Determined Focus E15 mothers fight to stay in Newham

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‘We want to let everyone know what is happening. [In Bridge House] we met a mother being sent to Birmingham as we speak and another who shared tears with the Focus mums as she had no home for her and children to return to that night. We are not going to lose this fight, we are going to win for everyone.’

These are the words of Jasmin Stone, a leading Focus E15 mother, speaking on 17 January after Focus E15 mothers and their babies held a tea party in the show flat in the East Thames Housing Association offices in Stratford, Newham, inviting their friends and supporters to protest against their eviction and ‘social cleansing’ from the capital.

After the party, the jubilant mothers, babies and their supporters made their way to Bridge House, Newham Council housing service building. There they entered the foyer and explained to people who were waiting to speak to the council about their housing what the protest was about. The management ordered the group to leave and called the police, saying they were disrupting the residents in their housing meetings. However, people in Bridge House cheered and shouted their support, sharing stories about their own struggles for decent, affordable housing and to stay in their communities in increasingly gentrified Stratford.

East Thames is the landlord of Focus E15 hostel, where the young mothers and babies who are on the homeless list of Newham Council have been temporarily housed. The young mothers had been offered properties as far away as Hastings and Birmingham in the private-rented sector, even though East Thames has thousands of properties in East London and Essex, and Newham Council has boarded up properties on the doorstep of the hostel, in Stratford, such as the Carpenters Estate. Residents of the Carpenters Estate have fought for years against ‘decanting’, dispersal and demolition. Along with students from UCL, they fought off the plans to demolish the housing for a UCL campus as part of the Olympic legacy and the battle goes on to repopulate the estate and reclaim the council housing. Campaigning together, the Carpenters Estate residents and the Focus E15 mothers will be a formidable force.

Resistance is the way forward. It is clear that the Focus E15 mothers through their strength, determination and tenacity have so far halted Newham Council’s attempts to house them outside of London. Both the council and East Thames Housing Association continue to pin responsibility for the situation on each another. Local Labour councillor Terry Paul has done nothing, Labour MP Lynn Brown says see Terry Paul before you come back to me, and Robin Wales, the Labour Newham mayor, has made it clear that the priority for housing in Newham is now ex-service men and women and ‘working families’ – there is no place for poor working class people in the borough.

Focus E15 mothers are on the streets every week with Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! and other supporters, collecting signatures on the petition and leafleting the public to raise awareness. It is clear that a huge number of people are themselves facing, or have friends and family facing, social cleansing, being moved far away from all their support networks, as the council is driven by saving money. One woman with five children who stopped to sign the petition, has been housed by the council in a flat where the rent is £400 per week. With the benefit cap, once all her deductions have been made, she is left with £89 per week for housing benefit, leaving her hundreds in rent arrears by the end of the first week. She has been told that she could move to Wales.

Meanwhile women in Newham’s women refuge are also facing the possibility of homelessness and dispersal out of London. Newham Council has cut Supporting People contract funding by nearly 60%, from £10.8m in 2012/13 to £4.7m in 2013/14. As a result, Look Ahead Housing and Care Ltd, which provides housing support and care services in Newham for various vulnerable groups, has had Supporting People funding stopped for a hostel where young women also now face an insecure future.

As we go to press, 11 of the mothers have been offered accommodation in London. However, the council and East Thames have broken their promises to find social housing for the women – all the offers are for private rented accommodation – and many are too small or outside Newham.

In one of the richest countries in the world, with an increasingly divided society, where inequality is growing and the most vulnerable and poor are treated with contempt, where fear is instilled in most people, Focus E15 mothers are showing that collective inclusive action with an imaginative agenda, weekly street events and regular public organising meetings can achieve results.

A victory for Focus E15 mothers will be social housing in Newham, east London. Join us in keeping up the pressure on Newham council and East Thames Housing Association and making common cause with all those fighting the cuts.

•You can find the Focus E15 Mothers every Saturday petitioning from 12-2 on The Broadway E15 (outside Wilkinson's). Campaign meetings are on alternate Saturdays at 3pm. Contact us for venue details. Facebook Focus E15 Mothers

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014