Category Archives: Poverty

Brixton Rises Up As Rage Against The Rich Explodes Across The Capital

reclaim-brixton1On the Sunday Politics show yesterday Labour’s Tessa Jowell admitted that her party’s proposed three year tenancies are voluntary.  Tenants will be able to ‘negotiate’ a three year contract but landlords will be under no obligation to provide one.

What a fucking joke, and one that shows the Labour Party are every bit as out of touch as the chinless toffs they pretend to oppose.  According to one property firm there are currently 5 tenants chasing each private rental property on the market across the UK and in London that jumps to 8 people desperately competing for every home.  If Jowell thinks that tenants have any bargaining power at all when the odds are so heavily stacked against them then she is living in a dream world – or at least a world where she doesn’t ever have to worry about having no home.

When one of our most basic human needs, like a securing a place to live, is an impossibility for millions of people then society has broken down.  Every measure of homelessness is rising whilst those in both the private and social rented sector are facing eye-watering rent increases.  Private sector tenants can be evicted on a whim by landlords with just two month’s notice.  There will be no homes at all for the millions of children growing up in London and other larger cities where housing demand is at its greatest.

It is in this context that upmarket estate agents Foxtons getting their windows stoved in at Saturday’s Reclaim Brixton protest should be viewed.  This was not an act of mindless violence as some sections of the media have claimed.  Nobody got hurt.  Foxtons was closed for the day in case anybody was worrying about estate agents cowering behind their desks as their office was ransacked – as if anyone would worry about that.  This was a fucking intervention.  Few things are more symbolic of a housing market designed for profit, not people, than the leeches at Foxtons.

Thousands of people were out onto the streets in Brixton on Saturday for one of London’s biggest ever anti-gentrification protests.  At one point hundreds of people mobbed the town hall with many fighting past police lines to gain entrance to the building.  Traffic was brought to a standstill as people danced in the streets to a soundsystem taking over the road for several hours.  A march through Brixton led by London Black Revs was received with cheers and applause as it passed the railway arches where long standing local businesses have just been told they face closure.  Brixton Village, once a well loved part of Brixton Market and now an ethnically cleansed yuppy dominated enclave of over-priced bars and restaurants, was briefly occupied.  Even the police station was attacked.  And the Jobcentre got their window broken.

The mood was angry and defiant, but positive.  Reclaim Brixton followed the hugely successful March for the Homeless just two weeks ago and the mass action at the vile Property Developer’s awards last week.  At every housing protest the number of people attending is growing.  London has had enough.

One of the reasons that London’s housing market has turned into a licence to print money for the global super rich is that the city has what investors judge to be a favourable political climate towards the very wealthy.  Clowns like Boris have welcomed the influx of luxury developments with open arms.  London’s paper, the Evening Standard fawns over the rich, running pieces on divorce settlements amongst Chelsea millionaires or banker’s boardroom squabbles as if they were real proper news.  Two-bit confidence tricksters peddling get rich quick schemes like Grant Shapps are hailed as wealth creators by their fellow politicians.  And Labour’s bogus housing policies show that should they be elected then it will still be business as usual for the corporate vandals ransacking the capital.

But the mood is changing.  People are fucking sick of the rich and they are starting to show it.  What happened in Brixton – and is happening on estates across London where tenants are taking direct action to protect their homes – is just the beginning.  When people have little left to lose they will fight fucking hard.  Be ready, and be out on the streets, because political change can happen in a heartbeat.

Class War are holding a Fuck Parade on mayday in protest at the Poor Doors in the luxury tower block at 1 Commercial Street London E1.  Please spread the word and join/share the facebook page.

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Deconstructing The So Called Jobs Miracle And Why It Has Nothing To Do With Iain Duncan Smith

Iain Duncan SmithRepeatedly over the last few months the Tories have cheered that there are more people working than ever before as if this was some kind of fucking miracle.  In truth it is exactly what you would expect in a growing population.  Unless the economy is in the grip of recession there are almost always more jobs than ever before.  More people means more jobs.  They all have to shop.

