Karen Fletcher, Barnsley campaigner
Hull protest against the Bedroom tax - Debt = Slavery, photo Lash

Hull protest against the Bedroom tax – Debt = Slavery, photo Lash   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

On 12 November I was part of the lobby that met in the House of Commons prior to the vote on Labour’s motion to scrap the bedroom tax. Since I got involved in the campaign in April I have attended many meetings and rallies. But here the anger was directed at the time it took Labour leader Ed Miliband to pledge to repeal the bedroom tax.

Initially the only thing Labour had to say was that the tax isn’t very nice. I think we worked that out for ourselves.

Words are cheap – actions are what we need. In Barnsley we have over 5,000 signatures on our petition but none of them belong to a single local MP. My MP is proud of making two speeches at anti-bedroom tax events in his constituency. Two in six months.

There was also a great deal of anger at the fact that Labour has had nothing to say about Labour councils rushing to evict tenants. Labour should tell their councils to stop doing Con-Dem dirty work.

I was particularly annoyed by statements made by two MPs. One said that he was enjoying the campaign. I’m glad he’s enjoying himself because I am not. There is nothing I would like more than not to need to do what I do. I don’t want to have to get up at 4.30am so that I can be in Westminster for 9.30am.

The second comment was actually thanks for coming to support ‘us’. Wrong, wrong, wrong. They should be supporting the anti-bedroom tax campaigners. Labour are the ones who are late to the party. The only reason that any of us were in that room was because of the strength of the campaign. Labour has been shamed into action by a group of people that were attacked because they were expected simply to roll over and take it.

We didn’t. We won’t. I went to London to make sure that at least my MP did what he promised. The mood was summed up very simply by the activist who said that she would vote Labour in 2015 because they would be the only effective way to get rid of the Coalition: “but do not lie to us, do not let us down and do not betray us. We will not forgive”.

14 days prior to the lobby I had been in court for non-payment of bedroom tax. This is the experience that I wanted to take into that room and to the rally afterwards.

I didn’t want sympathy. People need to know what tactics are being used by a so-called Labour council and its Almo. My rent was still being paid by direct debit until 3 May. I received a Notice of Intention to Seek Possession by hand on 23 May. I asked for a payment card three times. It finally showed up after 12 weeks. I asked my Almo for help (because their letters always tell you to) and was told to pay my rent plus a minimum amount or eviction proceedings would continue. Glad they could help.

When I finally got to court on 28 October there were 14 people present for eviction. Two duty solicitors had to deal with 14 clients with varying degrees of complex cases in around five minutes each.

Then it was made clear that to have McKenzie Friends present [lay helpers that anti-poll tax campaigners used widely in the 1980s], we should have applied in writing, two weeks in advance and for a named individual. There were no adjournments allowed for this.

When the judge closed the court to press and public alike on the grounds that personal financial information was being disclosed, those of us who assumed it would be an open court were incredulous. Just whose personal financial information was the court protecting – mine or the council’s?

Finally, all 14 cases were heard in around 90 minutes. In what world is it ever acceptable to take away something so fundamental as your home in so short a time?

In my case the judge didn’t even have the decency to look up. But I have a message for Barnsley in particular and the rest of the country in general. I will not be quiet, I will not go away. I am far too angry.

This is the same council that has added nothing to its allocation of Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). Out of 780 people that have received DHP, 34 have actually been helped by my Almo. I am guessing that they are going to include me in those figures despite the fact that initially I was turned down for DHP because I could use my Disability Living Allowance.

I wrote my own appeal letter. This is the same council that will ‘downsize’ fewer people this year than last on current figures. This is a council in the heart of the ‘socialist republic of South Yorkshire’.

This is a Labour council that does not even deserve that name. Any socialist credibility my town ever had has been eradicated along with its pits, steel works and muck stacks.