'Bedroom tax could be the new poll tax'
PROTESTERS turned out to a rally on College Green to show their opposition to the Government's so-called bedroom tax.
About 200 Labour politicians and anti-cuts campaigners attended the demonstration to oppose the controversial tax, which will target benefit claimants deemed to have spare bedrooms.
Campaigners held aloft placards stating 'No to the bedroom tax' and 'Fight the cuts' during the one-hour rally on Saturday lunchtime, part of a national day of action.
Drivers travelling along Park Street beeped their horns in support of the demonstration as speakers including prospective Labour MP for Bristol West Thangam Debbonaire, Labour city councillor Ron Stone and Bristol East MP Kerry McCarthy addressed the crowd.
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The city council has released figures which show that an estimated 4,714 households will be affected by the tax in Bristol from next month.
In Bristol, Labour says council tenants with one spare bedroom will lose £11 a week and for those in low rent housing association accommodation, £16.64.
Council tenants with two spare bedrooms would lose £21 a week and housing association tenants, £29.27 a week.
The worst-hit ward in the city will be Lawrence Hill where 460 households will be affected and who will lose an average £728 a year in benefits.
The rally's organiser Ms Debbonaire has called for the bedroom tax to be repealed, suggesting it should be replaced by a mansion tax.
She said: "Members of the public have been saying they are concerned and are beginning to see the tax is really nasty and will affect people who are already vulnerable.
"This is coming in the same week millionaires are getting a £40,000 tax break. If the Government wants a tax, they could have a mansion tax – let's have a tax on people who can actually afford it rather than on those who can't."
Ms Debbonaire said the tax could affect disabled people who use a spare room to store mobility aids, those who have a spare room to accommodate a carer and families with students away studying at university who return home during the holidays.
She said: "I have spoken to people who have been affected directly, they are in debt and low-paid families in part-time or low-paid work and just getting by at the moment."
Ms Debbonaire said any housing benefit reform should be targeted at private landlords providing substandard housing at "astronomical" prices, by placing a cap on rental charges.
Robin Clapp, assistant secretary of the Bristol Anti-Cuts Alliance, said he could see parallels between the bedroom tax protest and the protests against the poll tax in the 1990s.
He said: "This tax has the potential to be the new poll tax and we will take action against those who stigmatise poor people and take them out of their homes.
"There are 100 protests taking place including in places like Tiverton in Devon, where very little usually happens. This tax has sparked people who have noticed the great unfairness in it."
Addressing the crowd over a megaphone, Laura Weltie, of the Bristol Disability Equality Forum, said: "It doesn't matter who you support, what we need to do is say this is too much and we are not going to have two per cent of the population taking 15 per cent of the brunt of the cuts."
Labour city councillor Mr Stone told the protest that it was essential that more homes were built in Bristol to tackle the council's 16,000-strong housing waiting list.
He suggested solving the housing crisis by tapping into the city council's pension fund which was currently valued at £2.2 billion.