Thursday 9 May 2013

The barbarity of the bedroom tax - the victims speak

The testimony below comes from real people living in Brighton and Hove, who are hit by the bedroom tax. It is taken from a speech made by Brighton Benefits Campaign in a deputation to Wednesday's City Council Housing Committee.

Thanks to their campaign, the committee voted not to evict any tenant in arrears because of the bedroom tax.

Photos are from the lobby of the meeting by anti bedroom tax campaigners.


You’ve invested a lot of time and effort in improving your council house over the years. You’ve always paid the rent on time. Your family have flown the nest successfully. The grandchildren are a joy.

Then tragedy hits. Your daughter dies...and suddenly, in mid-life, you are pitched back into the work of full-time parenting again, looking after two young granddaughters. NOW you are told that despite your poverty, and despite your enlarged household you must pay a penalty for under-occupying, when in fact your teenage grandson comes to stay for half the week to be with his sisters and sleeps in the box-room It’s a painful reminder that how real families live doesn’t count for anything, when it comes to the bedroom tax.


You are seriously ill, constantly tired and in pain. You’ve had to give up so much of the life you had before. But at least your flat is above the neighbourhood shop. At least it is adapted - in so many ways - for your needs. At least you have long-standing neighbours who support and look out for you. It’s your home. Now you are told that you must move, and the stress and disruption is more than you can even bear to think about.


Your children no longer live with you...but they are all close by. One is a single parent and you try to help out by having the grandchildren to stay occasionally. Your own health is not good, but you’re an active person in the community despite it, and your home there is your bedrock. Paying the bedroom tax will reduce your income so far below the breadline that you just don’t know how you’ll manage. You cannot eat peioperly and you’ve lost the energy to help other like you used to. It’s now a daily struggle not to just sink into despair.


You have both serious physical and mental illnesses, and you have carers coming in every single day. You feel safe with the good neighbours around you, and are so glad that your garden lets you keep your beloved pets. Moving is unimaginable. New people and new situations are just too much to cope with alongside your illness. A discretionary housing payment seems to offer hope, but then you are told it’s only for people who agree to move and you’re refused it. you think: how can they get away with telling me to pay the bedroom tax from money that’s not supposed to be for housing, but for the extra costs I have because of my disabilities. You wonder what will become of you with cuts in the real value of social security benefits for years to come, and council tax to pay, and now this. it’s so heartless that you wonder if the intention of it all is to drive you to suicide...Then, no doubt, the money that was supposed keep you alive will come in handy for tax cuts for the well off.

Why is the housing benefit bill blamed on us? We’re not the private landlords that central government is happy to see making a killing out of the housing shortage. Where are the rent controls?

We, the least well off are blamed, when we live in a country stuffed full of private half-empty mansions, second homes and holiday homes.

The government is ducking and responsibility for this housing crisis and refusing to invest in social housing, which would create desperately needed jobs as well as homes.

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Saturday 13 April 2013

The Tories' relentless war on the poor

The attack on the poor

There is an old ruling class saying,”never let a good crisis go to waste”. It refers to the way in which economic meltdown and social breakdown can be used to make public opinion malleable to ideas which they would never normally countenance.

Nowhere is this more true than in the current debate on the Welfare State. The ruling class, with its willing helpers in the media, has created a toxic atmosphere of hate, by zeroing in on a tiny number of untypical cases, spreading lies and disinformation, and culminating in the blatant use of of an horrific tragedy to denigrate and demonise people who rely on benefits.

The Philpott case was a gift to the tabloids who were able to use it as an example of the “welfare culture”. After a week of media exposure, I still find it hard to work out the actual line of reasoning here - does living on benefits really make you more disposed to kill kids? As other commentators have pointed out, we don’t blame the NHS for Harold Shipman, nor the road haulage business for Peter Sutcliffe. No-one called for a cap to be placed on inherited wealth when a man called Stephen Seddon murdered his parents to get his hands on their fortune. But when it comes to benefits, the right-wing dog whistle is so strong the “logic”, it seems, doesn’t even need explaining.

