COUNCILLORS clashed during a fiery debate over the controversial “bedroom tax” proposals which have come in as part of a host of changes to the benefits system.
Sunderland City Council leader Paul Watson tabled a motion slamming the Coalition Government’s welfare reforms at a meeting of the full council which drew impassioned speeches.
Councillor Norma Wright said the Tories were “trying to kill us”, while Conservative leader Robert Oliver accused Labour of hypocrisy over the tax.
Before the meeting, activists from Sunderland Says No To The Bedroom Tax displayed banners outside the main chamber in a bid to encourage councillors to speak out against the plans.
A spokesman for the group told the Echo: “For certain sections of the community it will be devastating and it will destroy people’s lives.
“The poorest families in Sunderland will be devastated.
“People who have built up their lives surrounded by friends and family could be forced to move to places where they have no support and linked with other benefits being cut.
“It will make some of these people’s lives a nightmare.”
Councillor Richard Bell told the chamber his Redhill ward would be hit harder than anywhere else in the city, with figures suggesting more than 400 homes – one 12th – will be affected by the proposals.
“What it is doing is hitting people living in socially-rented properties and this Tory government is not living in socially-rented properties,” he said.
Coun Watson called on Conservatives in the city to speak out in support of residents, but Coun Oliver defended the plans.
“A spare room charge was proposed by the last Labour Government who, leaving a large deficit to pay down, made reductions in welfare unavoidable,” he said.
“Under the proposals no one has to move home and there are many exemptions, along with millions of pounds of funding for councils to protect the most needy.
“As more than three thousand dwellings have been cleared by Gentoo, there is a need for accelerated house building in the city which was the focus of the recent budget.
“This, the reinvigoration of the right to buy and help with first-time mortgages, is offering people in Sunderland a helping hand to get on to the property ladder.”
From mid-April, the Government will cap the amount of benefit working-age people can receive. A new benefit called the Personal Independence Payment has been introduced for people of working age to replace Disability Living Allowance.
The system of Council Tax Benefit will be taken over by councils, which will design their own systems via council tax support schemes, and working-age benefits and tax credits are to be replaced by universal credit.