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From The Socialist newspaper, 17 April 2013

The Socialist Feature

We can beat bedroom tax

Ronnie Job, Swansea
Glasgow demonstration against the bedroom tax and austerity 30 March 2013 , photo Jim Halfpenny

Glasgow demonstration against the bedroom tax and austerity 30 March 2013 , photo Jim Halfpenny   (Click to enlarge)

Bart Simpson's catchphrase is "I didn't do it!" It seems that David Phillips, Labour leader of Swansea City Council, has a similar one, which goes something like 'we didn't do it; it was the Con-Dems'.

Fifty anti-cuts campaigners and bedroom tax victims lobbied to demand the council re-classify homes as having fewer bedrooms and commits to no evictions for rent arrears as a result of the bedroom tax.

Councillor Phillips seemed annoyed that we had organised the lobby and said we should be taking our complaints to the Con-Dem government because the Labour councillors have no choice but to implement it. To show us where we're going wrong the Labour councillors organised their own demonstration against the bedroom tax in the centre of Swansea!

We have come across some shocking stories. These include the father who shares custody of his young daughter and therefore needs a 'spare' room for her visits. To downgrade to a smaller property would mean giving up these visits.

We told Councillor Phillips we know the Con-Dems are to blame. But there are people in Swansea now, two weeks after its introduction, who are already struggling. They can't wait two years until the possible election of a Labour government in 2015, particularly as the Labour front bench has not committed to scrapping the bedroom tax.

The council did resolve to "take all legal and financially viable measures" to protect the people of Swansea from the worst of the impact of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat benefit cuts." But what measures is the council going to take and when are they going to take them?

If anything, it seems that the councillors have accepted that they will 'reluctantly' implement this Con-Dem attack on the poor - an attack they themselves describe as "repugnant". For those of us with long memories, that's reminiscent of the poll tax struggle when Labour councils came out against Thatcher's poll tax and then 'reluctantly' - or not so reluctantly in many cases - pursued non-payers through the courts.

But a mass organised campaign defeated the poll tax and a similar campaign today could see the bedroom tax condemned to the dustbin too.


Glasgow demonstration against the bedroom tax and austerity 30 March 2013, photo Jim Halfpenny

Glasgow demonstration against the bedroom tax and austerity 30 March 2013, photo Jim Halfpenny   (Click to enlarge)

Bedroom tax: "I'll stand with you if you stand with me"

The Con-Dems' bedroom tax, introduced on 1 April, means people who claim housing benefit and live in social housing will lose money if they are considered to have 'spare' bedrooms.

As these reports show, huge anger is building against this attack and the parties who are implementing it and campaigns are being formed around the country.

Resistance builds across Scotland

Matt Dobson, Socialist Party Scotland

The big and angry housing scheme meetings against the bedroom tax reflect an electrifying release from the powerlessness felt against what seemed like endless austerity.

It says everything about the major movement and politicisation that could develop that most of those participating are not affected by the bedroom tax but are acting in solidarity.

At meetings you hear accounts of the horror that is being inflicted and the sacrifices that are being made as people try to put money aside to offset the cut.

You also hear determination - one woman at a meeting in Dundee told councillors "you will have to drag me out of my home in chains".

Rage against the rich

This cruel cut is widely seen as 'the straw that broke the camel's back'. Over 100 attended the launch of the West of Scotland Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation (WSF).

A woman in the audience responded to well-known Scottish socialist Tommy Sheridan's call for a mass campaign of resistance to evictions by saying to those present: "I'll stand with you if you stand with me". This phrase has caught on as the campaign has spread.

The rage against the rich and their political representatives is palpable - the sheer injustice of bankers' bailouts and their bonuses, MPs' expenses, pay-day loan sharks, foodbanks, food prices, unemployment.

There is also an understanding that those in power will not cease their attacks on the working class and gains of the past such as social housing unless they are forced to.

Where councillors and other political representatives from the Scottish National Party and Labour have been present, unless they have been clear about opposing all cuts and personally committing to defending people from evictions, they get savaged.

The bedroom tax isn't the only issue discussed. These meetings have given a voice and a platform to working class people who have been marginalised and alienated from 'politics'.

