VULNERABLE city tenants are being driven to the brink of suicide over fears the controversial “bedroom tax” will leave them penniless, it has been claimed.
Edinburgh Tenants Federation said three benefits claimants in one week had threatened suicide during consultations because of the housing payment cuts for council residents with extra bedrooms.
It comes as the city voted not to evict tenants who run up rent arrears due to welfare reforms and amid claims mental health patients were “extremely anxious” about the impact of the benefits shake-up at Westminster.
Speaking at City Chambers, Betty Stevenson, chair of Edinburgh Tenants Federation (ETF), said the bedroom tax would have a “terrible effect” on people with mental illness, which could lead to a spike in suicides.
“I have personally spoken to three tenants in a week who have thought about suicide because of the bedroom tax – this is a disgrace,” she said.
“The number of people experiencing mental ill-health will only increase as the changes take effect. ETF has concerns about an increase in suicides that may arise as a result of real hardship and we will be monitoring this very closely.”
Ms Stevenson also said the UK Government’s welfare reforms breached human rights legislation and should be challenged in court.
Mental health charity Health in Mind said one third of its clients in supported accommodation had admitted being “extremely anxious” about the impact of reforms but praised the city’s no-eviction policy.
Supported accommodation manager Linda Brown said: “Edinburgh City Council have been very proactive in finding out from Health in Mind how many people using our services are affected by the bedroom tax.
“There’s still considerable confusion regarding exemptions, such as if a carer stays overnight, and we’re working to try and alleviate some of the stress and anxiety by providing information and support.”
Billy Watson, chief executive at the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), called for government engagement with mental health charities to highlight circumstances that require mitigation.
He said: “The evidence we have so far in the wider context of welfare reform has shown that the process of assessment and implementation fails to understand the practical needs of people with mental health problems.”