Labour faces calls to turn its words into actions on the bedroom tax. Ed Miliband gave tenants and campaigners a boost when he committed a future Labour government to scrapping the tax at Labour’s conference last month.
But Labour councils are still implementing the tax and chasing tenants for money.
“Every day we meet more frightened people who have had letters from the council saying they could go to court or lose their home,” said Fran Postlethwaite of Barnsley Against the Bedroom Tax. “The council knows people can’t pay but they are pursuing people for money they haven’t got.”
Barnsley council leader Steve Houghton was shocked by the testimonies of tenants at meetings last month. He passed a motion opposing the bedroom tax and pledging the council would “do all it can to help tenants, working within the law and its legal responsibilities”.
This apparently doesn’t stretch to banning evictions or writing off bedroom tax debt.
Yet Labour councils in Scotland, which has seen some of the fiercest opposition to the bedroom tax, have already ruled out evictions.
Now Scottish Labour has brought legislation drawn up by the Govan Law Centre to the Scottish parliament hoping to stop evictions at housing associations too.
The Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation, which held its conference in Glasgow last week, backs the bill.
So for tenants threatened with eviction in England and Wales, the question is why can’t their councils do the same.
“They’re hiding behind the idea of staying within the law,” said Fran. “But it’s the same law for Scotland and they’ve made different decisions there.”
Councils have mostly been hesitant to go for evictions.
“It’s wrong to evict,” Lancaster councillor Margaret Pattison told Socialist Worker. “You can’t get more money out of the poorest people. It costs £500 to evict someone and then you have to put them up in private accommodation, so it costs more in the end.”
But the Labour Party nationally has yet to come out against evictions—hoping to rely on repealing the tax in 2015. But as Barnsley campaigner Julie said, “We can’t wait until 2015—we’ll have nothing left.”
Fran added, “Labour needs to speak to its councils. It would be a huge step forward if it came out against evictions. We can’t keep things in the ridiculous position they are in now.”