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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Newcastle Labour Council cuts: 8 million more reasons to break with Labour and build a new movement

On 6 November Newcastle City Council announced that it will be increasing the cut to public services of £100m over three years, passed in March this year, by a further £8m. In addition to library closures, the closure of leisure centres, the abolition of the city’s arts budget and the decimation of the city’s youth services, Newcastle residents will now have to face a 'review' – meaning cuts - ‘to Sure Start services sooner than originally planned’ and of ‘services for adults with learning disabilities to cut costs’. Those living in Kenton, a working-class area of Newcastle, will see their Customer Service Centre closed and replaced by ‘an information zone’, an unmanned computer kiosk and a phone. Once again, it is clear who is in the crosshair: the disabled, the poor and single-mothers.

 

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Fighting the bedroom tax in south London

Lambeth in south London has one of the highest numbers of inhabitants affected by the bedroom tax, around 4,600 or one in every six people. Just in Brixton, in the heart of Lambeth, there are 714 households affected, losing an average of £20 a week.

At a meeting at Lambeth Town Hall organised by Brixton Blog in September, Labour councillor Pete Robbins stressed that the council was ‘doing all we can’ to help people move ‘into work’ or into ‘more appropriate accommodation’ to avoid the bedroom tax. Yet it is the working poor who are amongst the most dependent on housing benefit – and Lambeth has the second-highest rate of benefits claimants of any council in London. As for ‘appropriate accommodation’, there are around 21,000 households on the waiting list for social housing in Lambeth; last year the council housed 325 applicants. There are a total of 13 one-bedroom flats available and around 1,500 households who need them.

 

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No to Newham’s social cleansing Defend the Focus E15 Mothers!

No to social cleansing! Keep us in London! are the demands of a militant group of young mothers and mothers-to-be in east London who face eviction from their homes in a mother and baby unit, part of a hostel for young people in Stratford.

Opened in 1996, the hostel, called Focus E15 Foyer, has 210 self-contained units for young people including 16 flats for young mothers. East Thames housing association runs five foyers in East London and Essex, housing about 600 young people in total, providing accommodation for people aged 16 to 24 at risk of being homeless. On the East Thames website, a foyer is described as ‘a place where young people can live and receive support to enable them to achieve their goals and move on to independent living’. The residents stay between six months and two years, access services to help them back into education or employment and ‘the aim is that we help them move on to independent living or back with their family’.

 

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Organise to fight the cuts!

While Labour Party supporters point to Ed Miliband’s announcements at the Labour Party conference that an incoming Labour government in 2015 will cap energy price rises, build 200,000 houses a year and scrap the bedroom tax as an indication of how the party has returned to its roots, the reality will be quite different. Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, addressing the conference, once again spoke of the need for more cuts in state spending:

‘We won’t be able to reverse all the spending cuts and tax rises the Tories have pushed through. And we will have to govern with less money around. The next Labour government will have to make cuts too ... we will keep the benefits cap, but make sure it properly reflects local housing costs. We will have a cap on structural social security spending. And yes, over the long-term, as our population ages, there will need to be increases in the retirement age.’ Robert Clough reports

 

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Axe the bedroom tax Can’t pay – won’t pay!

After months of prevarication, the Labour Party finally agreed at its September conference to repeal the bedroom tax if it is elected in 2015. Labour had held back for two reasons: first, because it wants to be seen as financially responsible, and second, because it needs to win back the electoral support of the middle class and better-off sections of the working class, the majority of whom think that welfare benefits are too generous. However, the bedroom tax is now completely discredited, with constant revelations about the appalling impact it has on the poorest sections of the working class, and especially on disabled people. This was underlined by opinion polls which in mid-September showed 60% support for abolition. Labour had no excuse for further delay. Robert Clough reports.

 

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Atos fails the test

On 22 July the Minister for Welfare Reform Lord Freud announced that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had decided to change its approach to contracting for the work capability assessment (WCA) in order to ‘ensure that it is as responsive to the needs of claimants as possible’. He stated that the quality of written reports which Atos produces following assessments and which are then used as part of the decision-making process on benefit entitlement had fallen in quality, and that this was ‘contractually unacceptable’.

 

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Benefit cuts - No refuge from violence

Domestic violence refuges for women are already at crisis point following the slashing of local authority grants. This has made them increasingly dependent on their other main source of revenue, housing benefit. This funding is now seriously jeopardised by the introduction of the overall benefit cap and universal credit. Whilst women are already bearing the brunt of the cuts, vulnerable women are set to lose yet again, and lose vital, life-saving services.

On a typical day, 230 women were turned away by Women’s Aid because of a lack of space in 2011; this number is set to increase. Services are closing, or they are forced to limit their support. Overall, domestic violence and sexual abuse support services have been cut by over 31% since 2010. For example, Eaves, a service for women who have experienced violence, lost 72% of bed spaces, despite demand increasing by 50%. Refuge workers at times have been reduced to suggesting women take refuge on night buses, in churches or A&E departments.

 

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Newcastle: Building resistance to the bedroom tax

YHN hear us say! Can’t pay! Won’t pay!

On 25 July, local residents including FRFI supporters protested against letters threatening eviction sent out by Your Homes Newcastle (YHN), the arm’s length management organisation that manages the council housing stock. Protesters picketed the YHN ‘Working it out’ day in St James Park football stadium and staged a banner drop. The YHN event was targeted at tenants who have fallen into arrears and promised that ‘our staff along with many other organisations will be on hand to give you advice on how they can help and the support that is on offer. This isn’t just an information event, you will find out how to save money, learn about job opportunities.’

