HUNDREDS of people around the region gathered this weekend to demonstrate against the controversial so-called bedroom tax.
Protests took place in Durham, Darlington, Newcastle and York, with many bearing homemade banners and signs to voice their opposition to the changes to housing benefit.
Dozens of protests took place around the UK, organised by campaign group Labour Left, against government plans to reduce housing benefits for anyone of working age living in social housing with spare bedrooms.
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The plans have sparked outrage among many people who say the reduction is unfair to the poorest in society.
More than 100 protesters gathered in Durham’s Market Place, where Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods, Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, and trade unionists spoke to the crowd.
Mr Morris described the Government’s decision to cut housing benefit for those deemed to have extra bedrooms as “perverse”, adding that the disabled and families with children would be hardest hit.
Some of the people who will be affected by the changes were given the chance to tell their story.
Val Hudson, chairman of Labour Left Durham Tees Valley, who organised the Durham event, said: “I just went into the crowd with a microphone and once one person had told their story others came forward.
“One lady who came from Easington had the crowd in tears with her story and there were so many others - young people, older people, people who care for someone else.
“We had a queue of people wanting to sign the petition against the bedroom tax. A lot of people won’t be directly affected, like me, but they just feel that it’s so wrong.”
In Darlington protesters marched through the town centre chanting ‘No way, can’t pay, won’t pay bedroom tax’.
Among the protesters was Joanna Adams, 40, from Darlington, who said she objected to the most vulnerable people in society being forced to pay extra during the financial crisis.
She added: “I don’t live in a council house but I’m here because I can see the effect on other people. It’s very distressing.”
Michelle Edwards, 41, from Hurworth, said: My partner and I are both disabled and we sometimes need to sleep in separate rooms, meaning they would lose out if the changes are brought in.
Darlington MP Jenny Chapman said: “It’s clear that there’s a lot of anger in Darlington about this tax. It’s unfair and it won’t solve a problem that we don’t even have.
“I’ve been contacted by many, many people who are in situations where they will be affected by this change and it’s heartbreaking to hear their stories.”
The government has defended what it calls the ‘spare room subsidy’ , saying it will tackle a shortage of social housing and save taxpayers around £500m a year.