The Tories want to fine people in social and council housing that have ‘spare’ rooms in their homes. But people are refusing to take the attacks lying down, writes Dave Sewell
More than 12,000 people across more than 50 towns and cities protested against the Tories' vicious bedroom tax last Saturday.
From April poor social housing tenants will lose up to 25 percent of their housing benefit if they are deemed to have too many rooms. For many this will make it impossible to pay the rent.
But the plans have been met with fury.
One of the biggest protests was in Liverpool, where up to 900 demonstrated. Campaigners have launched anti-bedroom tax groups in many of Merseyside's poorest areas.
“I'm on the dole, and I've got a two bedroom flat where my daughter stays several nights a week,” said Peter Kelly from Dingle. “Now they say her bedroom is void, and I'll have to pay up or move out.”
He's one of up to 30,000 people in Merseyside who'll be hit by the tax.
Kirsty Kirklands from Bootle was protesting after hearing how many of her friends and family will be affected. Her aunt stands to lose £50 a week.
“She's just being persecuted,” said Kirsty. “It's like the government wants to make everyone homeless. There will be families on the streets.”
One of the most powerful speeches was from Lyndsey Wade, who has been told she'll have to pay the tax on the room her ten year old son slept in until he died two years ago.
Dawn Grant and her disabled husband could lose their three bedroom home in Wallasey.
“The housing association have got no one bedroom flats for us to move into,” she told Socialist Worker.
“If we move we'll end up paying more for a private landlord. And no-one would take our dogs—I don't want to see them put down.”
The day of action was called by a section of the Labour party.
But with just a few weeks before the bedroom tax comes into effect, resistance need to start now.
Will and Sandra from Newsham Park agreed.
“What I'd like to see is everyone who's affected refusing to pay,” said Will. “There's not enough room in prison for them all.”
Sandra added, “The government has already had to make concessions, and a few councils have said they won't evict people who go into arrears because of this. Liverpool council should definitely do that!”
This growing movement is giving more and more people the confidence to say they won't leave.
“I'm going to stay put,” said Dawn.
“It will take months, and there will be casualties, but this bedroom tax will be beaten.
“They'll have to put their hands up and say it's not working—and in the meantime I'm not going anywhere.”
Councils rule on evictions
Many councils and housing associations have spoken out against the bedroom tax.
But funding cuts have put them under pressure to evict people who fall behind on the rent.
So one of the movement’s main demands is for “social landlords” to refuse to evict. This is already having an effect.
Knowsley housing trust in Merseyside has said it will reclassify bedrooms as studies to help tenants avoid the tax.
Dundee council, run by the Scottish National Party, has promised not to evict tenants in council housing for the first eight months.
Brighton and Hove, run by the Green Party quickly followed suit.
There are conditions on this, but it’s still an example that Labour councils should be put under pressure to follow.
Trade unions in Glasgow housing associations and Tower Hamlets council in east London have also voted to stand by housing workers who are disciplined for opposing evictions.
“We’re all in the same fight, and I believe we can win it,” said Glasgow housing worker Dave Sherry.
Demo round-up ‘This is just the start’
There were hundreds on the streets of Sheffield. Campaigners in the north east of England set up meetings in Durham and Gateshead after demonstrations of more than 200 people.
There were 100 in Cambridge, and more than 50 in Darlington, Workington and Bath.
Campaigners in Manchester turned their 500-strong rally into an open-mic meeting followed by a militant march around the city.
In Hackney, east London, more than 100 people attended a Labour Party organised Great Benefit's Swindle meeting on Tuesday of last week. Many agreed that we should resist the government's hated bedroom tax in the same way as Thatcher's poll tax.
They listened to columnist Owen Jones, local Labour MP Diane Abbot and Hackney mayor Jules Pipe, among others.
In Southampton, around 50 people joined a bedroom tax protest, including council tenants affected by the tax. They collected signatures on a petition to calling on the council to refuse to evict.
Around 250 people attended a protest in Hull. People queued to sign up to the campaign.
Many council tenants joined, including a delegation from The Warren young people's resource centre that had made banners.
A call for resistance to bailiffs got the loudest applause of the day.
In Norwich, calls for people to unite to stop evictions went down especially well on the 150-strong protest. Activists called another meeting for Wednesday to plan more activity and discuss the way forward.
Suzy Franklin, a health worker in Unison union joined a 75-strong protest in Plymouth. Speaking in a personal capacity, she said, "People’s response was brilliant, and loads of people signed the petition.
“But this is just the start. We’ve already forced the government to backtrack—now they should just scrap the whole thing!”
Thanks to Alan Gibson, Phil Sanderson, Nick O’Brien, Mary Littlefield, Dave Franklin