Fight all cuts

Socialist Party Scotland has raised the need to fight all austerity cuts, for a general strike and a new mass workers' party.

Our speakers have been met by cheers, foot stamping and pint glasses banged on tables.

Thatcher's death has stirred up emotions and memories of generations involved in major class battles such as the miners' strike and the poll tax. This campaign has also connected with a politicised young generation.

In ex-mining areas such as Cumnock in East Ayrshire, hundreds have attended anti-bedroom tax meetings.

These communities suffered the impact of Thatcher's policies and now face an anti-eviction battle defending their neighbours against her Con-Dem offspring.

The local National Union of Mineworkers branch has affiliated to the WSF and, coming under pressure, Labour MP Sandra Osborne committed to personally standing in the way of sheriff's officers.

On 10 April WSF called a national day of action targeting housing associations with tenants mobilised to lobby against evictions.

The lobbies got major press coverage. Before the lobbies federation activists contacted the Unison and Unite branches who organise workers in Glasgow Housing Association.

This meant staff received the lobbies warmly and the unions are discussing sending delegates to the Anti-Bedroom Tax All-Scottish conference.

Pressure building

The meetings are spreading across working class areas and getting bigger. Socialist Party Scotland has raised the need for local campaigns to have steering committees to organise and coordinate action and committees have met and are planning campaigning in Dundee and the south and east of Glasgow.

These feed into the federations in the West of Scotland and Dundee which, after the conference on 27 April, will aim to organise on a national basis.

The conference will be delegate-based. A key task from this conference will be building for a national demonstration.

The pressure building on social landlords to not evict is huge with still months of arrears from the bedroom tax to be built up before they could even think about taking such measures.

The Socialist Party Scotland demands the writing off of all debt from bedroom tax rent arrears. Holyrood should bail out social landlords and councils who refuse to implement the bedroom tax.


Can't pay, won't move

The Waltham Forest Anti-Cuts Union (WFACU) held a meeting on the bedroom tax on Sunday 14 April. We outlined the importance of people affected coming together to fight the tax and make it unworkable by clogging up the system.

Waltham Forest Anti-cuts Union (WFACU) protesting against the Bedroom tax, photo by Sarah sachs-Eldridge

Waltham Forest Anti-cuts Union (WFACU) protesting against the Bedroom tax, photo by Sarah sachs-Eldridge   (Click to enlarge)

Tenants can appeal against cuts in their housing benefit. They can apply to the 'discretionary housing payment' fund and they can refuse to move into private rented accommodation - which is very expensive.

All of this will put enormous pressure on the implementation of the bedroom tax and give us time to campaign against it.

The next day WFACU campaigners joined one attendee, Alan Kennedy, outside his home to give him support as he prepared to meet a rep from his housing association about the tax. He faces costs of 40 a week to stay in the home he has lived in since 1965.

The local press interviewed Alan and WFACU representatives. One local resident told campaigners that both he and his mother were threatened with the tax.

Alan knows other neighbours who will either be affected themselves or want to help him fight.

Following this action, WFACU will be leafleting the local area and collecting signatures to a letter demanding that the council refuses to implement the tax by re-designating homes and/or refusing to evict tenants who fall into arrears.

We are calling an estate meeting in Alan's area for anyone who wants to campaign against the bedroom tax.

Suzanne Beishon

The Socialist Party says:


'Spare room' myth-busting!

Myth #1: people have 'spare' bedrooms

So-called 'spare' rooms aren't spare at all. The government's criteria mean children and young people are forced to share bedrooms with siblings - up to 16 if they're the same sex.

They don't take into account people's disabilities which might mean they occasionally need someone to stay over to help them or to sleep separately from their partner. And if parents are separated, only one is entitled to have a room for their child.

Myth #2: the bedroom tax is going to 'encourage people into work'

It's hard to encourage people into jobs that don't exist. In some areas there are up to 20 jobseekers for every vacancy.

And the government continues to cut more jobs from the public sector. Figures have shown all the schemes they've tried, including their heralded Work Programme, have failed to increase the numbers getting jobs.