According to the Office for National Statistics the total size of the UK’s workforce – which means all of those working, unemployed, or economically inactive, such as long term sickhas grown by 2.6 million since 2010.  In that period the number of people in work has grown by 2 million.  The disparity is partly down to the rise in women’s pension age, a bodge in how the figure are recorded means that all women under 65 are now included in the workforce, even if they are retired.  Previously only women under 60 were included.

The Employment Rate, the percentage of people in work, has only shifted upwards by about a percentage point, from 72.1% to 73.3%.  That’s around half a million people, which is just under the growth in the number of people who have become self-employed since 2010.  How many of them are making any money is anyone’s guess, but we do know that average earnings from self-employment are plummeting.

One of the reasons for the growth in both population and new jobs is migration.  In an astonishing fact, curiously ignored by the Tory press, there are one million more people in employment who were not born in the UK than in 2010.  That’s over half the growth in jobs during the current administration.*

What those million new workers tell us – and some will be UK citizens who happened to have been born overseas – is that most of the growth in jobs has fuck all to do with Iain Duncan Smith’s bungled welfare reforms.

To look at the impact of social security policies means delving into the unemployment figures, and crucially long term claimants.  Figures quietly released last week showed that the number of people who had been on benefits for three out of the last four years has fallen by just 91,000 since 2010.  This is despite economic growth, the Work Programme, mass benefit sanctions and the country recovering from a deep recession.  And even this figure is likely to be revised down as more data comes in.

There were just over 600,000 fewer unemployed people recorded in the latest figures than there were in the last period of the previous Government, and there are still almost 2 million of them.  Most of the jobs the Tory’s are claiming have been created have not gone to people who were unemployed.  And the quality of these jobs is also relevant.  People can be included as offically in employment if they are on workfare for example – although there are currently less people on unpaid work schemes than during the Labour administration.

As well as the growth in self-employment, nearly half a million of the new jobs are part time.  You only have to be working a few hours a month to be classed as employed.  The growth of zero hours contracts is well documented.  The quality of most of these new jobs is shit.

The Labour Market Statistics, on which all this information is based, are messy, not least because they are based on a survey.  What they suggest however is that unemployment has fallen, but not by that much, and that many of the new jobs are part time or low earning self-employment.  This is hardly a great fucking success story for a country emerging from a recession.

Perhaps a better guide to what is really going on are the Housing Benefit statistics.  This is an exact figure and reveals the number of people who need help to pay their rent.  The only two criteria for claiming Housing Benefits are a low income and low or no assets.  By the very nature of the benefit, everyone who is claiming it is poor.

There were 4.751 million people claiming Housing Benefit in May 2010.  In November 2014, the latest month for which figures are available, there were 4.883 million claims.  More people are poor now than before the Tories weren’t elected, despite the so-called jobs miracle   And that is the figure on which Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms should be judged.

*Before anyone starts feeling all UKIP remember this is not a one way street.  A study released last year found that up to 70% of graduates are planning to fuck off soon in the search of somewhere less shit.  For every Polish builder who turns up we might soon lose a marketing graduate from Surbiton.  On balance we’ve probably got the better end of that deal.  Whatever your views on immigration policy, the very worst thing that could happen is for working class people of different nationalities to be be tricked into fighting each other over the scraps they hand down.  The capitalist class of Europe – the bankers, property developers, business owners and landlords – are united.  We need to be as well.

Join the Week of Action Against Workfare and Benefit Sanctions beginning on April 26th.

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Here Comes The Forced Labour Party – Massive Extension Of Workfare And Benefits To Be Slashed

all-fucking-wankersSo finally we have the truth, or at least some of it.  Pensioners, sick and disabled people, the young unemployed and the poorest families will all face unprecedented attacks should Labour win the next election.

In their election manifesto released today Labour have pledged to scrap benefits completely for 18-21 year olds by introducing some form of mass YTS or workfare scheme.  They will force huge numbers of older unemployed people into compulsory training – by which they probably mean workfare – and the rest into their shit workfare plus a sandwich scheme.  They also want to lower the benefit cap in some parts of the country, meaning that the soaring homelessness caused by the policy in London will be extended to other cities.

