UN investigator Raquel Rolnik calls for Government's 'bedroom tax' to be axed

Raquel Rolnik, a former urban planning minister in Brazil, visited council estates, food banks and homelessness crisis centres in various parts of the UK

A United Nations special investigator called yesterday for the new 'bedroom tax' to be abolished, after hearing it was pushing some of the most vulnerable people in Britain to the point of despair and even suicide.

Raquel Rolnik, the UN special rapporteur on housing and a former urban planning minister in Brazil, visited council estates, food banks and homelessness crisis centres in various parts of the UK including London, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast.

She said she was “very shocked” at the effect of the spare room subsidy, or bedroom tax as opponents have described it.

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 suggest it will save around £500 million annually as part of the deficit-reduction strategy.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes housing as part of the “right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family”.

In an interview with The Guardian, Rolnik said “the most vulnerable, the most fragile, the people who are on the fringes of coping with everyday life” were being hit hard by the policy.

“My immediate recommendation is that the bedroom tax is abolished,” she said.

“I was very shocked to hear how people really 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.

"People in testimonies were crying, saying 'I have nowhere to go', 'I will commit suicide'".

Rolnik said the UK had "much to be proud of in the provision of affordable housing" but it was ”going backwards in the protection and promotion of the human right to housing“.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said it was ”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 per cent of most claimants' rent if they are affected by the ending of the spare room subsidy," the spokesman added.

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