Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Campaigning against the Bedroom Tax

It’s going to be a very warm June whatever the weather.

There was a ‘wait and see’ moment on April 1st of this year following the formal introduction of the hated ‘bedroom tax’. Would the opposition subside following combination of last minute climb downs and the reality of the legislation passing?

The early indications are that this will not be the case. The Scottish media, particularly the Daily Record is reporting, almost daily, stories of individuals and families affected and accounts of heavy handed eviction notices (some no doubt as a consequence of bad bureaucracy rather than political intent).

This is the fuel which will ensure that the campaigning momentum continues. New local groups are being formed almost daily and there is a coming together of a whole number of campaigning organisations, trade unions and equality groups committed to continue the fight.

There is no single organisation which can or should claim to represent all the campaigning interests or to have a monopoly on ideas for the best tactics. The No2Bedroom Tax campaign has played a key role in circulating information and seeding local campaigns. It played a massive role in the March 30th Demo in Glasgow and has also been active in bringing together local groups across the UK in discussing future co-ordinated action. The Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation has brought together a number of local groups, particularly of the west coast, and some trade union branches to form a structure. Its founding statement can be found here and its public face heavily focuses on physical opposition to evictions - more of which later. Some of the biggest anti-bedroom tax meetings have been organised by the mainstream political parties Labour and SNP. Add to this the high profile campaigning activities of Govan Law Centre and of Shelter Scotland not to mention skilled political activists such as Citizen Smart (see his Youtube Bedroom Tax song here) and Mary Lockhart and the ingredients for a broad based campaign are obviously present.

There are of course differences of approach. These can be separated into four broad strands although many groups and individuals would support pursing more than one.

Defeating the Bedroom Tax at Westminster through repeal either during the current parliamentary term or post 2015.
Many things can happen over the next two years. The Coalition remains weak and Liberals are deeply uncomfortable about the tax and about their current electoral prospects. A continuing campaign across the UK and targeted at specific MPs is a must.

Scottish Parliament action to prevent evictions through Bedroom Tax and provide financial support.
Legislation could be introduced as proposed by Govan Law Centre to ensure that there would be no evictions for Bedroom Tax arrears. Of course this would not top debt mounting up or prevent local authorities and housing providers from pursuing debt through other means but it would mean no-one losing their house. It would be problematic for housing associations in particular with respect to their revenue streams. Shelter has proposed that any such action should also be supported with Scottish Government funding to obviate the impact on personal debt and housing provider funds. Alternatively, a probably most persuasively, the Scottish Government could supplement the Discretionary Housing Payment funding provided by Westminster to expand to all those hit with the Bedroom tax, the support they need to avoid arrears.

Council ‘No Evictions’ policies

The First Minister has announced that all SNP led councils will not evict during the first year and a number of other councils have said the same including Edinburgh. Others have more nuanced policies which imply that every other route and then some will be pursued before eviction is sought. The limits of these policies are partially in relation to time (what happens next year) and also are only of any use to council house tenants. For instance GHA residents in Scotland’s largest city are are helped not a jot by such policies.

Physical opposition to evictions

Although there should be a lively and fear free debate about what action should be taken if and when individual tenants face eviction, I believe that the concentration by some on this tactic is a mistake. Even in the worst case scenario, and not withstanding some of the ridiculous resort to threat of some housing providers, mass evictions are unlikely any time soon. Successfully opposing evictions through court action, winning policies at housing provider level or through civil disobedience will not remove debt. As indicated above, there are a whole range of campaigning aims to be pursued to avoid the crisis of evictions through Bedroom Tax.

What happens next?

On June 1st the Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation has called a demonstration in Glasgow. The latest information is that it will be a rally rather than a march and speakers have still to be announced.

On June 8th a demonstration has been organised outside Tory Party conference in Perth

On June 26th the Petitions Committee of the Scottish Petition will consider the Govan Law Centre petition. A lobby is expected.

And watch out for STUC campaigning activities on austerity in last week of June. This will include a major bedroom tax event – details soon ...

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting thanks. I believe there's even more that could be on there! keep it up Very interesting thanks. I believe there's even more that could be on there! keep it up