Protests took place across Britain last Saturday to mark the first birthday of the bedroom tax, and to make sure it doesn’t see a second.
Council and housing association tenants forced to survive on sometimes just a few pounds a week were at the forefront of the protests.
Darren Glover from Barnsley has lost benefits due to the bedroom tax and because of Job Centre sanctions.
He told Socialist Worker, “The bedroom tax is awful.
“And I’ve twice had my benefits stopped once for four weeks and then for six weeks.
“I wouldn’t have survived if it were not for help from my family and vouchers for the food bank.”
Maria from Ely in Cardiff told Socialist Worker, “I have lived in my home for 22 years and never felt so insecure. The bedroom tax destroys communities.”
Tenants carried beds, sleeping bags and coffins on the protests.
They were joined by trade unionists and campaigners as well as brass bands, cartoonists, and local politicians.
Mick Patrick said the response in Harlow, Essex was “overwhelming”. He said, “Nearly everyone knows someone who is affected by this unjust tax on the poor.”
Pupils from Central Foundation Girls School in Tower Hamlets, east London, joined the protest after choosing the bedroom tax as the subject of their citizenship project.
Siddika Khanom said, “The bedroom tax isn’t helping people in overcrowded housing. It is making people homeless.”
Rosie Powers from Barnsley told Socialist Worker, “When we moved into our home 14 years ago we were told the attic was just for storage.
“Now we are being charged bedroom tax for it.”
Around 70 people joined a solidarity protest in Glasgow.
The Scottish government last week wrote to all 32 Scottish councils telling them to stop charging the bedroom tax.
And the Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation has called for occupations of housing offices that continue to pursue tenants.
Protests have also pushed Labour to pledge to scrap the bedroom tax if elected in 2015. It’s an important victory, but it’s not enough.
Hull councillor Gill Kennett, who was suspended from the Labour group after refusing to support a cuts budget, spoke at the Hull rally.
“We cannot wait until 2015,” she warned. “Our surgeries are inundated with residents being forced into rent arrears.
“We call on Labour councils all over Britain to commit to never evicting residents who fall behind with their rent due to this malicious tax”.
Eileen Short represents the Anti Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice Federation that called the day of action. She said, “The government is vicious but it’s not strong.
“Most people are against the bedroom tax. We’re determined to make the government back down.”
Over 1,000 people took to the streets across three regional demonstrations in Manchester, Leeds and Cardiff.
Around 150 protested outside the empty luxury flats at One Hyde Park in central London, organised by the Unite union.
Events took place in Andover, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Chingford, Glasgow, Hackney, Harlow, Huddersfield, Hull, Lincoln, Milton Keynes, Nottingham, Southend, Southwark, Stoke, Swindon, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, York.
Campaigning has made a huge difference to tenants fighting the bedroom tax who would be otherwise left to struggle alone.
Audrey, from east London, told Socialist Worker, “The bedroom tax has left me almost nothing to live on. I’m not sure how I’ve survived.
“It does really get you down into a depression. It feels like your whole life has been stripped away, like your home isn’t really your home any more. It got to me that on the form it asks why you are living somewhere you can’t afford—but I could afford it before the bedroom tax.
“But coming to campaign meetings has helped me, and I hope more people who are affected will get involved. It gives you confidence to fight when you know you’re not the only one going through it.”
Carole O’Keefe from Leeds was threatened with eviction when she couldn’t pay her bedroom tax last year. “I got involved in the campaign after getting a leaflet through my door,” she explained.
“We challenged the eviction threat and I got a payment. Now we are ready to fight again with the new financial year.”
Jennifer Bush from Sheffield got involved after Solihull tenant Stephanie Bottrill committed suicide because she couldn’t pay the bedroom tax. “I wanted to make sure no-one on my estate would feel isolated like that,” she said.
Audrey said, “People will stand with you, but you have to come and out and join the fight. We’re not just fighting for ourselves, we’re fighting for everyone—and protesting makes a difference.”
Outsourcing firm Capita is struggling with its contract to test benefit claimants being assessed for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) .
PIP is replacing Disability Living Allowance.
Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith promised it would mean more people could have face-to-face assessments to get the help they need.
But Capita has been so overwhelmed that some people have been denied assessments.
The government had to draft in its own workers to help carry out others.
Meanwhile Lib Dem president Tim Farron last week said even the junior coalition party was now against the bedroom tax. Yet two days later, Lib Dem peers voted against a Labour motion to scrap it.
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