It is true that this narrative has found some level of public support, although as the TUC has found, this is largely based on completely false ideas about how the benefits system works and how much people actually get. The picture of public opinion changes when people are given the correct information.

The TUC research showed that the public had a completely exaggerated view of
how much benefits actually are
how easy they are to get
what proportion of benefit goes to unemployed people
the level of fraud in the benefit system

The true statistics

In 2011-12, the total benefit spend in the UK was £166.98 billion, slightly higher than the total spending on the NHS - a useful soundbite for politicians in itself. But if we look at this figure more closely, we find that -

42% of that money went on the state pension and other benefits for pensioners
20% goes to people on a low income (usually in work)
16% goes to disabled people
Just 2.6% actually goes to unemployed people.

In terms of fraud, the DWP’s own figures give the proportion of “fraud and error” as 2.1%. Fraud and error are of course different things, though politicians usually wilfully conflate them. But even so, compare that with the public notion that it runs at 30 to 35%.

Fraud has been coming down for years, as improved technology makes it more detectable. In their terms, you might think that the DWP would trumpeting this success, but instead they continue to perpetuate the idea that the benefits system is riven with fraud.

The cuts from April 1st

The latest cuts to attract the headlines are -

The bedroom tax - a reduction in housing benefit in the social rent sector if you are deemed to have too many bedrooms in your home. It is estimated that 660,000 households are affected and the cut could be 14% or 25%. Disabled people and people needing extra rooms for carers will not be exempt. It is estimated that potentially displaced tenants outnumber available smaller dwellings by a factor of 10 to 1.
The cut in council tax benefit - the effect of this varies across the country, as local councils have been given the responsibility for it with 10% less funding, but the net effect leaves the poorest having to find council tax payments from benefit payments which were never designed to cover it. Millions of households are affected by this, and 450,000 households are affected by both this and the bedroom tax. The average loss of income for this latter group is £16.90pw.
1% uprating of benefits - in reality this represents a massive cut with inflation at nearly 3%. Benefits have always gone up with inflation but in a classic bit of divide and rule, Osborne and Duncan Smith argue that this is “unfair” as wages are lagging behind. What this overlooks is the pitifully low level of benefits; indexing at least helped to ensure that the position of people reliant on benefits did not get any worse. This cut, taken with the others, represents a “perfect storm” for hundreds of thousands of people.
Abolition of Disability Living Allowance - to be replaced by Personal Independence Payments. The new benefit, with stricter criteria, will drive thousands of disabled people into poverty.

Divide and rule, demonisation and the tax swindle

One of the tactics used by the ConDems most effectively has been to set the interests of people in work against those of the unemployed, whereas the reality is of course that those interests are the same. We have had the rhetoric of “strivers and skivers” and those drawn early-morning curtains.

But many of the benefits being cut are claimed by the working poor, who need those benefits to survive.

People in work will be hit by the bedroom tax and council tax benefit reductions. For example a council tenant paying a rent of £80pw in low paid employment and perhaps receiving £10pw in housing benefit will lose that money if they have a “spare” room.

Tax credits are also being squeezed, with more hours needing to be worked in order to qualify and the amounts payable being cut in real terms. Help for childcare is being cut while childcare costs spiral.

All of this will more than cancel out any rises in tax allowances, and increases in net earnings will simply cut housing benefit entitlement, as that is worked out using net income. Working people on means-tested benefits already suffer an effective marginal tax rate of 85% on rises in earnings because of the loss of benefit. But Osborne’s budget has given the 13000 richest people a tax windfall of £100,000.

The government continues to expand Workfare, but the evidence is now clear that it really is just a cheap (actually free) labour scheme. The “work experience scheme” is being touted around Homebase stores as a way of “avoiding payroll costs”, and workers in these stores are having their overtime cut as Workfare placements are brought in. It is clearer than ever that workers have no interest in seeing unemployed people being brought in to do their jobs for no wages.

