General election - Westminster parties gear up for more of the same austerity and lies

In just over six months’ time there will be a general election. Whatever the party politicians say, there will not be any real choice on offer for the working class. We will instead be treated to a circus as hundreds of greedy parliamentary candidates fight each other to get on the Westminster gravy train. Behind the scenes, the ruling class must decide which of the Conservative, Labour or LibDem parties will best serve British imperialism’s interests for the next five years.

The last four years of the ConDem Coalition have proved devastating for the working-class. A ruthless austerity regime has seen attacks on state welfare comparable to the attacks on the unemployed in the 1920s and 1930s, and a return to the punitive principles of the Poor Laws of the nineteenth century. So far the ruling class have faced little resistance, but the crisis conditions that produced the crash in 2008 have not been resolved. Restoring profitability will require further attacks on the working class to drive down wages and standards of living. The challenge the ruling class faces is how to do this without provoking massive opposition.

 

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Newham council attacks Focus E15 Campaign with lies and deception

On 7 October, Focus E15 campaigners will leave the Open House they had established on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, East London. Since 21 September the campaign has occupied a block of four flats, which had been boarded up for six years, to broadcast its demands for an end to social cleansing in Newham.

The protest drew widespread national attention, sparking a public debate about the housing crisis. It was covered by the BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian, The Independent and the Financial Times and others. Following an unsuccessful attempt on 26 September, Newham Council were able to secure a possession order on 2 October. However, with the campaign deciding to leave the property anyway on 7 October, the Council decided not to serve it.

 

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Homeless people under attack

The screw is tightening on homeless people; the Salvation Army is reporting beggar claimants to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and councils are using police and the courts to remove them from city centres. The Salvation Army is one of the few charities that participates in the government’s workfare scheme, and has been subject to praise by the DWP for ‘holding the line’ as other charities have distanced themselves from it.

The latest figures published by The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) show that homelessness has risen since last year. 58,440 households were in temporary accommodation on 31 March 2014, 6% more than at the same date in 2013. The most recent DCLG statistics for rough sleeping showed a5% riseon last year, with 2,414 people reported by local councils across the country as sleeping rough on any one night in 2013, up from 2,309 in 2012 and from 1,768 in 2010. However, the number of people sleeping rough is impossible to collate accurately, and these figures will be a conservative estimate at best. The Shaw Trust reports that ‘In the most extreme cases, the Work Capability Assessment had led to homelessness and the use of food banks, with one customer reporting that after their assessment ‘they ended up homeless as it took three months to get income again”.

 

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Focus E15 campaign declares ‘Open House’

‘For real politics, don’t look to parliament but to an empty London housing estate’.

Aditya Chakraborrty, The Guardian

On 21 September, RCG members joined other supporters of the Focus E15 campaign as it marked one year of fighting for social housing and against social cleansing with a birthday party on a largely-boarded up council housing estate in Newham, east London. The party culminated with the opening up of four empty properties on the Carpenters Estate as a social centre, open to all those fighting for social justice and against Newham Labour council’s shameful housing policies. Hannah Caller reports.

 

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Victimising claimants with disabilities

On 28 June 2014, campaigners with disabilities organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) occupied Westminster Abbey in protest at the closure of the Independent Living Fund, which provides support for some 18,000 severely disabled people. This is not the only attack on state welfare for disabled people. In FRFI 236 we pointed out that the government’s drive to force 640,000 disabled people off Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and onto Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) would result in benefit sanctions for thousands of claimants. Now the government is considering the possibility of introducing sanctions for claimants who refuse mental health treatment – despite the fact that such services are next to non-existent.

 

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Focus E15 campaign social housing, not social cleansing

Focus E15 supporter on the march through Newham on 5 July © 2014 Peter Marshall

On Saturday 5 July 2014, the Focus E15 campaign held its first march through the east London borough of Newham, in protest against social cleansing and in defence of decent affordable housing for all. 200 people, among them members of over 25 organisations, including FRFI, ensured the campaign’s message was heard loud and clear all along the route – social housing, not social cleansing! Local support was overwhelming as passers-by took leaflets and drivers sounded their horns. At East Ham town hall, campaigners stopped to express their anger at the Labour mayor, RobinWales. Individual messages about the borough’s housing crisis were tied to the railings. And, despite harassment from the police ahead of the march about confining it to the pavement, on the day of the event itself there was not a uniformed officer in sight, and we marched proudly in the road – banners and placards held high.

