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

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

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

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

‘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

Marching against the bedroom tax in South London

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 237 February/March 2014

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’.

Rachel Francis

For details of our Valentine’s Day special against Southwark council cuts, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

More Articles ...

  1. Fighting the bedroom tax in Newcastle
  2. Fighting the bedroom tax - Loophole gives hope to tenants
  3. War on the working class and another irrelevant election
  4. Home care workers: marginalised and exploited / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014
  5. Focus E15 Mothers - ‘No room at the inn’ says Newham Labour council / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014
  6. No option but resistance / FRFI 236 Dec 2013/Jan 2014
  7. Newcastle Labour Council cuts: 8 million more reasons to break with Labour and build a new movement
  8. Fighting the bedroom tax in south London/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013
  9. No to Newham’s social cleansing Defend the Focus E15 Mothers!/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013
  10. Organise to fight the cuts!/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013
  11. Axe the bedroom tax Can’t pay – won’t pay!/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013
  12. Atos fails the test /FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013
  13. Benefit cuts - No refuge from violence /FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013
  14. Newcastle: Building resistance to the bedroom tax/FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013
  15. Overall benefit cap is social cleansing/FRFI 234 Aug/Sep 2013
  16. Tories dismantle welfare benefits - Labour promises the same
  17. Lessons of the Poll Tax/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013
  18. Fighting the Bedroom Tax in Newcastle: building resistance/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013
  19. Build resistance - Fight the cuts/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013
  20. Defend the Counihans! Fight evictions in Brent!/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013
  21. Attacking benefits and telling lies/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013
  22. Glasgow stands firm against ATOS/ FRFI 233 Jun/Jul 2013
  23. Fight library privatisation in Birmingham
  24. Wythenshawe opposes the bedroom tax /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013
  25. Glasgow: Police ratchet up repression /FRFI 232 Apr/May 2013