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Axe the killer tax: End the bedroom tax now
"Don't blame yourself for me ending my life. The only people to blame are the government." This was what 53 year old Stephanie Bottrill from Solihull said to her son in a note she left for him before she killed herself because of the bedroom tax.
Because of the Con-Dems' bedroom tax Stephanie was told she would lose £20 a week from her housing benefit. Struggling to make ends meet, subsisting on tinned custard, it is reported that she told neighbours: "I can't afford to live anymore."
Stephanie's son Steven was quoted as saying: "They haven't thought it through properly, how it will affect people. For my mum £80 a month is a huge amount of money but for people who are on huge salaries who have gone to Eton it is a different world.
"She was struggling already, it was a lot to ask for. All the winter she didn't have the heating on. She wrapped up warm, she had hot water bottles even when she was watching the telly. In 2013 in Britain you can't imagine this. To live like that."
Stephanie had the auto-immune disorder Myasthenia gravis, which meant she couldn't work, though she was never officially registered disabled so received no disability benefit. She had agreed to downsize to a smaller property but the council had nothing available.
This is a tragedy made in Westminster by a government that wants to make working class people pay for the crisis of the bankers, the super-rich and the capitalist system they represent.
Socialist Party members in Birmingham know some family members. To them it's clear that the bedroom tax made things just seem impossible for Stephanie.
Stephanie didn't want to be a 'charity case', one relative said, adding: "I wouldn't say the government killed her but they were definitely accomplices."
That millionaire ministers make things so much worse and demoralise people when they attack as scroungers and skivers anyone who needs benefits to meet the impossible gap between low incomes and rising rent and living costs.
The Sunday People concluded: "This tragedy is a game changer. It demands a fundamental rethink of housing benefit reform..." Referring to the bedroom tax it said: "This broken tax cannot be repaired. It must be stopped."
The Socialist Party calls for a mass movement to ensure this vicious and now murderous measure is binned for good. Our communities must try to defend people within them to ensure that no-one else feel so isolated and helpless when faced with these problems.
Pro-cuts parties to blame in suicide tragedy
Labour has been attempting to present itself as the party that opposes the bedroom tax. Asked about this case, Ed Balls said that there was "no doubt this policy is driving people to the edge of despair... Now I'm for tough welfare reform but not hitting the most vulnerable, the disabled, it's not fair."
Socialists and most campaigners think all the welfare reforms are unfair. And in reality Labour is not even against the bedroom tax - Labour leader Ed Miliband could not bring himself to pledge that a future Labour government would repeal it.
As well as dire misery for those affected the bedroom tax has unleashed a fury - it is seen as totally unfair. People all over the country are starting to organise themselves to stop it. The Socialist Party is part of this and is calling on councils to refuse to evict and fundamentally to refuse to implement the Tories' murderous policy.
Dave Nellist, former socialist Labour MP, said: "All anti-bedroom tax campaigners will feel sorrow for Stephanie's family and their loss - and anger that this despicable, uncaring law has claimed her life. The Socialist Party wants to organise groups in every community so no one else feels lost or alone as Stephanie did.
"The best way to make sure no other person or family feels such pressure is for them to know their friends and neighbours will stand with them in solidarity. That's the spirit that beat the poll tax, that's the spirit that will beat the bedroom tax. And just as we forced Mrs Thatcher to retreat over that, we'll force this generation of Tories, in the Con-Dem government and in the councils that carry through their policies to the word, to back down as well."
We have no faith in any of the capitalist parties to make such a clear stand on the side of ordinary people - tied as they are to the 1% super-rich. The Socialist Party is part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition which is calling for 'no cuts' candidates to stand in elections to give a voice to the millions who oppose the government's misery measures.
- Scrap the bedroom tax
- Build local support for anyone who can't pay
- Demand no evictions of tenants who fall into arrears because of the bedroom tax or any austerity cuts. Build anti-eviction armies to protect our homes
- Stop all the cuts - tax bankers not bedrooms to pay for the crisis
- Trade unions to give a lead to the fight against austerity by calling a 24-hour general strike
We can beat the bedroom tax!
