Fighting the bedroom tax in Newcastle

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In January, a report by Newcastle’s Labour council stated that the bedroom tax has ‘withdrawn up to £3.26m of housing benefit (HB) across the city’. Rent arrears to Your Homes Newcastle (YHN), the city’s main social housing provider, increased by £274,208 between March and December 2013 and will total £1m by the end of 2014. 66% of the 5,117 households affected by the bedroom tax are now in rent arrears. 139 possession orders have already been granted to YHN and these families now face eviction.

On 19 December 2013 Newcastle residents, including FRFI supporters, protested in the city centre demanding to meet with the council’s Housing Benefit and Environmental departments. We also demanded that the council follow the definition of a bedroom as laid out in the 2004 Housing Act, submitting a letter requiring a reply by 6 January 2014, and a meeting by 6 February. To date, the council has not responded.

On 13 January, we challenged local Liberal-Democrat councillor Gareth Kane for a reply. Kane told FRFI he had ‘been informed by the Leader’s Office that such a meeting should not take place’. The ‘Leader’ is Labour council leader Nick Forbes, who, while claiming to be leading the anti-bedroom tax campaign in Newcastle, has banned the HB department from meeting with claimants.

When we confronted Labour councillor David Stockdale with this information, he didn’t want to hear it, and when we pushed him on Labour’s feigned opposition at a national level, Stockdale admitted that he had ‘no faith in the Parliamentary Labour Party’. Neither do we.

The 1996 exemptions

There may be over 750 tenants in the city who have been forced to pay the bedroom tax despite being exempt – Newcastle has yet to release the numbers. What is clear is that the 279 Newcastle tenants who had been forced from their homes by the bedroom tax up to last October, and the many more since, will have a substantial case for damages from the council and the DWP if they were in fact exempt. One such tenant, campaigning with FRFI, told us that ‘If other tenants knew about this, there would be a lot more people trying to stay where they are, and sue the DWP.’

Campaigners in Newcastle are confident they will win with proper organisation amongst those affected. As Anthony Morrow, a Byker tenant, told FRFI: ‘Everybody needs to fight back against this evil cut, because the government and the Labour Party are getting away with it too easily. It is against the working class, the disabled. When we stand against them, the wall comes up and we can smash it down.’ (See p15 for Newcastle events against the bedroom tax.)

James Bell

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

 

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