IT’S a tax that has come under fire for hitting society’s needy where it hurts. Under the Government’s welfare reforms those deemed to have a spare bedroom in their council or housing association home will have their housing benefit claims reduced by hundreds of pounds a year.

Now people in Southampton have joined thousands across the UK in public protests against what has been dubbed a “bedroom tax”, which is expected to affect 660,000 people nationally when it comes into effect next month.

Campaigners converged outside WestQuay shopping centre on Saturday with demonstrations also taking place in 50 other cities, in-cluding Liverpool and Manchester.

Protesters in Southampton included city councillor Satvir Kaur, a Labour backbencher, who represents Shirley. She has put down a formal motion at Wednesday’s full council meeting urging the city council to send a message to the Government that the new tax is unfair, unworkable and counterproductive.

She said: “The tax will hit the most vulnerable people in Southampton and I don’t think people realise the dire impact it's going to have.”

According to the National Housing Federation (NHF) those affected include disabled people, separated parents, who share care of their children and couples who use a spare bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation.

Doubts have also been raised about how tenants can downsize amid huge waiting lists for affordable housing.

NHF figures show more Southampton families will be hit by the bedroom tax than in any other authority in the south-east, with more than 1,800 families set to lose out. More than 1,135 of those households contain someone with a disability.

Labour Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead said: “More local families will be hit, more pressure will be put on local housing services and more money will be sucked out of our local economy.”

The Government says the bedroom tax is a key part of reforms to encourage people out of welfare and into work.