Tax their Boardrooms - not our Bedrooms
Thousands are marching in Scotland against the vicious, vindictive Tory Bedroom Tax.
Anger is turning to outrage on the streets and on the demos, as this cruel theft of income from the poorest has claimed its first victim. Stephanie Bottrill, a grandmother, was driven to suicide by the impossible prospect of having to find another £20 a week. She had done without heating all winter to save up for the Bedroom Tax bills.
And horrific reports are emerging of investment of time, money and staff hours by social landlords in what amounts to 'suicide watch'; housing staff, caretakers and welfare rights workers are being sent on courses to spot the danger of suicide amongst those tenants affected by the Bedroom Tax. What a searing condemnation of the system and government we live under in the 21st century!
We're all in this together!
All because the Westminster Coalition Cabinet, stuffed full of 23 millionaires - including Welfare Minister Lord Freud, with his two mansions and eleven spare bedrooms - dictates that 670,000 households across the UK have 'spare bedrooms' and are to be punished for it.
All because the Tories and Lib Dems are waging war on the working class, robbing hundreds of £billions off benefits and wages, so the millionaires can enjoy an annual tax cut of £107,000.
And people's anger is not restricted to those directly affected, including the 105,000 households in Scotland. An absolute, decisive majority of those queueing up at SSP street stalls to sign petitions demanding 'No evictions - Scrap the Bedroom Tax', tell us "This doesn't actually affect me, but..."
These 105,000 households in Scotland - including 83,000 with at least one registered disabled family member - are at the sharp end of the Tory Tax. But this affects us all in some way. When many of those confronted with bills of £10 a week or more on incomes of £71 simply can't afford to pay, rent arrears means the threat of evictions - but it also threatens the jobs and wages of workers in local housing associations and councils, plus the vital services they provide in communities.
An estimated £53m shortfall in rental income to social landlords this first year alone because of the Tory Tax has already begun to take its toll. At least one Glasgow local housing association, whose bosses are on £100,000 and £85,000 each, have declared redundancies and ruthlessly cut the wages of staff with 20-plus years of devoted service to their tenants by a shattering £5,000 a year. Their "explanation"? That they have to cut back due to the bedroom tax and Universal Credit.
United - despite vile propaganda
That's why those marching through Glasgow on Saturday 1st June should and will then turn their fire on the Scottish Tory party conference in Stirling the following Saturday, 8th June, on the protest march called by the broad-based No2BedroomTax campaign.
We need to make the Tories feel like an endangered species in Scotland - but with no plans for conservation! They need to feel the hot breath of fury at what they are presiding over and justifying, and given the clear message that the only people who will be evicted in Scotland are the Tories - not tenants.
And evictions are a very real threat - contrary to those who scoffed when we warned of this months ago. For months before the tax was imposed on April Fools Day, the SSP, No2BedroomTax campaign, Unite Community union and others took to the streets demanding that councils, local housing associations and indeed the Scottish government outlaw the threat of evictions.
Repeated protests and street campaigning has had some positive results. Councils controlled by the SNP have pledged there will be no evictions for at least the first year - provided they are satisfied "tenants have made all reasonable attempts to avoid rent arrears". So has the Labour/SNP/Green coalition Edinburgh city council. And some local housing associations have adopted the exact same policy with the exact same proviso attached.
Those are welcome, if faltering steps in the right direction. And let us be clear: they did not drop from the sky; they are concessions won by vigorous, determined campaigning on the streets, outside council meetings, through the local media and at councillors' surgeries.
People in protest can win concessions.
When tenants are eking out an existence on £71 a week, how the hell is being expected to pay ANY amount of bedroom tax 'reasonable'?
When people already under a repayment arrangement for previous rent arrears are then hit by demands for £10 or more bedroom tax, all the 'attempts' in the world will still make it impossible to avoid rent arrears and therefore they could face actual eviction procedures.
The SSP has fought from day one for councils and local Housing Associations to not only help every affected tenant apply for Discretionary Housing Payments to reduce the impact of the Tax, but also to mount a ferocious campaign for funding off the Scottish government to fill the shortfall in rent. This side of getting the Tory Tax scrapped - which is our clear, unqualified aim - that is the only serious route councils and LHA bosses can take if they are genuine about avoiding evictions.
Likewise the SSP has demanded throughout that the SNP government should use the powers they already have under the straitjacket of devolution to mitigate the crucifying cuts people face. To outlaw all evictions, which would cover local housing associations as well as those councils (such as those run by Labour) which are refusing to declare 'no evictions'; and to cough up the guesstimated £53m shortfall in rents to social landlords this year, to stop cuts to jobs, pay and services - and to then spearhead a Scots rebellion demanding back the stolen £billions off Westminster, so that neither housing, the NHS, education, transport nor any other public service suffers cuts.
Stinking Labour hypocrisy
The Labour party has unleashed a great hue and cry of criticism of the SNP government for not declaring an all-embracing, national 'No Evictions' policy. But Labour's hypocrisy on the bedroom tax and indeed evictions has a more overpowering stench to it than the average sewage works on a hot summer day!
Labour councils have failed utterly to declare against evictions. Worse than that, a mere six weeks into this vicious Tory Tax being installed, Labour councils in both North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire have delivered letters threatening evictions.
