom tax” says the policy has ripped her family apart.
The Government’s divisive measure, introduced a year ago, was designed to crack down on the number of people renting social housing properties with a spare bedroom, by cutting their benefits.
More than 1,000 tenants in Plymouth were hit by the move, and many say they are still feeling the effects 12 months on.
Valerie Johnson, 54, lived in a three-bedroom maisonette run by Plymouth Community Homes with her teenage son Tyler.
When the bedroom tax was introduced she started losing £11 a week from her housing benefit, which caused a significant shortfall in her finances.
“It was a real struggle,” she says now. “I thought I could cope, but it was awful. At the time my son was going through college and he needed fees paying.
“It was neighbours and friends that were feeding me really. They were wonderful, they never asked for their money back.”
Mrs Johnson was forced to visit food banks and cut down on essential supplies before she was downsized to a two-bedroom flat in West Park in June.
“I was fortunate that they moved me, but I felt as though the choice of moving when I wanted to was taken away from me,” she says. “The Government imposed this on me.
I had to move, and it was a big wrench.”
Mrs Johnson suffers from Myasthenia Gravis, a muscular disease causing fatigue and partial paralysis. Her daughter Lorraine, now 33, used to care for her and would stay over in her spare bedroom three nights a week.
When Lorraine’s living arrangements fell through she wanted to move back home permanently – but Mrs Johnson had already downsized and no longer had a room to spare.
Lorraine could not afford to live in Plymouth so has relocated to St Helens in Merseyside, 280 miles away.
Meanwhile Tyler, 18, is considering whether to go to university or to take a gap year to stay at home and care for his mother.
“It has ripped my family apart,” Mrs Johnson says.
“That is what numbnuts David Cameron has done to us, not just me but thousands of other people.
“He just does not care about the people of the country.
“I can understand down-sizing, it is a good thing in that it allows other people to have places to live.
“But it’s the way he’s doing it. It’s barbaric.”
Mrs Johnson says she is still coming to terms with the lasting impact of the bedroom tax. “It has impacted my health, my finances and worst of all it’s split my family up,” she says. “The knock-on effects on my family are awful. If I’m like that, then thousands of others must be even worse. I’ve seen people like me forced to go to food banks for a tin of beans to feed their kids. It’s heartbreaking.
“One year into bedroom tax if I had one message, it would be ‘Just stop this policy now’.”
Sue Shaw, director of homes and neighbourhoods for Plymouth Community Homes, said: “The residents that we work with every day are strong, resilient people faced with an incredibly tough set of choices. We help enable them to make choices that will make the best of a very difficult situation.
“But our first year of bedroom tax has shown that our residents are suffering the impact very deeply, sometimes having to make a choice between heating or eating. That is not fair on anyone, least of all some of our most vulnerable communities.”