Universal nightmare

Later this year, all of the main means-tested benefits will be merged into Universal Credit. This will mean cuts for large numbers of people, with people needing to keep in work to derive any small benefit. Payment of UC will require people to meet ever tightening “commitments” to seek work, with the threat of complete loss of benefit if they are judged to be not trying hard enough. Alternatively, if they are claiming on grounds of illness or disability they face ever more medical tests from ATOS, an IT firm, most of whose staff have no medical training.

UC will rely on a sophisticated interaction of IT systems, and everyone claiming it will have to do so online. Around 40% of likely claimants lack the means to access the internet. There is already evidence that there are implementation problems and the project is behind schedule. There is therefore the very real prospect of chaos for claimants.

Labour’s inadequate response

New Labour buys into much of the Tories' rhetoric on benefits. They support the bedroom tax "in principle" and they also back workfare. It was Labour who brought in and then privatised the assessment of sick and disabled people. They do little to challenge the demonisation of the unemployed and disabled because they fear the effect on what they see as their core "respectable working class" vote. That Osborne's cynical exploitation of the Philpott case was too much even for them to stomach isn't really saying very much.

Now Labour has come up with the idea of higher benefits for those who have worked and paid tax into the system, although when in power they did little to protect or promote the contributory principle. In any case, there will always be some people who have not paid in - young people or people (most likely women) who have had long-term domestic or caring responsibilities. How will they be protected? There is also the question of disabled people who may never have worked.

What the Left should be campaigning for

A basic Citizens Income for all
The abolition of Workfare and a complete labour movement boycott of it
Take benefits delivery away from the failed private sector predators
An end to discrimination against young people in the benefits system
A real Living Wage, which would reduce the subsidy to employers from the benefits system
Rent controls - to reduce the amount of housing benefit ending up in private landlords’ pockets
An end to council house sales and investment in housebuilding
Abolish the bedroom tax and demand that council refuse to evict tenants because of it.
Support those who cannot pay rent or council tax as a result of the cuts

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Sunday 7 April 2013

Hundreds march for the NHS and say "Get stuffed Kershaw!"

About 500 people marched on Saturday to oppose the threats of cuts and privatisation declared by Kershaw, the Axeman of Lewisham.

Speakers included Caroline Lucas, Mark Steel and local GMB and Unison activists.  In the video below. Steve Maclean makes an impassioned demand for the TUC to pull its finger out to take action to  defend the NHS and all public services.

Sunday 31 March 2013

Defend our NHS! Protest April 6th Royal Sussex County Hospital

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust has a new Chief Executive; Matthew Kershaw, the man responsible for cuts and privatisation in South London's hospitals. He has already revealed some of his plans for Sussex - to implement £30 million in cuts and he is willing to make people redundant to do so.


April 6th, 11am

Royal Sussex County Hospital

Join Mr Kershaw's welcome party and show him what we think of his plans to cut staff and service, and privatise the NHS.

Called by GMB, Defend our NHS and supported by Brighton and Hove Women Against the Cuts

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Tuesday 26 March 2013

Massive anti privatisation protest at Sussex University

2000 students and trade unionists demonstrated in support of the occupation on the campus yesterday. The occupation has now been extended beyond the area originally occupied.

Their statement is printed below.    Video

Today marks an important and momentous day in the history of resistance at Sussex University and in the United Kingdom. At 1pm today, students from across the country stood alongside academics, university staff and others in a mass display of solidarity, to express their anger at the Management of Sussex University. At present, a National General Meeting is taking place to discuss and plan the future of the national campaign.

We have been joined by over 2000 people, including coachloads of students and faculty from Universities such as UCL, Exeter, Manchester, Warwick, Bristol etc. This is on top of countless supporters from the University and local community. In the general meeting following the demonstration, over 20 universities were represented.