In South Lanarkshire, this scared the living daylights out of the likes of Angela Buskie, mother of three, who they expected to pay £22.08 a week, leaving her £10 a week to feed herself and three kids. She was threatened with being turfed out of her home, in a letter delivered by hand on a Sunday - because she owed them £129!
Faced with news of this outrage, Labour council leader Eddie McAvoy claimed it was a mistake; that he knew nothing about such letters being sent out. Either he's lying, or the elected Labour councillors have allowed unelected officials to run riot in wielding the Tory Tax as a blunt instrument against tenants on rock bottom incomes.
Tweeted words are cheap
In the case of North Lanarkshire Labour council leader Jim McCabe, no such feeble explanation was given. No claims of mistakes, no public apologies, no immediate withdrawal of the threatening eviction letters.
This is Scotland's biggest single social landlord. On 13 March, North Lanarkshire Labour boldly tweeted "tomorrow we will be campaigning against the vile bedroom tax". Weeks later, whilst Labour politicians make hay out of the abject failure of the SNP Scottish government to unequivocally ban bedroom tax evictions, McCabe's Labour council threatened a Coatbridge man with eviction - a single man, with a history of mental illness, who has never incurred rent arrears prior to the Bedroom Tax, and had requested a move to a smaller house, but was told none was available. And the letter warns him of legal costs of £289.70 because he has accrued the grand sum total of £50.10 in arrears!
Don't rely on Labour
These rank hypocrites are playing games with people's lives. Spouting opposition to the Tory tax to recover some of their lost base in Scotland, but not even promising to abolish it if they win the 2015 Westminster elections, and meantime implementing the Tory Tax like a gang of fundamentalist zealots, against the very people they falsely claim to represent.
At UK level, Labour's Shadow Minister Liam Byrne has declared "we are not going to make promises we can't keep"!
We can't rely on the Labour opposition at Westminster nor local Labour councillors to resist and disrupt the Tories' tax. Far from it, they are at the forefront of implementing it.
Opponents of the bedroom tax, including those directly hammered by it, need a twin track plan of action against the threat of evictions: building local networks of people prepared to mount human walls of solidarity against any attempted evictions, and piling the pressure on the politicians and housing association bosses with demands that they outlaw evictions, fight for full Discretionary Housing Payments, and launch a serious campaign for Scottish government funding to remove the prospect of either slashing staff and/or harassing people for rent arrears they are simply incapable of paying.
Running parallel to these demands against evictions, the SSP, No2BedroomTax and others will continue to pound the social housing landlords with pressure to reclassify their homes, so that rooms are declared 'not liable' to payment of the Bedroom Tax. That road is being travelled by Knowsley Council on Merseyside and Nottingham council.
The first and so far only Scottish Council to have partially conceded this is North Ayrshire.
The first and so far only Scottish Council to have partially conceded this is North Ayrshire.
They now promise to reclassify rooms, starting with smaller rooms that they may declare to be boxrooms. This is a breach in the defenses of Councils that say their hands are tied.
It is the result of a wave of repeated protests, organised by the SSP in Ayrshire, with twice-weekly street stalls, big public meetings, numerous highly publicized protests at council meetings.
They now need to be pushed to reclassify all their houses - as do other Councils and housing associations across Scotland. If enough do this, as well as fending off the dire poverty and potential evictions, it would help make the tax unworkable.
Struggle - and socialism
The SSP has been at the heart of building meetings, protests, demos and anti-eviction networks. We have spearheaded putting pressure on council and housing association bosses to outlaw evictions, reclassify rooms and demand the funding off the Scottish government to offset loss of rental income and the astronomic rise in applications for Discretionary Housing Payments - an increase of 338 per cent across all council areas in the month of April, with the biggest increase of any area in the UK being in Glasgow, where 5,501 desperate people have applied for these emergency payments, compared to 1,437 the previous month!
But the SSP will also continue to empower people with the knowledge that there is absolutely no excuse or justification for this daylight robbery of benefits.
The country is awash with wealth, but it's in the hands of a filthy rich handful.
Last year the richest 1,000 people - that's a piddling 0.003 per cent of the population! - INCREASED their personal wealth by £35 billion. That's 70 times more than their hired political servants in the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition are stealing off the poorest through the Bedroom Tax.
The richest 100 fat cats had an average rise of £2billion. So 100 people could live on the minimum wage and then still pay the entire Bedroom Tax bill for all those affected for the next 400 years!
Tax their boardrooms, not our bedrooms
The system of capitalist exploitation and inequality is absolutely obscene. Fighting the Bedroom Tax is one important step in turning the tide of crucifying cuts to living standards suffered by millions under successive Tory and Labour governments.
The fearless fighters marching against this measure should go on to help build a powerful, united movement to challenge the rule of the rich, with demands for taxing the billionaires and boardrooms, not our bedrooms, and for democratic public ownership of the banks, big industry, construction, energy and all public services.
That way - the socialist way ahead - could ensure decent, skilled jobs for all, on a guaranteed living wage, including to build top-rate social sector housing at affordable rents.
Join the marches against the Bedroom Tax. Build a movement to evict the Tories, not tenants. Join the SSP in the struggle for an independent socialist Scotland, where benefit cuts, poverty pay, poor housing and mass unemployment will be banished.