 

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Overall benefit cap is social cleansing

The Overall Benefit Cap (OBC) came into effect on 15 July. It places a ceiling on the total working-age benefits a household can receive. The cap has been set at £500 per week for a couple, regardless of how many children they may have, and £350 per week for a childless single person. If total benefits exceed the cap, money will be taken off any housing benefit the household receives. The cap does not affect pensioners, or families in receipt of disability benefits, or if one adult is working more than 24 hours a week (16 hours for a single person). The government presents it as a matter of fairness, saying that families of the unemployed should not receive more than the average wage. This is a sleight of hand: the average wage is for an individual, not for a household. In fact, the cap will result in the possible eviction of tens of thousands of people, overwhelmingly children, some within a matter of weeks. Martha Scott explains.

 

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Tories dismantle welfare benefits - Labour promises the same

Four months since the Welfare Reform Act came into effect in April, we are now seeing its brutal impact on the poorest sections of the working class. Councils are summonsing hundreds of thousands of people for non-payment of the council tax. Tens of thousands of social housing tenants are facing the threat of repossession because they cannot afford the bedroom tax on top of the council tax. From 15 July until September, the overall benefit cap of £500 per week (£350 for single people) will be rolled out across the country. If the total of a family’s benefits exceeds the cap, they will have the money taken off their housing benefit. The consequence will be that up to 80,000 families, most with three or more children, will face eviction within a few months, and for those in London, the prospect of having to move away.

 

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Lessons of the Poll Tax

Can’t pay! Won’t pay!

‘Thatcherism represents the ruling class solution to the most severe crisis of capitalism since the 1930s. Thatcher has ensured that the poor will bear the brunt of the crisis. The Poll Tax will mean that the poor pay for the poor. With two fingers raised to the working class, as much money as possible is to be transferred to the rich and privileged whilst introducing the maximum amount of repressive machinery in order to contain the inevitable protest and resistance.’

Poll Tax: paying to be poor, Lorna Reid, Larkin Publications 1990

The Poll Tax – the ‘jewel in Thatcher’s crown’

The Poll Tax was the brainchild of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in the 1980s. A punitive local tax, it was designed as a political attack on the working class – appeasing the middle class view that the old rating system let the working class off from paying its due share of local taxes – and on left Labour local councils, which charged high rates in order to provide better local services. Unlike the old rates system or the current council tax, the Poll Tax was not linked to the value or size of property. Instead, each local area set a single rate to be levied from all adults, regardless of their ability to pay.

 

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Fighting the Bedroom Tax in Newcastle: building resistance

Following the implementation of the bedroom tax on 1 April, many Newcastle residents have received threatening letters from their social housing providers. FRFI supporters have helped to set up local action groups in several working class neighbourhoods. These groups have provided space for people to organise and to raise other issues that are affecting them, as the government squeezes these communities without mercy.

The action groups include people like Maria, single and living in a housing association property in Byker, who will be £40 per month worse off because she has a box room; John in Walker, who has been fighting for 12 years for access to his children who live in Swansea, but will not be allowed to have them visit if he is forced to move to a smaller property; and Katrina, who needs to sleep separately from her husband because of his disabilities but has been accused by the council of lying about this.

 

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Build resistance - Fight the cuts

The British working class is facing a savage onslaught. The ruling class through its ConDem coalition is directing a brutal class war to destroy the state welfare system set up in the post-war period, break up working class communities and organisations, and drive down wages to poverty levels. The government attempts to justify its economic policies by reference to the public sector debt and a stagnant economy. But, as we wrote in the last issue of FRFI, such arguments ‘camouflage the real class interests behind savage austerity policies.

The government is testing the water for further and deeper attacks on state welfare and working class living standards as it attempts to sustain Britain’s parasitic and crisis-ridden capitalist economy, and with it the wealth and power of a corporate and financial elite. So it has to justify its austerity policies. The government is fighting an ideological battle, a class war, and has been able to do this in the most brazen way because it faces little or no resistance from the organised working class movement or from the so-called Labour opposition.’ Robert Clough reports.

 

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Defend the Counihans! Fight evictions in Brent!

The Counihan-Sanchez family from Kilburn is continuing to resist attempts by Brent Labour council to make them homeless for a second time. The Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign (CSHC) is supporting the family and continuing to fight all evictions and cuts in Brent. The family of seven was made homeless by Brent after they declared £18 a week income from a plot of land in Ireland. Since April 2012, the family has been in shoddy accommodation in Ealing which costs Brent council £500 per week.

 

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Attacking benefits and telling lies

Overall benefit cap

The overall benefit cap comes into force in July 2013: it sets the total benefits that a family can receive at £500 per week and £350 for a single person. The government’s argument is that benefit levels should not exceed the average wage. In reality, its purpose is to cleanse high-rent areas, particularly in London, of the poor. Initial government estimates were that 56,000 families would be hit; it has now reduced that number to 40,000. Yet the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has sent out letters to 88,840 families saying they will be affected. 47% live in London, and overall 46% live in social housing.

The government has calculated that such families will lose on average £93 per week and this will be through a cut in local housing allowance or housing benefit. These families will be unable to pay rent and will therefore rapidly build up arrears and face eviction. Even taking the lowest figures for affected households, the number of people facing eviction within a matter of months will be 100,000 in London alone, 70% of them children as it will be larger families who are hit hardest.

 

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