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In January, a report by Newcastle’s Labour council stated that the bedroom tax has ‘withdrawn up to £3.26m of housing benefit (HB) across the city’.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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