An estimated 660,000 households were hit by the bedroom tax when it was introduced on 1 April. Housing benefit is being cut for people in social housing who are judged to have one or more spare rooms. This cut targets the poorest and most vulnerable - two thirds of households affected include a disabled person. Campaigns against the bedroom tax have been launched across the country to defend those affected and call for the tax to be scrapped.
Stand Up in Bootle
Stand Up in Bootle originated as an anti-bedroom tax group. It now has 1,600 supporters on Facebook and has organised some impressive demonstrations, as well as helping hundreds of frightened tenants and claimants deal with appeals against bedroom tax assessments. Andy Ford from Warrington Trades Council interviewed Juliet, one of the main organisers.
"I saw the first leaflets, from a group calling itself 'Stand Up For Social Housing in Bootle' organised by RMT executive member Daz Proctor (who stood for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition in the recent Eastleigh byelection) before Christmas. I have been active in the community since 1994, so I took notice. I contacted them and started going to the meetings in January. The meetings were packed - sometimes more than 100 people - because no one else was talking about the huge effect of the bedroom tax at that stage."
From the meetings Stand Up in Bootle organised the massive demonstration of up to 1,200 people on The Strand in Bootle on 28 February this year. The event was a huge and unexpected success, leading to headlines such as 'Bedroom Tax Protest Sweeps Bootle' and really put the movement on the map, spawning other groups across Merseyside, Halton and Warrington.
The movement has spread very much through social media such as Facebook and Twitter as well as the traditional leaflets and posters. Gradually the group has moved from Facebook conversations and informal activity to a more formal structure with a committee and minutes, although not everyone is seeing the need or the benefit.
"A lot of people here just do not have experience of those structures" explains Juliet. Unemployment in Bootle has always been high and many people are on invalidity. Even those in work are likely to have casual or low-paid work, so not many people have been trade union members.
And yet the people in Bootle are in desperate need of help. One post on the Facebook page says: "Just had my letter from One Vision telling me I have to pay £51.76 a month for the bedroom tax. I think it is terrible, how are we meant to live? I have two boys and they have their own rooms but they said to me that they can share. Why would my seven year old want to share with his two year old brother?"
People simply cannot take any more. Stand Up in Bootle distributed 11,000 leaflets in the area for their protest on 1 May, paid for on a shoestring, and again the event was a great success.
The group is presenting a petition to Sefton Council on 27 June calling for no evictions for bedroom tax arrears, and for the councillors to pressurise the housing associations, of which there are 23 in Bootle, to also pledge no evictions. Tenants are finding that their houses have been transferred from local authority control to huge faceless housing associations. The housing associations are important because the Labour councillors' reply is often that the council no longer manages any housing.
"One Vision has 11,000 houses, and we cannot find who the governing board actually is", says Juliet. There is a similar picture for Arena, another huge housing association in the North West, which appears to have no governing board, while Riverside has a board comprising a chartered surveyor from Winchester, an accountant at BNFL, a Finance Director of Littlewoods, and a retired company director - and just one tenant! Not to worry though, Paul Brant, Labour deputy leader of Liverpool city council, is the chair of the Riverside board.
"We have found an interlocking network of housing association directors" says Juliet. "Someone might be a senior manager at one housing association, but they are also a director on the board of another, and so on in a repeating pattern."
Many of the Stand Up in Bootle group were involved in an attempt to win back the Labour Party in Sefton. People joined the party in 2004/05, at that time arguing against a major schools closure programme.
"We gained support in two wards, but they soon closed them down, with false claims of harassment" says Juliet. "There were accusations that we had formed a party within a party, and eventually the whole constituency Labour Party was suspended. I left in disgust."
