DAVID Cameron was confronted today over benefit cuts that threaten to leave two teenage North-East soldiers with nowhere to sleep - but insisted they were “fair”.
Labour leader Ed Miliband raised the case - first revealed by The Northern Echo - of 18-year-old twins Anas and Aaron, from Coulby Newham, in Middlesbrough.
Because the boys have joined the Army, the family has been hit by the so-called ‘bedroom tax’, which will slash housing benefit where homes are ‘under-occupied’.
The shake-up will effectively charge social housing tenants for spare rooms, cutting benefit by 14 per cent for one extra bedroom - or 25 per cent where there are two spare rooms.
Single mother Alison Huggan spoke of how family life had been thrown into turmoil, with the fear that her sons will have nowhere to sleep when they return from barracks.
Threatened with losing £1,000 per year, she approached a housing association about moving to a one-bedroom home – only to be told that none are likely to be available.
One of the strongest criticisms of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ is that there are no smaller homes for 95,000 affected families in England, with the North-East the hardest-hit area.
In the Commons, Mr Miliband said Ms Huggan’s case showed the policy to be unfair, saying: “The prime minister’s bedroom tax means that, while her sons are away, she will be charged more for their bedrooms.”
He added: “She says ‘I resent the fact that both my sons are serving and protecting their country, and in return will not have a home to come home to when they are granted their much-needed leave’.”
Meanwhile, Helen Goodman (Lab; Bishop Auckland) protested that the ‘bedroom tax’ would leave one of her constituents with £24 a week to live on.
She told Mr Cameron: “She is so anxious about how she will manage that she is receiving cognitive behavioural therapy. Her anxiety is totally understandable.”
But Mr Cameron hit back, insisting the cuts were needed to control the ballooning housing benefit bill - and mirrored Labour’s changes in the private sector.
He said: “If you are in private rented housing and receive no housing benefit, you don't get money for an extra room.
“If you are in private housing and do get housing benefit you don't get money for an extra room.
“So there's a basic argument of fairness. Why should we be doing more for people in social housing on housing benefit than people in private housing on housing benefit?”
Anas has joined the Yorkshire Regiment, while Aaron is a Fusilier, based at Catterick, having recently graduated from Army Foundation College.
The issue was first raised last year, when Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, accused ministers of breaching the military covenant.