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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Fighting the bedroom tax in Newcastle

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.

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Fighting the bedroom tax - Loophole gives hope to tenants

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

The revelation that possibly 15% of all tenants forced to pay the bedroom tax are in fact exempt because of a legal error must give hope to those fighting this vicious attack on the working class.

Described in the media as a ‘loophole’, it is in fact down to the criminal incompetence of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) who ignored clauses in housing benefit regulations set out in 2006. This error means that any tenant who has been on housing benefit since before 1 January 1996 and who has been occupying the same house over that period is exempt from paying the bedroom tax.

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War on the working class and another irrelevant election

The recent byelection in my home district of Wythenshawe and Sale East in South Manchester, was won easily by the pro-cuts, pro-war Labour Party following the death of its MP Paul Goggins on 7 January. In the runup, FRFI received messages and phonecalls from friends, worried about the supposed threat carried by BNP and UKIP racists, electioneering in Wythenshawe civic centre, as their leaders Nick Griffin and Nigel Farrage came to spew out their lines about Islamic 'terrorism' and EU bogeymen. But in a 'safe seat' for Labour, Mike Kane won with 55% of the vote. The more seasoned racists won easily. Immediately, bourgeois political discussion focused on UKIP beating the Tories into second place. The turnout was 28%. The real discussion should be about why the vast majority of people in this poverty-stricken, working class area refused to vote.

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Home care workers: marginalised and exploited

Need replaced by ability to pay

As statutory care provision is reduced to the barest minimum, private companies have stepped in. Quality of care, and working conditions for staff who provide it, are driven down as companies compete for contracts and maximise profits. Those who can pay for care are increasingly divided from those who cannot. The hundreds of thousands of working class people who rely on affordable care and those on the front-line of provision are caught up in a race to the bottom.

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

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.

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No option but resistance

The ConDem coalition’s attack on state welfare is not working. Despite savage benefit cuts, the overall cost of state welfare has not fallen. However, the government’s response – a mixture of lies and threats to slash eligibility and benefit levels even further, especially those for disabled people – shows that austerity is not about economics, but politics. The coalition is determined to shift the balance of class forces decisively against the working class, and the absence of significant resistance only encourages it to intensify the onslaught. But where people do come together and challenge the cuts, victories can be won – collective, community-based organisation is the key to resistance. Robert Clough reports.

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