Swansea Anti-Cuts lobby council to protect people threatened by bedroom tax
Paying bedroom tax is not 'financially viable'
Bart Simpson's catchphrase is "I didn't do it!"
It seems that David Phillips, the Labour Leader of Swansea City Council, has a very similar one, which goes something like "we didn't do it; it was the Con-Dems".
At least this was his response when challenged by Alec Thraves of the Socialist Party to give a definite response to the demands of Swansea Anti-Cuts Campaign at a lobby of the council held yesterday. 50 campaigners and bedroom tax victims had gathered to demand the council re-classify homes regarding the number of bedrooms to spare tenants the effects of the bedroom tax and to immediately commit to no evictions for non-payment of bedroom tax.
Councillor Phillips seemed annoyed that we had organised a lobby of the council and said we should be taking our complaints to the Con-Dem government because the Labour councillors have no choice but to implement it. To show us where we're going wrong the Labour councillors organised their own demonstration against the bedroom tax in the centre of Swansea for Saturday!
The bedroom tax is a particularly vicious attack on some of the poorest in our communities, even by the standards of this vicious government of millionaires for millionaires. During the last couple of weeks, campaigning on this issue with the Swansea Anti-Cuts Campaign has come across some shocking stories. These include the father who shares custody of his young daughter and therefore needs a 'spare' room for her visits. To downgrade to a smaller property and avoid the bedroom tax would mean giving up having his daughter stay with him.
We told Councillor Phillips we know the Con-Dems are to blame. But there are people in Swansea now, two weeks after its introduction, who are already struggling and worrying about how exactly, they are supposed to pay this tax. They can't wait two years until the possible election of a Labour government in 2015, particularly as the Labour front bench has not committed to scraping the bedroom tax. In some of Swansea's high rise flats tenants are being forced to move out of their two bedroom flats and stay with relatives because they can't afford to pay the increase!
The turnout for the lobby was good and the council did pass a resolution against the bedroom tax in general but ultimately it was frustrating because people who simply can't afford to pay the bedroom tax were offered plenty of sympathy from our council but no guarantees on keeping their homes.
Swansea council resolved to "...take all legal and financially viable measures..." to protect the people of Swansea from the worst of the impact of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat benefit cuts."
That leaves victims of the bedroom tax confused and frustrated. What measures are the council going to take and when are they going to take them? People are struggling to pay the tax now; they need to act immediately. For many of the poorest households in our communities, paying the bedroom tax isn't, in the Council's words, 'financially viable' - they simply can't pay, not and put food on the table. They need to know whether the Labour Council intends to evict them.
It is to protect tenants, and Councillor Phillips' constituents, that Swansea Anti-Cuts Campaign presented Labour councillors with two demands at the lobby:
1. Make an immediate public commitment to 'no evictions' for non-payment of bedroom tax.
2. Start re-classifying housing in terms of the number of rooms and so spare tenants having to pay the bedroom tax in the first place.
Even though both these measures are being applied and looked at by councils and housing associations around the country, Councillor Phillips says that the council can't support them. When challenged on the lobby by Alec Thraves, of the Socialist Party, to give specific answers to the demands of Swansea Anti-Cuts Campaign (no evictions for non payment of bedroom tax, re-classify the number of bedrooms in households affected by the bedroom tax), the leader of the council, refused to make any commitments. This resolution doesn't make the picture any clearer.
If anything, it seems that the Labour Council has accepted that they will 'reluctantly' implement this Con-Dem attack on the poor. An attack they themselves describe as "repugnant". For those of us with long memories, that's reminiscent of the poll tax struggle when Labour councils came out against the poll tax and then 'reluctantly', or not so reluctantly in many cases, pursued non-payers through the courts (aided by Cheri Blair who wrote helpful guidance on how to effectively harass non-payers).
Swansea Socialist Party members will be arguing that Swansea Anti-Cuts Campaign steps up the pressure on the council to come out and say exactly how they will protect their tenants from the effects of the bedroom tax. If they won't as a minimum, offer those that can't afford to pay it a guarantee of no evictions then we should continue to lobby hard, including at councillors' surgeries. The council can protect tenants, their constituents, from the bedroom tax if they chose to. We've only asked them to implement measures being carried through elsewhere.
But we also want to go further and provide a political alternative to the consensus on making cuts which seems to be embraced by all parties with varying degrees of enthusiasm. We think the bedroom tax exposes the terrible shortage of affordable housing available because governments and councils of all political complexions have failed to provide new council homes. We would be in favour of a programme of building and renovation to provide the homes people need. To do this requires electing councillors who defy Tory cuts not carry them out.
Elections to the council may be some way off but 'left' Labour councillors, particularly those with large numbers of constituents in social housing, should ponder on the fact that if you won't protect people from the bedroom tax and other Con-Dem cuts then there are socialists and trade unionists in TUSC willing to do just that.
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