In Bootle, Merseyside this week, hundreds of people – many of them tenants and claimants who will be hit by the tax – held a furious demonstration. Up to 660,000 people face eviction and homelessness due to the changes in the way housing benefits are paid – which will manifest in a weekly tax paid to local authorities or Housing Associations that along with other benefit changes, could see vital support for the very poorest virtually wiped out altogether.
The millionaires in Government have glibly suggested people should downsize if they can’t afford the tax – completely ignoring that there is nowhere to downsize to.
Many claimants will also face having to pay Council Tax for the first time in April, whilst London Boroughs are preparing for mass forced re-locations due to the upcoming Benefit Cap.
Liverpool has shown the way. A huge turn out is also expected in Glasgow on March 30th for a protest against the tax.
There has also been a day of action organised by Labour Left, a group within the Labour Party. The same Labour Party that introduced similar measures to the bedroom tax for private tenants when they were in Government. The same Labour Party who refuse to reject workfare and the Work Capability Assessment, the brutal regime for claiming sickness and disability benefits that they designed. The same Labour Party that has completely by-passed the successful tenant’s movement in Liverpool and is urging people to gather under their soiled banner instead.
Labour Left was founded by Eoin Clarke and represents a few of the Labour Party members who still call themselves socialists despite being members of a neo-liberal party. The group have produced a Red Book (pdf)*, which they hope will influence Ed Milliband in an ‘ethical socialist’ direction. Eoin Clarke edited the book and contributed some interesting proposals for the housing sector.
Clarke correctly points out that the UK needs more houses, and that private sector rents are out of control. He is also a keen advocate of the Right To Buy schemes that created this problem, stating: “I have no criticisms to make of the main principle of the RTB scheme.” He even praises Thatcher herself for the initiative: “Right to Buy [RTB] scheme launched by Margaret Thatcher in 1981 was initially a good thing.”
Clarke’s objection to Right To Buy is that not enough homes were built to replace those sold. To address this he proposes a mass house building scheme, designed to build 1.8 million homes over 18 years.
Whilst this is far too little way too slowly, it is the type of houses Clarke proposes to build which are of most concern. Clarke wants these houses to be built by a Non Profit co-operative as opposed to local authorities, no doubt similar to the unaccountable Arms Length Management Organisations (ALMOs) that Labour brought in to run many Council Estates.
These new houses are only to be made available to “people who were not eligible to receive housing benefit and who had demonstrated a willingness and ability to pay private rental market prices for the previous 12 months. This scheme would not prejudice any other housing scheme in which the government and social housing sectors participate. It is exclusively for hard working individuals or families who cannot afford to buy their own home.”
These are the only houses Clarke wants to build in a housing strategy that can be roughly summarised as fuck the poor.
Labour Left initially planned 16 protests around the UK to oppose the Bedroom Tax. This number has now grown and it is unclear whether they are all organised by the Labour Party. No doubt many claimants and tenants will want to attend even if they are should one happen in their area, which is completely understandable. With such a crisis about to explode in people’s lives almost anything is better than nothing – and Labour’s voice can be diluted or drowned out at these protests should people choose to show up.
But it will be tenants and claimants who will beat this tax, not fake friends from the Labour Party, Housing Associations or charities. And we should be wary of any attempt to hijack our suffering for the political opportunism of a party that deserted those with least a long time ago, if it ever really cared at all.
* Clarke’s piece is called “Private renters, the forgotten millions who abandoned Labour” and begins on page 96.
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