Focus E15 Mothers - ‘No room at the inn’ says Newham Labour council

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On 6 November 2013 young mothers in the Focus E15 Foyer in Stratford, east London, received a letter telling them that funding withdrawn by Newham council was being reinstated, while the council carries out an ‘impact assessment’. This is a significant victory for the women’s fight to secure social housing and oppose social cleansing. Further battles now lie ahead.

The Focus E15 Mothers Campaign was set up at the end of September, after supporters of East London RCG/FRFI met a group of young women who were facing eviction from the mother-and-baby unit at Focus E15 Foyer in Stratford, Newham. The mothers and mothers-to-be had been told that they must leave their homes by 20 October and that their only prospect of obtaining permanent housing was to move out of London, far from their family and support networks. They had decided that they would not be intimidated and would stand together and fight to get social housing in east London.

The E15 Foyer is run by East Thames Housing Association and houses over 200 young people. Support for the mothers living there is provided by Newham council through the Supporting People funding stream. In August the residents were told that this funding (£41,000 annually – a drop in the ocean to the council) was being removed. This prompted East Thames to issue eviction notices. The council and the housing association blamed one another, both saying that there was nothing they could do and that the young mothers should take up offers to be housed in Hastings, Manchester or Birmingham.

RCG/FRFI saw the importance of fighting this attack, and with our organisational experience, resources, and politics, we helped build an organised and uncompromising campaign. The campaign has been active on all fronts, from weekly street events – including petitioning, leafleting, speeches, poetry and singing – to securing legal representation to challenge the council’s and housing association’s decisions. The young mothers and their supporters have lobbied the local MP, councillors and the mayor. They have been interviewed in The Guardian and Newham Recorder, on BBC, ITV, and Press TV, on Radio 1, LBC and NuSound radio – and still the interview requests are coming in.

Newham’s Labour politicians have behaved in a deplorable and anti-working class manner. Local councillor Terry Paul initially claimed to know nothing about the case and subsequently refused to do anything to help, claiming that his hands were completely tied by Tory cuts, and gave the young women just three options for staying in Newham: rent privately, buy a house or wait on the council house list for up to 14 years for two-bedroom accommodation.

On 23 November, some of the mothers, relatives and supporters went to the surgery of Newham’s Labour mayor and council leader, Sir Robin Wales. He was dismissive to the point of rudeness, showed no interest in hearing the mothers’ stories and made it clear that he sees no place in Newham for the poor or vulnerable.

As for national politicians, the local Labour MP Lyn Brown made sympathetic noises but said she could do nothing and referred the women back to Terry Paul.

Housing officers at the council have also been unhelpful, difficult to contact, bullying and inconsistent. In one instance a housing worker offered a young mother a two-bedroom private rented flat, only to take it back within half an hour, saying it was no longer available. On the day that the campaign was on the front page of the local paper, Chris Woodhead from East Thames arrived at the foyer, claiming that the eviction notices which the housing association had served weren’t really eviction notices but a helping hand in the process of moving the women on.

Jasmin Stone, one of the leading young mothers in the campaign, told FRFI:

‘Mothers of Focus E15 are still fighting to stay in London. We are still strong and will not give up. Newham council and East Thames have continually blamed each other for what is happening and failed to take responsibility. Sir Robin Wales was very negative; the meeting with him felt rushed and we had much more to say. This situation is very hard to deal with. The thought of being sent away from family feels like a prison sentence. We are keeping positive and aim to get heard. We have succeeded in extending our eviction notice and have been told we should all be rehoused by March; however we need to make sure we are rehoused in London. We have also been given back our key workers so this shows how powerful we can be if we all work together. That is why we are calling for any help and support with our campaign. We have been doing a street stall every Saturday outside Wilkinson’s on Stratford Broadway to raise awareness and support. We have nearly 2,000 signatures on our petition. We thank everyone for the support and hope many more will join and help us win!’

The campaign is demanding that the women and children are rehoused in social housing in east London and is stepping up the pressure on East Thames Housing Association which manages over 7,500 properties in east London and Essex. Private-rented accommodation is not a realistic option, as it is insecure, and requires impossible deposits. In addition, many landlords won’t accept the bond scheme, or refuse people on benefits especially since the introduction of the benefit cap.

Newham has the highest housing overcrowding rate in the country at 25% and the third highest child poverty rates in London. The Labour council has been exporting its vulnerable residents for years; prior to the 2012 Olympics, it attempted to move 500 families claiming housing benefit to Stoke-on-Trent.

At the same time Newham council seems to have plenty of money to spend on itself. In 2009 it spent £111m on offices which it is already considering moving out of after only four years. The council’s Chief Executive, Kim Bromley-Derry, receives an annual salary of £195,000.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! continues to support this vital campaign. A victory for the Focus E15 Mothers will be a victory for all those campaigning against the attacks on working class people in austerity Britain. The fight is on and we will win!

Find the online petition and details of campaign events here: www.facebook.com/focuse15/

Hannah Caller and Martha Scott

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 236 December 2013/January 2014

 

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