- Created: Wednesday, 19 February 2014 12:03
- Written by Rachel Francis
On 25 January, South London RCG joined a march against the bedroom tax from Peckham Square to Camberwell Green organised by Southwark Benefit Justice. 4,046 households in Southwark are liable for the bedroom tax, with more than 220 so far in rent arrears that they are facing repossession orders from Southwark council, the majority social housing landlord in the borough.
So it wasn’t surprising that Labour councillor Richard Livingstone got the reception he deserved when he spoke at the beginning of the march; the RCG were among those who led the heckling and shouting as he attempted to excuse the council’s actions, claiming Coalition cuts made the council’s situation untenable: ‘The enemy is central government’, he insisted. But, clearly under pressure, he promised that Southwark would not evict tenants who are in arrears because of the bedroom tax. While the council must be held to that promise, it is deceptive when it has already summonsed more than 8,000 people for council tax arrears. As long as Labour councils continue to levy the bedroom tax and refuse to use the legal tools at their disposal to challenge it, they will be nothing other than the executive arm of central government.
Livingstone also argued that the council has been providing additional discretionary housing payments (DHP), with demand rising by 288% in the past year. But this turns out to be money taken from another part of the housing budget and in any case DHP claimants only have access to this emergency money for a few weeks before having to reapply; in January, the council was accused of actually under-spending its £800,000 welfare fund. Over three quarters of people affected by the bedroom tax in Camberwell and Peckham are single parents or unemployed. A Southwark tenant of 27 years, after paying her bills and the bedroom tax, is left with just £2.88 a week for food. Livingstone’s lamentation that further cuts are necessary due to a ‘budget gap’ of £23 million adds insult to injury.
The RCG’s sound system provided an open mic for the march so that organisations and individuals could make their protest heard. Speakers included Lewisham People before Profit, anti-poverty campaigner Reverend Paul Nicholson, Disabled People against the Cuts, Global Women’s Strike and Unite the Union. As the RCG speaker made clear, we need to build a movement that isn’t dependent on Labour and a trade union movement that has so far failed to challenge the cuts, and instead organise to challenge the bedroom tax in the courts and tribunals, outside council offices and on the streets, involving those who have no choice but to fight back. As she put it ‘No one will fight for us but ourselves’.
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