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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Glasgow stands firm against ATOS

On 27 April, Iain Hodge, an unemployed father of one, committed suicide in his flat in East Kilbride in South Lanarkshire. Despite suffering from a life threatening blood condition, and despite being signed off as unfit to work by his GP, he had not received any money from the Department of Work & Pensions for 10 weeks. He was one of the 73 people who die each week after ATOS finds them capable of work.

Glasgow Against ATOS has continued to take the streets, organising protests, pickets, direct actions and meetings to demand justice for the victims of ATOS and welfare cuts, and demonstrate that solidarity and organisation can provide an alternative to despair. On Friday 31 May, up to 40 activists, including FRFI supporters, held a vigil outside the ATOS testing centre on Cadogan Street, Glasgow, with the photographs and names of some of those who have lost their lives as a result of the cuts placed on the wall outside. In response, police waded in and demanded that they be removed as they were on private property and then in a display of contempt, proceeded to rip down the pictures of the dead.

 

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Fight library privatisation in Birmingham

On 3 September the new £188m Library of Birmingham is due to open. Its arrives in the wake of £2.1m worth of cuts to community libraries issued by Birmingham’s Labour council in 2012-13, which have seen opening hours shortened by 9.5% and a 37% cut to paid library staff - with volunteers expected to make up for the shortfall. Yet before its gates have even opened, the Labour city council has made plans to privatise the running of the new library.

 

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Wythenshawe opposes the bedroom tax

Labour Manchester City Council has once again voted a multi-million pound Wythenshawe in Manchester was once the biggest council housing estate in Europe. Under Labour, those council houses remaining after ‘Right to buy’ were handed over to two housing associations, Parkway Green and Willow Park. Parkway Green has told tenants deemed to be ‘under-occupying’ their homes that ‘you will have to pay Parkway Green the difference to make up your rent or your home could be at risk.’ FRFI organised a Smash the Bedroom Tax meeting in the estate on 28 February out of which came Wythenshawe Smash the Cuts. Sam Knowles explains why she decided to get involved:

 

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Glasgow: Police ratchet up repression

Glasgow Against Atos (GAA) has been stepping up its campaign for scrapping both the Work Capability Assessment and the Department of Work and Pensions’ contracts with Atos. Such has been its success that the Scottish Daily Mail has ‘exposed’ the GAA as a violent left-wing conspiracy! As the campaign has developed so the Strathclyde Police has increased its monitoring and harassment. On 22 February, over 50 cops were involved in trying to close down a protest against Atos, arresting two campaigners, both members of FRFI, one for using a megaphone, and the other for allegedly trying to liberate a prisoner from custody. Both were released following protest phone calls to the police station where they were being held and were given bail conditions banning them from protests in Glasgow city centre.

 

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No ifs, no buts – PCS leaders collaborate with cuts

FRFI has consistently argued that the opportunist left’s reliance on the trade unions to fight the onslaught on the working class is a bankrupt strategy. In the case of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, it has become downright reactionary. The PCS, which organises within both the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and Atos, refuses to side with disabled people to confront the notorious Work Capability Assessments (WCA). Both the Socialist Party (SP) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), which are very influential in the PCS, have opposed direct action against the DWP and Atos by those fighting the WCA tests, and have tried to destroy the reputation of one of the leading disabled activists in Wales, Liza van Zyl.

 

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Newcastle: Labour attacks protesters

On 6 March Labour-run Newcastle City Council passed a devastating package of £100 million cuts over the next three years. Every Labour councillor supported it. Council leader Nick Forbes, as ever, blamed the ‘unfair’ government and complained that he passed the cuts ‘with a heavy heart and much soul searching’. Forced to respond to calls by campaigners to set a budget based on the needs of the city’s population rather than follow government dictates, Forbes said the council would be regarded as a ‘civic basket case’ if it did so.

 

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Camden: A London for the rich

Camden’s Labour council has told 761 households they will have to leave their homes after changes to housing benefit. According to the council, the ConDem benefit cap will mean a maximum of £175 housing benefit per week for three-children families. 2,816 adults and children have been told they can no longer afford to live in Camden – or anywhere in South East England. Councillors are already planning for the removal of the poor, to towns up to 200 miles away. Other Labour-run London councils are making similar plans. Louis Brehony reports.

 

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Manchester: Labour cuts and growing resistance

Labour Manchester City Council has once again voted a multi-million pound programme of cutbacks upon some of the poorest communities in Britain. As ever, Labour councillors opposed the ConDem cuts with words, but not with their votes on 8 March. At a time when working class people are starting to challenge the bedroom tax, the council is slashing £3.4m from the ‘supporting people’ budget for accommodation centres, hostels and rehousing support groups. We have a fight on our hands.