They will keep the despised Work Capability Assessment, possibly making it worse with the ominous threat of it becoming even more work focussed.  This will come with a new, no doubt mandatory ‘support programme’ for sick and disabled claimants – by which they probably mean workfare.  There are no plans to halt the closure of the Independent Living Fund, reverse the atrocious reforms to Council Tax Benefits, scrap or even reduce benefit sanctions and they think Universal Credit is a good idea in priniciple.

Benefit spending overall will be capped.  Child Benefits will face a real term cut and some pensioners will lose winter fuel payments.  The pension age will be raised even further meaning more people working till they die.

This is the fucking Labour Party in 2015.  Every bit as intent on punishing the poorest as the Tories.  If the Labour Party win next month then don’t be ordinary, don’t be young, don’t fall ill and don’t be old.  Because Ed Miliband could not give anymore of a shit about the poor than Iain Duncan Smith.

You can read the manifesto at: http://www.labour.org.uk/manifesto

Above pic from Class War, standing 8 candidates, who want to double the dole and pay for it by soaking the rich.  Who would you rather vote for?

Join the Week of Action Against Workfare and Sanctions beginning on 25th April.

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It Had To Happen. Soon You Could Face An In-Work Benefit Sanction … For Going To Work

ids-anyonecanlivePart-time workers could face a benefit sanction for going to work under draconian new rules which force claimants of in-work benefits to constantly look for more, or better paid work.

When Universal Credit is fully introduced (stop laughing) Jobcentres will have the powers to dictate how many hours a claimant should be working to remain eligible for what are now called Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.  Those without children, who do not have a health condition, will be required to spend up to 35 hours a week either working or taking part in work related activity such as looking for additional work or even attending workfare.  Failure to comply will result in a sanction.

The implications are chilling.  Under the new rules part-time workers will have to attend a job interview with just 48 hours notice  or their benefits will be stopped.  This is likely to mean someone required to take time off their existing employment – at short notice – to attend a job interview somewhere else.  If they go to work instead of the interview they could face a sanction.  As anyone who has ever had a real job will know, this will place claimants in an impossible position forcing to them to make the choice between risking being sacked or sanctioned.  And unfortunately their boss will probably find out they are looking for a new job  whatever they do because part of their work related activity may include being mandated to set up an online profile to “draw attention to their availability” for alternative employment.

Claimants should not face a sanction if they can demonstrate a ‘good reason’ (pdf) for not carrying out work related activity such as attending an interview.  But no-one is likely to tell them this.  Anyone who thinks that these new rules will not lead to people being sanctioned for going to work has not seen the ever growing lists of sanctions handed out to claimants for petty, inappropriate and sometimes even bizarre reasons.  Not being able to carry out work related activity because your boss makes it impossible is not even mentioned in the decision maker’s guidance, the rule book for the faceless back office Jobcentre staff who impose sanctions.

Ministers had said that people would not face a sanction if it means giving up a part-time job to attend a temporary position with longer hours.  But even the guidance on this is vague.  Decision makers are advised that someone should not be forced to leave their job to take up a fortnight’s full time temporary work but beyond this it is left to them to take a “common sense approach”.

It is astonishing, and horrifying that Iain Duncan Smith’s obsession with benefit sanctions could now actually cost people their jobs.  It is what will happen to those who are sanctioned however that reveals the breath-taking cruelty behind this policy.

Somebody working 16 hours a week on minimum wage and paying £90 a week in rent (around the average Housing Benefit award) will receive £104 a week in wages and £111 under Universal Credit, a total of £215.  If they are sanctioned they will lose the equivalent of a Jobseeker’s Allowance payment, currently £72.40, for each week the sanction remains in place.  Depending on where they live they will almost certainly have to pay some Council Tax from that sum, around here that would be £8 a week for someone living in the cheapest band.  After paying this, and their rent, the claimant will be left with just £44.60 a week to pay for food, clothes, bills and fares to work.  This sum will be enough to disqualify them from claiming Hardship Payments or any other form of additional help.

It is difficult to imagine how someone could maintain the level of health and hygeine necessary to hold down a job on such a paltry income, unless they stop paying their rent.  Homelessness or unemployment will be the stark choice facing sanctioned working claimants – although if they leave their job they will be sanctioned again, or possibly disallowed any benefit completely.  Even if they are able to increase their hours it will barely make a difference.  For every pound they earn they will lose 65p of what little benefit they have left whilst their Council Tax liability may also rise as they earn more.  Working another four hours a week would still not give them an income above £50 a week according to the turn2us benefit calculator.  There will be no escape.  People who are working will be condemned to desperate poverty and the longest sanctions can last for three years.

