Imagine receiving a letter telling you that you will have to pay a £670 penalty every year - simply because you have a spare room in the home you’ve lived in for years.
Now, imagine you are already struggling to make ends meet and in risk of sliding into debt.
This ‘fine’ will leave you with a horrible decision to make: to stay put and live in hardship, or move out of your home and attempt to find a cheaper place to live, away from your support networks, your family, your children’s school.
This is the harsh reality facing over 670,000 social housing tenants in Britain. The government claims docking housing benefit for anyone deemed to be ‘under occupying’ their homes will help free up bigger properties for families stuck on waiting lists.
But the argument is deeply flawed. It assumes there are a large number of smaller homes for people to move into.
They aren’t. An analysis by the Federation found 180,000 social tenants in England were ‘under occupying’ two-bedroom homes, but only 68,230 one bedroom homes became available for letting in 2009-10. Where are they meant to go?
To make this punitive and poorly targeted measure even more unpalatable is the fact that two thirds of those affected will be disabled people.
Around 50,000 families in Britain will also lose nearly £5,000 on average a year when a benefit cap is introduced in 2013. The measure risks uprooting families from their communities or pushing them into debt, arrears or homelessness.
It takes no account of the significant variations in income and housing costs across the county and therefore excessively penalises households living in regions with higher than average rents.
We believe these reforms will be hugely damaging to community life and will see people priced out of their homes, away from local schools, and their support networks.
But we don’t accept that this is a done deal yet. Far from it when so much is at stake. That’s why housing associations, tenants, charities and individuals all across Britain have joined forces to take part in our Welfare Action Week (October 10-16).
The grassroots campaign will see local people contacting their local MPs, meeting their local MPs and demanding action from their local MPs.
Some are organising petitions and awareness events, while others are planning to take their protests directly to Westminster – with tenants leading the way.
Social media will also play a key role in spreading the word and Tweeting MPs should expect to hear plenty more about Welfare Action Week very soon.
But we know that the reality is that time is running out in which we can influence ministers. This week is the chance for anyone who is concerned about these proposals to stand up and be counted before it’s too late.
So please get involved and let your MP and the Welfare Minister know just how damaging these welfare reforms could be for some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people.