- Created: Thursday, 18 February 2016 16:37
Bedroom tax victory
January 2016 marked an all too rare victory in the struggle against austerity. The Court of Appeal found in two cases that the so-called ‘spare room subsidy’, more correctly described as the Bedroom Tax, was ‘discriminatory and unlawful’ in relation to domestic violence victims with specially-adapted properties and families with severely disabled children.
The hated Bedroom Tax has caused huge additional suffering for the working class. Those whom the local authority deems to have a spare room have seen their housing benefit cut by 14%; two thirds of those affected have fallen into rent arrears and one in seven have received eviction risk letters. A study in the Journal of Public Health concluded that the tax had ‘increased poverty and had broad-ranging adverse effects on health, well-being and social relationships’.
One case was brought by a victim of domestic abuse, identified simply as ‘A’, who lives in a property with a designated panic room. The second was brought by the grandparents of a severely disabled teenager. Paul and Susan Rutherford also suffer from disability. Their three-bedroom bungalow was designed to allow carers to stay overnight. The High Court had dismissed their case in 2014.
This victory could have a major impact on the lives of thousands of people. Inevitably, in a typically punitive and mean move, the Department for Work and Pensions has sought leave to appeal to the Supreme Court to defend its right to hound some of the most vulnerable people in society into poverty and despair.
Floods and cuts in Lancashire
The recent floods which caused great damage to Lancashire and Cumbria areas have exposed how the government and councils do not care about the people on the ground. The Environment Agency’s funding for flood assets has fallen by 14%, and councils were inflicted with budget cuts of up to 40%, so funding to drainage boards and landowners who controlled river defence systems had to be reduced or cut altogether. There are even reports that the government were aware of the upcoming storms, but still did nothing to stop the serious damage that occurred; around 1,400 people are now homeless, and at least two people were killed. There has even been a £4m flood defence that has been scheduled for Kendal since 2011; it has yet to be realised. The flood budget for Lancashire is to be cut by 12% next year.
Meanwhile Lancaster’s majority Labour council offers nothing but more austerity. Under the budget put forward in November 2015 there are plans to axe the equivalent of 367 full-time jobs to help save £65m over the next two years. Other proposals include: removing funding for subsidised bus services; reducing libraries from 74 to 34 and closing five museums. It is of utmost importance that we organise.
Venezuela: lessons from Nicaragua
The recent defeat of the Chavista movement by the US-backed bourgeois opposition in the 6 December elections was welcomed by the BBC’s Radio 4 and others as ‘the end of the country’s socialist experiment’. But is it?
First of all, a little perspective. Starting with the 1999 presidential elections, this is the eighteenth national poll which the movement created by the late Hugo Chavez has contested, and only its second-ever defeat. All this it has achieved on the basis of mass popular support for its health, educational and land reform programmes and in the face of vicious US hostility expressed in the organisation of violence, economic sabotage and attempted coup (in April 2002).
Much soul-searching is taking place within the Chavista movement as to the causes of the recent setback and how to prevent it being repeated in the 2019 presidential elections. Venezuela has a large private sector and the country’s former governing coalition, the PSUV, is heterogenous, uniting worker and peasant forces with the Bolivarian bourgeoisie. While Chavez made no secret of his distrust of this ‘boliburguesia’, its influence on policy was significant and harmful, even during his presidency. Its influence seems to have grown under Maduro. In practical terms this has involved the Chavista forces in interminable dialogue with the very bourgeois forces that, egged on and funded by the Yankees, are seeing to overthrow them. The left of Chavismo has been sidelined and a large part of the worker and peasant base demoralised. This scenario is sadly reminiscent of Nicaragua in the late 1980s. In the face of unrelenting US-organised mercenary wars and economic blockade, the Sandinista government adopted its own version of perestroika.
This did not work, as the Sandinistas’ defeat in Nicaragua’s 1990 elections suggests and such tendencies in Venezuela are not likely to have any more success. As the Sandinistas’ founder Augusto Cesar Sandino put it: ‘Because of the direction the struggle is taking, the cowardly and vacillating forces are abandoning us. Only the workers and peasants will go all the way, only their organised strength will achieve victory.’
Join the protest against the brutal Close Supervision Centres
Within the high security prison estate in England are hidden small torture units known as Close Supervision Centres (CSCs). The CSC system has been notorious for its brutality since it began back in 1998 yet has been allowed to expand at massive cost to the prisons budget. In 2001 another more oppressive level to the CSC was created, labelled the Exceptional Risk Unit (ERU), based at HMP Wakefield and able to hold a maximum of eight prisoners in solitary confinement. This was increased to 12 in 2012. In total approximately 50 prisoners are held in CSCs around the country
I am currently located in the Wakefield ERU, where I am subject to constant brutality and racist abuse. A protest has been organised in February in collaboration with many groups and individuals’ including MOJUK, FRFI, JENGA, Crossroads Women’s Centre and Movement for Justice against my ongoing politically motivated detention within these units, and to highlight the CSC’s barbaric and inhumane environment. Please make the time to attend this event, and write to your MP demanding change. I thank you all in advance for your much needed support.
KEVAN THAKRAR A4907AE
HMP Wakefield (CSC),
5 Love Lane,
Wakefield WF2 9AG
Join the protest:
Thursday 18 February 12.30pm–2.30pm,
outside HM Prison Service Headquarters, Clive House,
70 Petty France,
London SW1H 9EX
Hands off John Bowden!
Just to remind readers of FRFI that long-term prisoner John Bowden will be on trial at Greenock Sheriff Court on 11 March, from 10am.
John has been writing and organising in defence of prisoners’ rights for over 30 years. For this he is the target of screws’ brutality and the authorities refuse to let him be released. This latest assault charge is another attempt to keep him behind bars long after the tariff on his life sentence has expired.
Supporters of FRFI are calling on everyone to pack the public gallery in support of John and all those prisoners who face the brutality of the Scottish prison service officers at Greenock Prison and elsewhere. A victory for John would be a victory for all!
’Tis the season to be jolly, even if it won’t be by the time you get this. Thank you for your solidarity and continuing to send me FRFI for all these years. I wish more institutions on our side of the barricade had the capacity to endure and roll the struggle forward as you do. but maybe the new year will bring more of that. Solidarity! The future holds promise.
USP Santa Barbara, California, US
Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 249 February/March 2016