All of the main political parties support the principles behind Universal Credit, even if they are sceptical about whether the IT necessary for the system is genuinely achievable.  Few of them seem to have looked into the details of what they are supporting – and what will happen to people who are self-employed is even worse (watch this space).  These rules are aimed at people with jobs, not the unemployed.  The DWP is out of control under Iain Duncan Smith and the suffering that is yet to come unless someone puts the brakes on will dwarf anything we have seen so far.

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Behind The Benefit Bashing Headlines Lies A Nasty Ideology That Is Not Confined To The Daily Mail

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A protest was held outside Manchester homelessness charity Mustard Tree yesterday over their involvement with workfare. (h/t @gajagwyn)

There was a time when policies to send sick or disabled claimants on workfare, or sanction the benefits of lone parents, would have been met with horror by the electorate.  There have always been grumblings about the social security system, as with any other institution, but unemployment was once seen as a personal tragedy caused by wider economic failings, not a personal failing caused by laziness or the wrong attitude.

This change in public opinion did not happen by accident.  Just like immigration can be used to whip up and divide sections of the population, so can the social security system.  The implanting of the idea that somebody is getting something you aren’t, even if this isn’t really true, is an age old technique.  The grass on the other side of the valley is probably not greener, we learn that as children, but are still deceived by it.

You can see this at work in the comments made online during the broadcast of programmes like Benefits Street: “look, he’s got a chair, I work 4000 hours a week and can’t afford a chair.  Bastard.”  Of course this can’t be true.  It is virtually impossible to be better off on benefits than in work and most people understand this really.  People may appear jealous of those with a life so broken they find themselves queuing outside the off licence first thing in the morning, but they don’t generally want to trade places with them.

Behind the benefit bashing headlines however much more insidious ideas have been at work that have not come from the front pages of the Daily Mail.  The flawed notion that work is always good for you, in almost any circumstances, has become a medical consensus despite the evidence that shows that it isn’t true.  The belief that young people are idle and unemployable, and that only unpaid or forced work experience will fix them, is just as embedded within the Labour Party as on the Tory front benches.  The debate about poverty is no longer about reshaping society, but about reshaping individuals to teach them not to be poor anymore.  And work, meaning waged work for an employer, because all other forms of work no longer count, is now seen as the end point of any treatment or social care programme.

Without these shifts in attitudes amongst charity bosses, trade union leaders, so-called intellectuals and liberal journalists, then the scrounger rhetoric would have collapsed at the first suicide linked to benefit cuts.  The cartoon headlines have been matched with equal relentlessness by endless reports from anti-poverty charities and pious newspaper columns about how to fix the poor.  Foodbanks that come with conditions to attend bogus self-help schemes are cheered by the liberal press as innovative solutions, when the truth is that they are businesses hoping to profit from poverty.  Bosses of homelessness charities team up with coppers and Tories to warn people not to give money to beggars because it will only encourage them to be poor.  Disability charities and trade unionists alike rub shoulders with filthy profiteers like A4e and G4S at conferences and award ceremonies.

Of course these Ned Flanders wannabes line up to condemn the coarseness of the tabloid attacks on those receiving benefits.  Yet they reproduce the exact same ideology everytime they open their mouths. As such they are equally, if not more dangerous than any acid-tongued viper at the Daily Mail.  They have built the foundation upon which the rest of the poison depends.  A collective delusion has developed amongst the mainstream liberal left that the very worst thing you can do for someone in poverty is to give them money.  No wonder George Osborne has got a smile on his face.

A protest was held outside the Manchester based homelessness charity Mustard Tree yesterday over their involvement in workfare. Please help keep up the pressure online @themustardtree and on facebook.  You can also sign and share the petition.

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There Is No Such Thing As A Fair Benefit Sanction And They Are Not A Tory Invention

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A pregnant women who was sanctioned in disguise at a recent protest so Jobcentre staff don’t recognise her. From The Poor Side Of Life

Iain Duncan Smith’s mass use of benefit sanctions is driving people to their deaths.  But it began under Labour, and was not opposed by most trade unions or charities established to support people living in poverty.