What of the future? "I don't tell anyone not to pay the bedroom tax" she says, "It is a personal decision. We are helping people with the appeals, and it is not easy, it is incredibly complex, actually. Sometimes the Citizen's Advice Bureau and lawyers struggle with the regulations. We have two test cases on the go right now. And we will make any evictions a political issue - because they are."
Damned if you do...
We understand that there is no legal limit for how much in arrears rent must be before landlords can attempt to evict. The bedroom tax has complicated things. Under normal procedures, a tenant of a social landlord will not be able to move to another social landlord or a property owned by their present Registered Social Landlord (RSL) if there are rent arrears. However, what does a tenant do if they have to downsize because of the tax?
There are also problems with deposits. I had a client on a Thursday who had to downsize and had a chance of a flat on the following Monday morning. The RSL wants a deposit of £20. However, the client is on benefits and does not get paid until the following Friday. If he cannot raise the £20, he will lose the flat, not be able to downsize - and then become liable for the rent shortfall on his current flat and theoretically be liable for eviction.
A benefits advisor
The Socialist Party demands:
- No evictions of tenants who fall into rent arrears as a result of austerity cuts. Organise local campaigns to oppose the tax and defend our homes, and link them to existing anti-cuts groups. Build anti-eviction armies in every area to protect people's homes
- Stand candidates against councillors who try to evict us. Build a new mass workers' party that draws together workers, young people and activists from workplaces and anti-cuts campaigns, to provide a fighting, political alternative to the pro-cuts parties
- Cap rents and build homes. Invest in a major programme of council house building and refurbishment to provide affordable homes for all and decent jobs
- End low pay! If workers were paid a genuinely living wage they would not need to claim housing benefit
- Fight all the cuts. Trade unions must build for a 24-hour general strike as the next major step in the campaign against austerity
- Boardroom tax not bedroom tax. Make the super-rich pay for their crisis, including nationalisation of the banking system, under democratic control
- For a socialist alternative to cuts and capitalism with a democratic socialist plan of production based on the interests of the overwhelming majority of people - not the 1%
Building a local campaign
1. Spread the word
Go door-to-door with a petition and leaflets advertising a meeting on the estate. Approach the press with the stories of those affected locally
2. Clog up the system
Encourage those affected to do everything possible to make it difficult for the council. Don't fill in a rent direct debit, ask the council to 'look again' and then appeal. Apply for the discretionary housing fund
3. Prepare to prevent evictions
It may take a long time to build up arrears but we should be preparing now. Get to know the law on evictions, organise lobbies of the courts if people have hearings and be prepared to mobilise - physically blocking the way for bailiffs
4. Put pressure on councils
Collect signatures on a petition pressuring the local council to refuse to implement the bedroom tax and to promise not to evict anyone who falls into rent arrears because of austerity measures. Organise protests outside council meetings and lobby individual councillors. At the next local elections, stand anti-bedroom tax candidates as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition against councillors who carry through the cuts
Order your Anti-Bedroom Tax badges from East London Socialist Party. Five new designs - £1 a badge for £5 for ten (plus 50p p&p.) Order from [email protected] or 07432 593 149
Search for 'F The Bedroom Tax - NtxGen' for a great rap about the bedroom tax, including the lyrics "Think of all the older mummies, in their three bedroom gaffes, kids have grown up and now they've moved out, home sweet home, she don't wanna lose out, she made it nice, so many memories that made her life, but wow, now she's gotta pay that price, how is that allowed, you can't say that's right."
- One woman in Liverpool has had to have a lift installed in her house to help her get around. It takes up most of her only spare bedroom but the council insists it still counts and she has to pay the bedroom tax!
- In the north of England families with a spare room outnumber overcrowded families by three to one so thousands will be hit by the bedroom tax despite there being no local need for them to move
The Socialist will be carrying regular articles on the bedroom tax. Send your stories to [email protected]
Get in touch for campaign resources including leaflets and posters: [email protected] 020 8988 8777
In The Socialist 15 May 2013:
Fight the bedroom tax
Socialist Party news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party reports and campaigns
Socialist Party workplace news