The battle against the government’s attacks on the poorest people in Britain is gathering pace. Around 200 tenants, trade unionists and campaigners from all over the country gathered last Saturday for a benefits justice summit in London.
The mood was one of anger but also defiance at the government’s benefit cuts, which comes into effect next month.
Eileen Short from the Defend Council Housing campaign addressed the packed opening session of the summit. She said, “The bedroom tax, cuts to council tax benefit and the replacement of Disability Living Allowance are not cuts that simply affect different groups of people. “It is often a double and triple whammy on the same people.”
Robert Buckley, chair of Newcastle Tenants Federation, gave an example of what this will mean in his city.
Robert told the summit that the benefit changes will hit an estimated 27,000 people. Around 6,000 council tenants in Newcastle have been told they are “under occupying” and will have their housing benefit cut. The summit was initiated by Defend Council Housing, Disabled People Against the Cuts and the Right to Work campaign. Many other organisations backed it, including the PCS and Unite unions. The central theme of day was what can be done to fight back.
Sarah Newton from South Liverpool Bedroom Tax campaign described how, after “three weeks of furious leafleting” over a 100 people came to a meeting in the Dingle area. Groups now exist across the whole Merseyside area. She said, “The most important thing we have achieved is to provide people with hope. “A lot of people sit isolated on their own and are worried. We are bigger and stronger than the government if we stand by each other.”
Campaigners from Leeds Hands Off Our Homes also spoke of their successes. The mood for unity was very clear. People agreed to link up campaigns across Britain, to share experiences and to resist attempts to divide unemployed people from workers on low pay.
Rob Murthwaite from Disabled People Against the Cuts also warned people that the government was trying to blame immigrants for lack of housing. Winning support from trade unionists will also be vital to organising resistance. Camden council housing workers have already passed a motion saying that they don’t want to evict tenants who fall into rent arrears due to cuts. They are calling on councillors to back them.
As Eileen Short told the summit, “We can win, but a lot depends on what we do to organise the biggest possible fightback.”
Our Trade Union is an actively campaigning Union.