In 2008 the Labour government published a green paper entitled ‘No one written off: reforming welfare to reward responsibility’ (PDF).  Gordon Brown himself wrote the forward to the document pledging “tough responsibilities that respect tax payers” for all of those on some form of out of work benefit.

Even for a Government which had already introduced workfare and the despised Work Capability Assessment, some of the measures proposed were shocking.  These included mandatory work related activity – a vague term that often means workfare – for both sick and disabled claimants and lone parents with children over 5.  Other proposals included a policy that long term unemployed people should be sent on workfare for “as long as needed”.  Those with a drug problem would be required to undertake mandatory treatment regimes and possibly even drug testing.  Benefit sanctions would be strengthened. A new and privatised ‘Fit For Work’ service would be introduced to encourage people to go back to work quickly if they became ill.  And all those currently claiming sickness or disability benefits would be ‘frequently’ re-assessed at the notorious Work Capability Assessments which were being run by French IT company Atos.

Atos were far from the only private company set to rake in huge sums from Labour’s savage attack on the poor.  The green paper proposed that private providers would be able to bid for any welfare-to-work service.  This was based on a recommendation from David Freud, now better known as Lord Fraud, the current Tory Minister for Welfare Reform.

Except for mandatory treatment for drug users, all of these measure were eventually introduced, some by Labour and some by the Tories.  Many of Iain Duncan Smith’s most vicious policies were actually first proposed by Labour.

The consequences of Labour’s welfare reforms were devastating. 52,399 benefit sanctions were inflicted on Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants in March 2010.  This was twice the number from just two years earlier and more than the 51,142 sanctions handed out by the Tories in September 2014, the most recent month for which figures are available. 

In March 2010 the number of people on sickness benefits who had their benefits stopped for failure to carry out ‘work related activity’ hit a high of 3,673.  This is just slightly below the 3,828 sanctions handed out to this group in September 2014.

To hear the current rhetoric from the TUC, you would think that mass benefit sanctions were a Tory invention.  TUC General Secretary Frances O-Grady recently released a statement saying “Under this government the sanctions system has become a cruel maze in which it is all too easy for claimants to lose cash for minor breaches of rules and random decisions.”  This was in response to a report showing the desperate toll that sanctions were taking on lone parents and most importantly their children,  As far back as 2008 the government’s own experts, the Social Security Advisory Committee, recommended that lone parents should not face sanctions.  The Labour government rejected this advice (PDF).

The TUC’s position is that some sanctions are acceptable.  Most charities share the same view.  The Labour Party have merely said there will be no targets for sanctions should they win the election.  Iain Duncan Smith already claims there are no benefit sanction targets.

Yet again this week coroners found that benefit stoppages had been a factor in two tragic suicides.  Leaving someone with no income at all, in one of the richest countries in the world, is inexcusable and inhumane.  To do this to people who can’t find a job, when we know there are not enough jobs to go round, is dystopian.  In the UK today, if you are poor, then you live under a regime of state inflicted terror.

Jobcentres have no idea what is going on in people’s lives when these sanctions are handed out.  They often do not know if someone has a mental health condition, or if they are homeless, a victim of domestic violence, or even just in the midst of a personal crisis.  Perhaps they are already desperately trying to avoid eviction by paying off rent arrears out of meagre benefits.   Perhaps they are about to have their gas or electricity disconnected.  Benefit claimants are already desperately poor.  No matter how ‘fair’ or ‘proportionate’ sanctions are claimed to be, no matter how many so-called safeguards are introduced (and ignored), benefit sanctions will always destroy lives.  For a small few they will be the tipping point that turns this so-called ‘help’ from the Jobcentre into a potential death sentence.

This is what the TUC and some charities support and it is fucking vile.  Benefit sanctions need to be stopped without exceptions.  It is way beyond time that those leading the trade union movement, and those in charities that claim to care about people in poverty, were brave enough to take a meaningful stand against the horrifying regime inflicted on those unable to find work.  Their current whining from the sidelines is both incoherent and ineffective.  Their cowardice makes them complicit in killing people.