 

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Smash the Bedroom Tax - Cut the Bloated Bankers

From 1 April, the ConDem coalition assault on the working class reaches a new pitch. This month sees the introduction of the bedroom tax and massive cuts in council tax benefit. Benefits will be uprated by a miserable 1%, a cut of 2-3% in real terms. The Welfare Reform Act comes into effect, cutting disability benefits by 20% and imposing a ceiling on the benefits any family can receive. The Health and Social Care Act comes into effect, catapulting the NHS into chaos. On top of this a third round of council cuts will slash services for the poorest and put tens of thousands out of a job. Robert Clough reports.

 

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Manchester: Taking on Labour and the SWP to smash the bedroom tax

Along with hundreds of people, FRFI supporters attended the 16 March protest against the bedroom tax in Piccadilly Gardens organised by the Labour left. Through Facebook the organisers had warned anyone who didn’t want a ‘peaceful’ protest to ‘stay away’ – clearly they didn’t want the defiant, working class tactics that beat the Poll Tax.

On the day, they gave fine speeches through their sound system about how the tax should be axed along with other ‘Tory cuts’, but would not condemn the £80m cuts Man­chester Labour council had agreed a few days earlier. They refused to allow other campaigners to speak because ‘this is not an open mic’.

 

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National Health Service: catapulted into chaos

From 1 April, the NHS will be catapulted into chaos as the Health and Social Care Act comes into force. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt expressed his contempt for those labouring in the face of massive cuts when he declared: ‘Too many hospitals are coasting along, settling for meeting minimum standards.’ No longer will he be responsible for the delivery of health services, and nor will anyone else under the new and immensely convoluted arrangements. 211 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) will be responsible only for buying health care, spending £64.7bn of the NHS budget of £95.6bn for 2013/14. Foundation Trusts and other organisations, many of them privately run, will be responsible only for what they are contracted to do. The Clinical Commissioning Board exists only to support commissioning and to buy specialist services. Monitor exists only to enforce competition. The Care Quality Commission has no teeth and is grossly understaffed: it is a myth that it can do anything about quality. No one is in charge. There is no nationalised health service anymore. Instead there will be chaos.

 

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Campaigning with Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!

FRFI supporters are active in campaigns against state violence and racism and in defence of working class living standards, as part of the struggle to build a new working class movement that can resist the attacks of the ruling class on every front. Exposing the bankruptcy of the Labour Party and its followers is a crucial part of the battle against the opportunists who always, and in the end, defend the ruling class. See also pages 2/3/4 of this issue of FRFI.

Justice 4 Grainger

On 3 March the Justice4Grainger Campaign marked the anniversary of the shooting dead of Anthony Grainger by the Greater Manchester Police with a ‘speak out’ in Manchester city centre. Other families who have suffered deaths at the hands of the police attended and spoke about their experiences, including Janet Alder, whose brother Christopher died in police custody in 1998, Carole Duggan, the aunt of Mark Duggan who was shot dead by the police in London in August 2011, and Ann Michael, whose son Jacob was killed by the police in Leigh in August 2011. Charles Chinweizu spoke for FRFI, putting Anthony’s death in the context of more than 30 people shot and killed by the police in England and Wales since 2000, with no police officers facing trial for these deaths. 

 

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Housing: haves and have-nots

The ruling class justification for the bedroom tax is that it is the ‘under-occupation’ of homes by some families that leaves thousands of others in overcrowded accommodation. This divide and rule tactic is a cover-up for the real problem – the decimation of council housing stock through ‘right to buy’ programmes and the end of any council house building programme. The bedroom tax will be a further nail in the coffin as it ends secure tenancies and enables the full privatisation of all forms of social housing. Barnaby Mitchel reports.

 

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Legal Aid cuts to match austerity

Cuts to Legal Aid provision, taking effect at the beginning of April, will seal the poverty trap for the poorest sections of the working class in Britain. Communities already facing the brunt of the government’s attack on living standards, in particular those who rely on welfare benefits to survive with dignity, will now be unable to seek legal advice, help or representation to challenge the unfair and worsening conditions they are forced to suffer.

 

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War on the poor

The bedroom tax is just one part of the wholesale attack on benefits that is being ratcheted up from the beginning of April. The council tax benefit cut will affect at least 670,000 working-age recipients in both social and private accommodation including an estimated 162,000 low-paid workers. They will have to find between £100 and £250 per year. This will be on top of any bedroom tax for which they may be liable, or on top of any rent they have to pay because of last year’s cuts in local housing allowance for those in private rented accommodation.

 

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Social cleansing in Camden – Feb 2013

Camden council has announced plans to contact 761 working class households to tell them that they can no longer afford to live in their homes. The Condem government's benefits cap will affect 2,816 adults and children who depend on housing benefits in Camden. And the Labour Council’s response? ‘Get out!’

The cap in housing benefits of £175 for a family means that they will no longer be able to afford to live in Camden or anywhere else in the south east. For 2 and 3-bedroom homes in Camden the local housing allowances are £300 and £340 a week but average private rent is £445; Camden has the fourth highest rents in the country. The households affected have an average of three children and would need to find an average of £91 each per week to pay their rent. 900 children could be forced out of their schools and their education disrupted. Labour is conniving in the expulsion of the poorest people in the borough and Bradford, Birmingham and Leicester have been suggested as possible places to move them to. Meanwhile, 56 councillors share £807,473 in allowances per year (April 2010 – March 2011) – 14,400 per councillor.