 

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Cuts bite deep in poverty Britain

In the United Kingdom, the seventh richest country in the world, 3.5 million children – nearly a third of all children – live in poverty,1 a figure expected to rise by another million over the next six years. Up to a million people have needed emergency handouts from food banks in the last year, while 28% of all adults say they regularly skimp on food so that others in their households can eat. These stark facts, highlighted in a recent Oxfam report,2 reflect the growing destitution imposed on the working class by the Coalition government. Like the four horsemen of a capitalist apocalypse, hunger, poverty, debt and insecurity stalk the land. Cat Wiener reports

 

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Fight all benefit cuts

The ConDem coalition’s onslaught on the unemployed and those on welfare benefits shows no sign of letting up. Immediately following the introduction of Claimant Commitment in April, the government announced that daily signing-on will be required for workers unemployed for two years or more, and that anybody who is unemployed may face sanctions if they do not accept a zero-hours contract. The only purpose of daily signing-on is punishment: there is no extra money for those who have to get public transport to their local Jobcentre. The lie behind government policy is the notion that unemployment is the fault of the unemployed, and they need to be pilloried or whipped to get back to work. Mark Moncada reports.

 

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Bedroom tax - Fight to the finish

The bedroom tax is not working – even by the government’s own criteria. It was supposed to free up social housing properties for overcrowded households. But most overcrowded social housing is in London where the number of tenants affected by the bedroom tax is far fewer than in the north of the country and the midlands. The tax was supposed to save £500m on housing benefit spending a year, but the figure is nonsense because so many tenants have had to downsize into the private sector where rents are much higher, and many more have had to be supported by discretionary housing payments. Robert Clough reports.

Despite the appalling impact of the tax, especially on disabled people, struggles against it across the country are at present small-scale. One of the most active is South Wirral Campaign against the Bedroom Tax which has organised pickets, marches and public meetings since it was set up in April 2013 and repeatedly challenged local MPs and Labour councillors to act against the bedroom tax – to no avail. The campaign has also supported tenant appeals against the bedroom tax, and has won six out of eight benefit tribunals over the issue of bedroom size.

 

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Focus E15 campaign - Focus on the future

‘The campaign has grown majorly and we have noticed it isn’t just mothers being affected. We have decided to widen the campaign for everyone. We are introducing our new name – Focus on the Future. We are fighting for everybody with housing problems and offer our full support. We will fight for as long as it takes to stop the privatisation of London and stop social cleansing. We are fighting for social housing for all, a home that everyone can afford, where they feel comfortable and have the support network that we all need!’

 

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Budget games: Political spin masks bleak reality

Budget day allows Chancellor George Osborne to take to the parliamentary stage for an uninterrupted hour to deliver his political agenda. After four years of preaching the need for unremitting austerity to revive the economy, in this, his fifth Budget, the time had come to retune his message in preparation for the general election just over a year away. He is after all a very rich boy determined to continue his chosen hobby of parliamentary politics, while pretending to run the British economy. David Yaffe reports.

 

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Criminalising the destitute

The vicious Coalition government has opened up a new front in its war against the working class, targeting the most destitute and vulnerable sections of society. In this it has, as ever, the compliance of London’s Labour councils. Operation Encompass, in which local authorities work with the Metropolitan police and the UK Border Agency to ‘deal robustly’ with ‘disrupting and deterring’ rough sleeping in the capital, was piloted in the Tory-led borough of Westminster in October 2013. On a single day (17 October), 15 people were arrested and a further 60 ‘engaged with’ – usually in the form of anti-social behavior notices, a prelude to ASBOs which the council is fighting to retain. In January, Operation Encompass was extended to the Labour councils of Camden, Croydon, Islington, Lambeth and Southwark. Newham’s Labour council has its own project, Operation Alabama, run on similar lines.

 

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Zero-hours contracts: the face of casualisation

While the government talks up the rising levels of employment, the reality is that unemployment remains nearly 50% higher than it was before the crisis, and that the bulk of new jobs that have been created over the past period are part-time and/or temporary. In the period April-June 2008, part-time workers made up 25% of the workforce in Britain, 9% of whom were working part-time because they could not get full-time work. For the period November 2013 to January 2014, the number of part–time workers had risen to 8.08 million, 26.8% of the workforce, with 18.2% of them unable to find more work – double the 2008 proportion. At the same time, 1.6 million people were in temporary work, of whom 37%, or 595,000, were unable to find a permanent job.

 

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New Poor Laws - Poverty, Insecurity, Hunger

Over the past three years the ConDem government has carried out an aggressive programme of benefit cuts and welfare reforms that amounts to a crusade against the working class. Alongside falling wages and soaring living costs, these changes have driven more and more people into destitution so that, according to a new report by the Rowntree Foundation,1 one fifth of the population in Britain lives in poverty.2 And, despite claims by the Coalition that it would ‘make work pay’, the reality is that the largest proportion of people living in poverty are in households where at least one adult is working. Cat Wiener reports.

 

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Determined Focus E15 mothers fight to stay in Newham

‘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.

 

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Marching against the bedroom tax in South London

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.

 

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