Today saw the launch of the ‘Pop Up Union’, an innovative, horizontally organised trade union, run by staff on campus. Workers at the University of Sussex have formed the new union in a bid to halt the outsourcing of 235 campus jobs. The initiative comes from rank-and-file members of the three recognised campus trade unions, with the support of students from the now six-week old occupation of the University’s Conference Centre.

During the announcement of its formation today, a member stated “The Pop-Up Union is a result of management’s refusal to engage meaningfully with staff, students, and the recognised trade unions for over 10 months. We are now taking things into our own hands. We are urging all Sussex staff to join the Pop-Up Union so that we can stand together against the attack on workers terms and conditions that outsourcing represents.”

The demonstration began with inspirational speeches and rallying calls from Alfie Meadows, Katy Clark, Michael Chessum, Dr Maia Pal, Greg Paterson and others. This support from across the United Kingdom is indicative of the significance of the campaign that is taking place at Sussex. An EDM has been tabled in parliament, senior politicians are writing to the Vice Chancellor, and the campaign is the focus of a growing movement. Today also saw the delivery of a petition signed by 5000 people demanding a halt to the privatization plans, and the discussions of industrial action being mounted.

Today saw the emergence of a reinvigorated community, both at Sussex, across other universities, and throughout public sector institutions bearing the brunt of… Students and faculty met during the demonstration to plan and discuss how we grow and support each other in this united struggle.

In occupying all cafes on campus, we have provided staff the opportunity to join our demonstration at 1pm. Moreover a clear message is sent to Sodexo that they are not welcomed to our campus, and action will continually be taken to stop this. In taking over and occupying Sussex House, the University’s management building, the campus community have reclaimed the space from which these unilateral, detrimental and indefensible decisions have been made.

Today has seen action taken by the police force that has once again demonstrated restrictions on the right to protest. The decision to call scores of riot police onto campus to inhibit the action by staff, students, faculty and guests is further evidence that management are on the back foot, and that the community is set to win. Police lines were attacking students prior to the occupation of Sussex House. In the past, management have tried to divert successful campaigns focus away from its aims into protecting the rightful actions of victimised staff and students. We will adamantly defend all who joined us today, but we pledge not to be distracted from what we are fighting for. We will not let management rip apart our community, our education, and the future of universities.

All plans for today’s demonstration were peaceful. Once again, repeated excessive brutality of the police force has led to clashes. Hearing Alfie Meadows speak at the rally encapsulated this. The police force made no arrests today, a telling sign.

We once again reiterate the demands of this campaign and the current occupation:

1. A complete halting of the ongoing bidding process and end to the entire privatization program, effective immediately.

2. A commission of students, staff and lecturers to be formed. With full remit to re-evaluate procedures and channels for holding management accountable as well as reviewing and extending student and workers’ say in these decisions.

3. An end to the intimidation that senior and middle management have used to deter students and workers for airing and acting on their concerns.
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Thursday 7 March 2013

Cameron's lies about the bedroom tax

Cameron flat-out lied yesterday about the disabled being "exempt" from the bedroom tax. There is no such exemption. In fact, his government is currently OPPOSING several attempts to get such an exemption in the courts. Almost all of the mainstream media and HM Loyal Oppposition failed to pick up on this.
Months ago the Appeal Court ruled (in relation to similar rules in the private rented sector) that it was a breach of human rights to force two children to share a bedroom if at least one of them was seriously disabled. The government is fighting this in the Supreme Court.
Earlier this week an application for judicial review of the effect of the bedroom tax was lodged on behalf of 10 children who are either severely disabled or are abuse survivors. Again these cases are being resisted by the Government.
If disabled people are "exempt", why the need for legal proceedings in the first place, and why would the Government be resisting them?
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Location:Cameron's lies about bedroom tax

Blogging resumed!

After too long away I am going to start blogging again. Watch this space!

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