 

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Pissing on the poor: Labour cuts in Manchester

Writing on Twitter recently, the Labour leader of Manchester City Council Sir Richard Leese, said anti-cuts campaigners ‘want us to piss in the wind’. He was replying to a post asking Labour to take a stand against ConDem cuts. For residents of Greater Manchester, already the victims of Leese's council cuts programme, the only surprise here is that anyone has illusions in his anti-working class party.

Since 2010 Manchester Labour council has implemented £170m in public service cuts. 2,000 council jobs have disappeared. Whole departments dealing with issues as serious as dementia, children's centres and community groups have gone as have tens of millions of pounds of grants to charities and organisations supporting a range of vulnerable people, from women suffering domestic abuse to people with drug and alcohol addictions. Labour councillors have voted unanimously for this, including councillor Julie Reed who has now opportunistically joined the Save Levenshulme Baths campaign.

 

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Newcastle cuts: the fight is on

Over the next three years Newcastle City Council will slash £100m from its budget, devastating working-class communities with service cuts and job losses. The proposed closure of 11 out of 18 libraries and the abolition of the arts budget have drawn huge opposition. Youth services across the city are to be destroyed: the entire play service is to be cut and only two youth workers are to be retained. Four out of seven leisure centres in the city are to go. Bin collections will become fortnightly. It is a ruthless onslaught on the working class. James Bell reports.

The city’s Labour council refuses to challenge the government’s cuts programme. Council leader Nick Forbes has repeatedly complained that he is in an ‘impossible situation’ and that he intends to ‘continue lobbying central government’. However, without a single councillor in the city taking an anti-cuts position, this will be an empty promise. He is more concerned about preserving his position than about the impact these cuts will have on the city he claims to represent.

 

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Glasgow Against Atos campaign

On 14 January 2013, a small victory for all those who have been fighting Atos: the Co-op will terminate the contract it has with the company to provide occupational health services to its 82,000 employees. With the current contract set to expire in March, pickets took place outside the Co-op’s flagship stores across Britain demanding that Atos be ruled out of the bidding process. The Co-op has now confirmed that the Atos contract will not be renewed. Glasgow Against Atos has been picketing other stores and companies with Atos contracts as well the company itself. The Scottish Citizens Advice Bureau has received 24,000 complaints against Atos’s decisions in work capability assessments for disabled benefit claimants. 80% of people who challenge their initial fit-for-work verdict win their cases against the company.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 231 February-March 2013

 

 

 

In all your decadence, people die...

‘I never thought when my daughters grew up and moved away from home that I might face eviction and homelessness. I didn’t expect the unemployed would be resented by the working/’striving’ members of their community for having their curtains closed after 8am. When I became angry about the treatment of the poorest, most vulnerable people in society and decided to protest I never dreamed I would be arrested for dressing in a costume and having a toy gun from the pound shop. Yet this has all happened.

 

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Hunt announces closure of services at Lewisham A&E. The fight goes on! - Jan 2013

Despite the mass opposition of local people who use and need the hospital, despite a recent 25,000 strong march and rally, despite months of vibrant campaigning and strong statements from leading health care workers within the hospital, on Thursday 31 January, Jeremy Hunt, health secretary, revealed the fate of Lewisham Hospital in south east London - announcing the closure of significant services in the A&E department, intensive care, maternity and children service.

 

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Fighting the Cuts in Newcastle - Arthur's Hill Day of Action 2 February 2013

On 2 February more than 200 people took part in a day of action against cuts to community services in the Arthur’s Hill area of Newcastle. The protests were in response to the Labour Council budget proposals which, if voted through, would see the closure of the community library, the local swimming pool and the axing of the entire play service, which currently provides open access provision for hundreds of children in the area. The event was organised by Save Our Services, a campaign focused on young people’s services, Save Moorside Library group, and local working class children with support from youth and play workers.

 

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Can’t pay Won’t pay

The ConDem assault on the working class is accelerating as the government senses there is no widespread resistance. An all-out offensive on welfare benefits is accompanying the third round of cuts to local services. Not a single Labour council has stood up to the government. The trade unions have colluded with the Labour Party to prevent any struggle from taking place. Deepening poverty is evident in the explosion of food banks across the country and the demand that they attempt to meet. Resistance has to start now across local communities, and has to be organised and led by those who are in the frontline facing the relentless attacks of the ruling class. Robert Clough reports.

 

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The Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign starts 2013 in fighting mood

The Counihan-Sanchez Housing Campaign (CSHC) plans to broaden our campaign for housing for the Counihan family and against cuts and evictions in Brent in 2013. In November 2012 we won our first victory in our battle with Brent Labour council, who have been forced to reinstate the Housing Benefit which Brent withdrew from the family when they declared them ‘intentionally homeless’ in April 2012.

 

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