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#BedroomTax Forcing Disabled People To Give Up Assistance Pets

October 23, 2013

For Jane Heather and her family, leaving their one-year-old Labrador Cross puppy at an animal shelter was one of the hardest decisions they have ever made.

“But we knew it was the right one,” Jane says. “When we had to move because of the Bedroom Tax, we didn’t have the room for a dog.

“It wasn’t fair. We knew how badly it would affect my son, Bart, who has Aspergers, but we had no choice.

“We had to give his dog Brandy to an animal shelter. It broke all our hearts.”

Hundreds of animals have been left at shelters since April 1 this year, when the Bedroom Tax – or what the Government calls the Under-Occupancy Charge – started.

The cruel tax means that ­vulnerable families are not just losing their homes and often their family support networks but also their pets.

Animal charities say their shelters are at breaking point after receiving almost double the number of animals.

Blue Cross alone has received triple the number of cats and one and a half times the number of dogs since the controversial tax began.

In Jane’s family, their dog was more than just a pet. Brandy was the centre of her son’s universe – and a companion for Jane who has an incurable bowel disease and is often in and out of hospital.

Bart, 16, can only manage one word, when I ask him how he feels about losing his dog. “Devastated,” he says.

The family from Beccles, in Suffolk, receive a number of different benefits that support their lives. Jane, who has ulcerative colitis and has had large sections of her intestine removed, also suffers with chronic back pain.

Bart goes to college, where he is ­studying to be a mechanic, but finds it extremely hard to talk to people. Jane’s husband is a carer for her and Bart.

The family had lived in their ­four-bedroom housing association home with a garden for 11 years until the Bedroom Tax forced them to move. Their daughter recently left home, leaving them “under-occupying” by two bedrooms under the new legislation.

It left them having to find £29 a week – £116 a month – not an option on the money they barely survive on.

There are many households faced by cuts suddenly unable to afford to keep pets – and for families with disabilities, losing an animal companion can be a particularly cruel blow. Dogs get people out of the house, help with depression, and have ­therapeutic ­benefits.

Jane says that her family waited years to get a dog, until she felt her son would be able to take care of a pet.

“Taking him to the Blue Cross was the most ­heartbreaking thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “He had been part of our lives for almost a year.

“He was my best friend, my son’s best friend and my daughter’s best friend.

“When we first took him, the shelter was full and we had to bring him home again and wait for a place.

“My son doesn’t find it very easy to speak to people. But he could talk to Brandy. He has been quite withdrawn since.

“My own condition is aggravated by stress and upset, but I was told that having a pet could bring down my blood pressure. When they make these decisions, they just don’t think about how they are affecting people’s lives.”

In the five months before the Bedroom Tax, the Blue Cross re-homed 29 cats, 16 dogs, three guinea pigs and three rabbits where the reason was given as “not allowed to keep pet in house”.

In the five months since, they have already taken in 85 cats and 23 dogs for this reason alone – and the cuts are only just starting to bite.

“Brandy was clearly a much loved member of the family,” Kim Hamilton, Blue Cross chief executive, says.

“Blue Cross wants local authorities and housing associations to fully consider the needs of people when assessing accommodation need, and that should include if they own pets.

“We believe pets are an important part of the family and that it is really ­important for people and pets to stay together whenever they can.”

In the whirlwind of callous cuts currently faced by disabled people in the UK, the loss of pets may seem less ­important. But it is yet another cruelty heaped upon the cruelties faced by vulnerable people.

The new “Bedroom Tax Minister”, Esther McVey, knows all about that, as she has just been promoted from Minister for Disabilities to take on the Employment brief.

At the weekend, she even suggested three bedroom houses should be broken up into one-bedroom flats at yet more cost to the taxpayer – all to save Iain Duncan Smith’s failing flagship policy.

Meanwhile, for families like Jane Heather’s, the pain continues. In recent months, several disabled people besieged by cuts have told me that facing the loss of their pets is the final heartbreaking straw for them.

That their animals are part of what makes their life worth living, and that without them, it’s just another reason not to go on.

  • If you need support with rehoming a pet go to or phone the helpline on 0300 790 9903
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