Anger after Labour MP tells tax-hit elderly to move house

Jane Charnley AN MP has caused uproar by saying pensioners struggling with high council tax bills should move to a smaller home they can afford.

Outraged support groups for the elderly hit back at Labour MP for Grimsby, Austin Mitchell, for suggesting pensioners should move rather than expect the Government to deliver smaller bills.

In a letter to a member of the Yorkshire and Humberside Pensioners Convention, Mr Mitchell said: "I'm aware that anomalies will exist in respect of older people living in bigger properties but it wouldn't be reasonable to legislate just for these exceptions who would be better transferring to smaller properties in any case."

The remark was in response to a questionnaire sent by the convention, which wants to scrap the council tax in favour of an ability-to-pay system.

Its chairman, Peter Meer, said Mr Mitchell's comment beggared belief. "Why should you move out a home you have been in for the greater part of your life because you happen to be old and living on a fixed income?"

His feelings were echoed by Calderdale Age Concern chief executive Tim Swift.

"It shows a total lack of understanding," he said. "For older people, their homes are in many ways their lives."

Tory MP for Skipton and Ripon, David Curry, called Mr Mitchell "bare-faced" and said elderly people often kept on larger family homes so children and grandchildren could visit.

He added: "To say blithely, 'why don't they move' is patronising and impractical. How recently has Austin moved house?"

And Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough Phil Willis said the comment showed how the Labour party had "abandoned its social conscience".

"As people get older their roots are in their home. It is obviously crucial not only to their quality of life but also to longevity – such an upheaval could have serious health implications."

Last night Mr Mitchell, who has "not even thought about" moving from his home of 30 years, insisted the problem affected only a handful of "hard luck" cases.

He said: "If people choose to live in a baronial mansion they have to pay appropriately, don't they?

"If people find themselves living in a house too big for them, it would be sensible to move to something smaller.

"Some might even want to, investing the money and using it to live off."

But anti-council tax group, Isitfair, said Mr Mitchell was out of touch and claimed it had received thousands of letters from ordinary pensioners in despair at their soaring taxes.