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Newcastle residents protest against Bedroom Tax

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Tuesday 2nd April – the first working-day since the introduction of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ – saw dozens of residents across Newcastle’s East End take to the streets in a display of anger and determination. Equipped with homemade placards, banners, and powerful speeches the working class communities of Byker, Heaton, and Walker sent a clear and simple message to Newcastle City Council, to Your Homes Newcastle, and to any other housing provider, company, or official that decides to collaborate in social cleansing – ‘We can’t pay! We won’t pay!’

A day of lively protest began that morning with residents of Heaton and Byker – part of the recently launched Byker & Heaton Against the Bedroom Tax campaign – congregating at the entrance of Your Homes Newcastle Housing Office in the heart of the Byker Wall Estate. Armed with loudhailer and plenty of revolutionary spirit, residents loudly articulated their calls for a campaign of non-payment and demanded the Council and Housing Providers commit to ‘No evictions – full stop!’ and to cancel all rent arrears. The management of the Housing Office promptly appeared and addressed those protesting, warning them that their protest action may ‘intimidate our customers’! That’s right – in addressing those who face the imminent threat of rent arrears, court proceedings, eviction notices, potential loss of child custody rights, and the all too real prospect of homelessness, Your Homes Newcastle have the nerve to tell us about intimidation! Residents responded by challenging the office management on what stance Your Homes Newcastle intends to take in relation to the state’s attacks on housing. This forced them to promise the arrival of an official from the Byker Trust (the private trust that took over housing stock in the Byker Wall estate from the Council last year) to discuss our ‘concerns’. When that official – a certain Jill Haley, Byker Trust ‘Chief Officer’ – failed to appear after almost two hours, residents decided to save her the walk, proceeding to march through the estate to the Trust’s offices and demanding an immediate audience with her – which they received. The demands of the campaign were put to Mrs Haley and her colleagues (who are of course all ‘strongly opposed’ to these cuts to benefits), for Your Homes Newcastle to commit to an unconditional ‘no evictions’ policy, to refuse to initiate legal proceedings against any of their residents in arrears, and to support a campaign of non-payment. Unfortunately, their ‘strong opposition’ didn’t manifest itself in support for any of these basic demands.

The protest received local press coverage, including the following article in The Chronicle (Newcastle daily newspaper):

The day’s action continued in Walker with a ‘Smash the Bedroom Tax’ protest held outside the local Your Homes Newcastle Housing Office. Local FRFI supporters joined members of Walker Action Group and other local residents to distribute leaflets, window-posters, and collect signatures from passersby as others spoke via megaphone about how the bedroom tax will affect them personally and on how the latest attacks on benefits will totally devastate working class communities like Walker.

Newcastle Labour Council and their housing providers would do well to heed the warning they were issued this week – working class communities are organising to fight back, they are growing in strength and confidence and they are determined to win. Despite a media frenzy giving relentless expression to the ruling class’s divide and rule tactics, those who came out on Tuesday were clear about who their real enemies are and the need to build a militant campaign centred on civil disobedience to defeat them.

Both events were the first major actions against the bedroom tax organised by the local East End campaigns. They will not be the last.

Smash the Bedroom Tax! - Can’t pay! Won’t pay!