On the 19th March the community section of UNITE Union will be holding a day of action against sanctions.  This will include protests outside Jobcentres across the UK.  Many have been organised by unemployed people themselves and they deserve support.  But even UNITE have doggedly refused to answer the question of whether they are opposed to all sanctions.

The PCS Union, who represent Jobcentre workers, have  commited to this position, although they refuse to do anything much about it.  Both UNITE and the PCS should be ferociously lobbying the TUC leadership to take an urgent stand against all benefit sanctions.  It is the very least they can do after all.  Now these sanctions can also be inflicted on low paid part time workers.  A trade union movement that doesn’t just tolerate this cruelty, but endorses it in some circumstances is worse than negligent.  It is a trade union movement that is actively attacking the very poorest working class people.  And for that the TUC leadership should hang their fucking heads in shame.

For a list of the protests called so far as part of UNITE’s day of action against sanctions visit their website.  Please help spread the word.

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David Cameron Plots The Social Cleansing Of The South

benefit-cap-banner

A further cut in the Benefit Cap, as pledged by David Cameron yesterday, could lead to the social cleansing of the entire south of England as families on benefits are pushed ever further north by soaring housing costs.

Although touted by the right wing press as an attack on the workshy, this move is aimed squarely at struggling low income families, and almost all them are single mothers.  If these women were looking after one of Iain Duncan Smith’s four children they would be hard working people, toiling for the wealthy on poverty pay and doing the right thing.  But looking after your own kids is no longer considered work and so they are scroungers who should have kept their legs shut as some of the nastiest and most virulent voices now claim.

Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the social security system was that the days when a working class woman was slut-shamed and stigmatised for having children on her own looked to be a distant memory. Benefits meant that single people of either sex could look after their children with some degree of independence and dignity if they found themselves without a wage coming in.  They would be poor as fuck, but they would be housed at least.  This applied whether they were single parents due to choice, relationship break up, bereavement or simply making a youthful mistake – and most people have had an unprotected shag at least once in their lives which is all it takes after all.

The introduction of the Benefit Cap, alongside workfare and sanctions for lone parents, has meant that single mothers are back in the firing line like never before.   Lone parents now face being driven from the very cities they have lived and grown up in due to a succession of brutal housing benefit cuts that will punish their children most acutely of all.  These are not people living in Chelsea mansions as this government pretend, but people living in the last remaining private rented slums that will still accept benefit claimants in places like Croydon, Tottenham or Catford.

The reduction of the benefit cap to £23,000 will mean cities such as Bristol, Bath and Cambridge will also become unaffordable to out of work parents with as few as two children.  For the small number who need a property with more than three bedrooms, then barely anywhere south of Birmingham will be cheap enough.  Councils in the midlands are already warning of pressures to housing and services in the region due to families being relocated from London and the economic cleansing from the first benefit cap has barely even begun.   Should the cap be lowered even further then the trickle of families in poverty arriving in northern towns from the south could becom an avalanche, re-entrenching the North-South divide like never before.

The truth is that benefits have always been capped, but previously this took place at a local level. Benefits for an adult on unemployment benefits are capped at just £72.40 a week plus an additional amount towards housing costs. How much this is depends on where you live. In Islington, where the average rent for a one bedroom flat is estimated to be £415 a week by estate agents Foxtons, Housing Benefit is capped at £255.50 a week for a single adult without kids. That’s why, apart from those in social housing, not many poor people live in Islington anymore. In Barnsley the average weekly rent for a one bedroom flat is £89.30 according to this property website, whilst the Housing Benefit cap for a single adult is £69.23 a week. Lots of poor people live in Barnsley.

It is not the fault of claimants that rents have spiralled out of control.  It is the failure of free market policies that have led to shrinking wages and soaring housing costs.  Greedy landlords and exploitative employers who don’t pay proper wages are behind the growing benefit bill.  And it is in their interests alone to blame struggling single mums and use nasty policies based on nasty prejudices to bully families out of their homes and communities.

Above pic from Haringey Solidarity Campaign.

A march for homes will be taking place in London this Saturday 31st January with meeting points in both East and South London.  Please help spread the word: South London facebook page
East London facebook page

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