Bridgend Greens’ Gareth Harris and his mum Kay have been at the forefront of the Bridgend Against the Bedroom Tax campaign since we launched it alongside our Plaid Cymru friends a few weeks ago. Jamie Insole, of South Wales Against the Bedroom Tax, has been so impressed with Kay’s passion and commitment that when the Guardian came to Cardiff a week or so ago , Jamie wanted them to meet Kay.
The result is a great feature in today’s Guardian:
Her family’s plight is well known to us, but now the whole country knows how this savage policy is biting her:
“Kay Harris is stressed. For 47 years, her entire life, she has lived in Bettws, an ex-mining village in the south Wales valleys. She’s raised her two children here, and her extended family all live nearby. But since the introduction of the bedroom tax in April, she has found herself in arrears for the second time in six months, and is worried she may be forced to leave.
The first visit from her housing association came in August, with a demand for £172. A few months later, when we meet in Cardiff, at a meeting for tenants, landlords and campaigners to discuss the impact of the bedroom tax in Wales, another letter has arrived. “It’s a real struggle. I had a letter just this morning, saying I was £122 in arrears. I can’t afford to pay it,” she says. “I’m supposed to be paying £11.41 a week for this one bedroom, and they’ve put it up to £15.01 a week so that I can clear my arrears. But I just can’t afford it”.
The bedroom is small, and only fits a bed. Harris uses it for her two grandchildren when they stay over occasionally.
Harris’s situation is typical in Wales, where 40,000 tenants have been hit by the cut in housing benefit on any bedroom deemed to be unoccupied, representing 46% of the social rented sector – the highest proportion of anywhere in the UK. Living with her husband in a three-bedroom semi-detached house in an area that was once booming, but now suffers from high unemployment, there is nowhere else for her to go because the Welsh housing stock doesn’t reflect the changing economy.
The personal fallout of Harris’s financial woes grows with each demand for arrears. “I’m depressed. I’m very depressed. It’s even causing rows. The letter this morning, that caused a row. It’s not only me, it’s everyone, everybody is getting these letters,” she says. “I had an interview with the housing association and I told them to downsize me. ‘We can’t’, they told me, ‘We’ve got no one-bed or two-bed houses.’ So there’s nothing I can do. I’ve got absolutely no options.”
Her story is now going international. This evening I had a German TV network ringing me to discuss the campaign in Bridgend and to ask what I knew of Kay Harris. I explain that I have known her family well for quite a few years and that it was their situation that helped prompt me to get involve in the cross-party initiative with Tim Thomas (PC).
They are going to contact Kay and look to feature her in their story, which looks set to savage this Tory class warfare.
Well done Kay! Your courage and determination not to accept this is inspiring people everywhere. I remain optimistic that you will prevail and keep your home of so many years.