Government urged to abandon 'bedroom tax'

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Peers have urged the government to abandon its policy to reduce housing benefit for those with extra bedrooms, following the death of a woman who left a note saying she could not "cope" anymore and was worried about paying an extra £20 a week.

During oral questions on 15 May 2013, Labour peer Lord Tomlinson asked the government: "How many people would have to commit suicide before it decided the policy was wrong?"

Government changes, which came into effect in April, mean families deemed to have more living space than they need are seeing their housing benefits reduced.

Work and Pensions Minister Lords Freud said that it was "a very sad case... but it was for the relevant authorities to investigate". Earlier, he highlighted "discretionary housing payments", which could be paid by local authorities in difficult cases.

Labour's Baroness Quin said families and individuals were coming under "financial hardships and emotional pressure", and in light of "a recent case with a tragic outcome" she urged the government to "reconsider and abandon this tax".

Stephanie Bottrill, 53, from Solihull in the West Midlands, died in the early hours of 4 May after being hit by a lorry on the M6 near her home.

Her family said she had been worried about how she would afford an extra £20 a week as a result of changes to her housing benefit.

Liberal Democrat Lord German commended the exemption for disabled children who were unable to share a bedroom from the changes, and asked if this would be extended to disabled adults who were unable to share a bedroom.

Lord Freud told him: "We think there is a difference between disabled children and disabled adults. Disabled children cannot know whether they pose a risk to themselves or another child whereas adults and couples are able to exercise choice in how they run their lives."

Subjects covered also included: UK aid to India; financial support for developing countries in 2013-14, and emergency call responses.

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