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2013 young mothers in the Focus E15 Foyer in Stratford, east London, received a letter telling them that funding withdrawn by Newham council was being reinstated, while the council carries out an ‘impact assessment’.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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