Besides, many of those affected by the bedroom tax are already in work - 90% of new housing benefit claimants from 2010-2012 have a job but are so poorly paid they are still entitled to support with housing costs - a bailout for stingy, low-paying bosses.

Myth #3: the bedroom tax will result in a reduced housing benefit bill

The housing benefit bill is so big because of high rents - mainly in the private sector but now social landlords can charge 80% of the market rate too.

Private sector rents have increased by 86% in 40 years. The best way to reduce it is to introduce a cap on rents.

People have been forced to move to urban areas to look for work, increasing the need for affordable housing.

But the amount of social housing being built has fallen at the same time as the existing stock has been sold off.

What the government really wants to do is attack the welfare state in every way possible and to force working and middle class people to pay for the bankers' crisis.

Myth #4: it's only fair to create parity with the private sector

The reduction in housing benefit for a spare room in the private sector hasn't always existed either.

And the real problem is that there isn't enough decent housing, and virtually none that is really affordable.

People being hit by the bedroom tax have nowhere to move to because of the massive shortage of social housing - mainly as a result of decades of successive governments continuing the sell-off of council housing.

Myth #5: the 500 benefit cap is only bringing benefits in line with average wages

This figure doesn't include benefits that people in work have to claim, including child benefit and working tax credits.

That so many people earn less than 500 is a disgrace, best tackled by increasing the minimum wage, not bringing benefits even further into poverty levels.


Bedroom tax campaigns need a political voice

Cardiff

Welsh Labour has always argued that an ocean of "clear red water" lies between its policies and those of both the Tory-Liberal coalition and New Labour, run from Westminster.

Those claims were put to the test and found false on 28 March, when the ruling Labour group on Cardiff council voted down a motion put by Welsh Nationalists Plaid Cymru calling on the council to refuse to evict tenants who can't pay their rent because of the bedroom tax.

Instead, Labour says it plans to "mitigate the effect of welfare reform" - by implementing it, it seems.

Plaid Cymru is attempting to capture the growing movement, but Cardiff residents are extremely sceptical of the party.

Until last year Plaid ran Cardiff council, in a coalition with the Lib Dems, and carried out millions of pounds of cuts, including the cynical closure of the Disability Welfare Advice Service, meaning that many disabled people wouldn't find out what benefits they are entitled to.

4,000 of the poorest adults in Cardiff and a similar number of children have been hit by the bedroom tax and the arrears are starting to mount up.

A united fightback has already begun. In January, Cardiff Against The Cuts organised a protest of over 100 people against the demonisation of benefit claimants and on 30 March held, with other campaigners, a demonstration of several hundred through the streets of the city.

Those who are fighting this savage attack should stand in elections and join other anti-cuts campaigners in building a new mass party, based on ordinary working class people, to put an alternative to austerity on the agenda.

Ross Saunders

Bristol

People have queued at campaign stalls to sign the petition and express disgust at this attack on some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.

Many have shared heart-rending stories of how this will affect them or people they know.

Socialist Party members and other supporters of Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts have made opposing the bedroom tax an important part of our local election campaign.

Around 30 attended a public meeting called in the Barton Hill area of Bristol to discuss how the campaign could be taken forward.

Anti-cuts councillors would protect tenants affected by the bedroom tax by refusing to evict those who have built up arrears as a result.

Many people have seen through the hypocrisy of Labour trying to make gains out of opposing the bedroom tax while supporting the principles behind it.

There has been a lot of support for our decision to stand candidates for a party that stands up for working class people and defends our public services, jobs, conditions and benefits.

Tom Baldwin

Reports: local campaigns get going

Leicestershire

It is fitting that on the day Thatcher died, the Leicestershire Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation was born.

The campaign against the brutal bedroom tax has the potential to do for Cameron and Clegg what the poll tax did for Thatcher - bring them down. Anger at the injustice of the tax has led to protests around Leicestershire.

The meeting heard from various people affected by the bedroom tax - disabled people, separated parents, people being asked to move and people who could not afford to pay council tax on top of the bedroom tax.

A Unite Community member reported that they were organising a petition to Leicester council calling for no evictions.

One or two councillors have said they will not support evictions. We need to keep up the pressure to help them carry out their promise.

