"It is wrong to leave people out in the cold with effectively no roof over their heads because the taxpayer is paying for rooms which aren't in use," Conservative lawmaker Grant Shapps told Sky News.

Officials say the new rules won't apply to retirees, or to those who really need extra space, such as parents of severely disabled children.

But campaigners say the "bedroom tax" has already produced injustices. Parents whose children are not considered disabled enough by local officials have been told they must pay. So has a bereaved couple who couldn't bear to change the bedroom of their 7-year-old daughter after she died of brain cancer.

To its opponents, the "bedroom tax" is an indignity on a par with the "poll tax," a levy on every adult that sparked violent protests and helped bring down Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1990. Her successor, John Major, scrapped it.

The government says its welfare reforms are modest measures that will encourage people to get off welfare and find jobs. In tough times, officials say, everyone must make sacrifices.

Opponents ask why the government can't tax mansions or second homes, rather than the poor. And they allege the cuts will force impoverished residents to move from homes and neighborhoods where they have lived for years.

Frank Field, a minister in the previous Labour administration and now a government adviser on fighting poverty, told The Guardian newspaper that "the government is introducing social and physical engineering that Stalin would have been proud of."

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Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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