We agreed to use whatever tactics we can - appealing against decisions, protests, petitions, public meetings, occupations to block evictions - to defeat this tax.

So let's drink to the death of Thatcher and the birth of a movement that will challenge her legacy.

Heather Rawling, Leicestershire Anti-Bedroom Tax Steering Committee

Coventry

On 11 April 50 people in Coventry voiced strong opinions on a protest against the bedroom tax outside Coventry City Council.

Many shared stories about themselves or people they know who are being affected. One woman told me that she has to use money out of her food allowance to pay the rent, her daughter needs new shoes and they need money for the electric. She asked only one question: "what am I supposed to do?"

Supposedly the idea of the bedroom tax is that people should downsize. But these smaller properties do not exist.

In Coventry 3,180 families are being hit. Around 2,556 households are facing a one bedroom reduction; on top of that, 624 are at risk of paying for two bedrooms.

The protest was a great start for the campaign in Coventry. We were able to get into a lot of the local media.

We also grabbed the attention of the councillors and the housing association and will be arranging to meet them to discuss our demand for a non-eviction policy. We will also be arranging public meetings.

Amelia Roberts

West London

West London Socialist Party members with others are campaigning against the bedroom tax. Socialist Party general secretary Peter Taaffe and other campaigners are speaking at a meeting on 18 April at the Trade Union Centre, Acton.

Hammersmith and Fulham council says that 1,600 households in the borough will be affected by the bedroom tax.

Based on the Tory council's own statements they are already interfering in the lives of 50 households: "helping to downsize or swap with families who need bigger homes and advising others to take in a lodger to help meet shortfalls in rent".

They don't mention that the council has increased rent or that it has sold off over 200 properties over the past three years but has not used this income to build any new housing.

Keith Dickinson

Haringey

Over 500 people marched from Tottenham Town Hall to Bruce Grove Park on 13 April. On top of the bedroom tax and other welfare attacks, the cap on the total amount of benefits that can be claimed by each household is due to be implemented later this year.

The cap is being piloted in four London boroughs, including Haringey where there is much poverty already.

Property developers want to regenerate the area to attract the better-off. Meanwhile many families are in debt with some having to leave their community because they can't afford to live in London.

Socialist Party members were on the march. Most of the people we spoke to were aware that it would affect them.

Jane James

East London

Socialist Party members campaigning recently against the bedroom tax outside Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, Newham, east London, were confronted by the borough's law enforcement 'militia' and by police.

Not only did they object to our campaign stall but also to the selling of the Socialist. We stood our ground, despite the threat of arrest, but were nonetheless given an on-the-spot 100 fine, which we refused to pay and will be contesting.

Newham council is 100% Labour controlled and run by the mayor Sir Robin Wales. They claim to be against the government's austerity attacks but are happy to pass on the cuts, including the bedroom tax and reductions in council tax benefit.

Now it seems they also want to throttle any local opposition to these cuts. Unfortunately for them we won't be going away.

East London Socialist Party

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In The Socialist 17 April 2013:


Socialist Party news and analysis

NUS conference votes against free education and EMA

Class survey diverts focus away from power of working class to change society

Widespread caste discrimination ignored in the UK


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Doncaster: fighting for a working class mayor on a workers' wage

Maltby pit closure: TUSC councillor speaks out

Ineffectual Ed visits South West

Warrington council rebel builds fight against cuts

Meeting and exhibition marking 30 years since the election of Liverpool's socialist council

Letters to The Socialist


Socialist Party feature

We can beat bedroom tax


Thatcher funeral

Thatcher's funeral costs: Insulting the lives she ruined

Thatcher... and us

Support the paper that beat Thatcher - twice!


Socialist Party NHS campaign

NHS cost-cutting is damaging patient care

New phase of campaign against Dewsbury NHS cuts

Welsh NHS cuts - no change of heart from Labour


Socialist Party workplace feature

Time to name the day for a 24-hour general strike

We say to the TUC: Time to fight back


International socialist news and analysis

Brutal Saudi regime supported by UK government


Socialist Party workplace news

Unison health conference: Time to fight back against attacks

Unison elections: Vote for Socialist Party and Reclaim the Union candidates

Thera workers on strike

In Brief


 

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