Demos against the Bedroom Tax – Tuesday 18th June – 6pm

We are calling on Bournemouth and Poole councils to give assurances that no social housing tenants will be evicted due to arrears accrued through the Bedroom Tax and will be holding demonstrations outside both town halls prior to full council meetings on Tuesday 18th June. Please show your support and assemble outside either Bournemouth Town Hall or Poole Civic Centre from 6pm. Thank-you

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The Bedroom Tax – What it is and why it’s unfair

As part of the government’s Welfare Reform Act 2012, the Bedroom Tax came into effect in April 2013. It is also known as the spare room subsidy, social sector size criteria or under-occupation penalty. The changes mean that Housing Benefit will be cut for people who rent from a council or social landlord if they are considered to have a spare bedroom. Strictly speaking it is not a tax but that is the name it was given and it has stuck.

The Bedroom Tax is a cynical attack on the poorest in our society. Only those claiming benefits are affected. Anyone who lives in social housing but does not claim housing benefits will not have to pay any extra. This highlights that it is not about freeing up scarce social housing.

If a property is deemed as having spare bedrooms, the following applies:

  • One spare bedroom means you will lose 14% of your entitled housing benefit
  • Two or more spare bedrooms means you will lose 25% of your entitlement

According to Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) analysis, the average claimant will see their housing benefit cut by £14 / £16 per week although 7% of people will face a cut of £31.

The Bedroom Tax affects anyone of working age who rents from a council or social landlord, ie Housing Association, and is in receipt of Housing Benefit. There are a number of different rules about what counts as a spare bed room and what rooms will result in a reduction of Housing Benefit revenue:

  • Children of both sexes under 10 are expected to share a bedroom. If they currently do not share and they remain in separate rooms, one of their rooms is considered as a spare bedroom
  • Children of the same gender under 16 are expected to share a bedroom
  • Couples and adults are entitled to have bedrooms of their own
  • If a bedroom (with or without furniture) is kept free for when a child comes to stay with a parent that they do not normally live with, this room is considered as a spare bedroom
  • Bedroom Tax allowance for a child can only be claimed by one parent, even where they share access to the child
  • Extra bedrooms for medical reasons is not allowed and considered as a spare bedroom e.g. a couple using separate bedrooms because one of them is ill or recovering from an operation will be liable to the bedroom tax

Around 660,000 people will be effected and thousands of families and single people are at risk of losing their homes. Families will loose their neighbourhood, their community, children will have to change schools and teenagers will lose their friends. In Bournemouth and Poole, 1224 social housing tenants are affected by the bedroom tax.

It has been estimated that up to 420,000 of those affected are disabled or chronically sick. Many of these properties have been modified by social housing landlords to assist people in daily living and unless they can prove that they require ongoing overnight care, disabled tenants are trapped in a situation where they will have to pay more rent.. It is highly unlikely that people forced to move through financial difficulties, will find private landlords willing to spend money to modify properties.

The government claims that the Bedroom Tax will encourage more efficient use of social housing. However the reality is, not only are many people in need of their ‘extra’ rooms but, there are simply not enough one and two bedroom properties for those affected to move into. Across the country there are already 1 million people on council waiting lists for one bedroom properties.

The vast majority of those who are forced to ‘downsize’ will switch from social housing to the private rented sector which will inevitably lead to higher rent costs and local authorities paying out more in Housing Benefits. The solution to a lack of social housing is not to punish those who live in social housing but to build more council homes.

Please also see Some ideas to fight the bedroom tax

Right, that’s enough, now what are we going to do about it?

People’s Assembly: Saturday 22 June 2013, 9:30am – 5pm, Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate, London, Westminster, London SW1H 9NH

Click on photo to add your support

Click on photo to add your support

The following has been republished from Coalition of Resistance, posted originally on Mark Steels blog and in the Independent

I genuinely hope that George Osborne does it on purpose. That he descends from the podium after a speech and sniggers to Cameron “I said ‘We’re all in it together’ again. Haaa haaaa, I don’t know how I get away with it?”

He continues to use this slogan, this son of a 17th baronet, worth £4 million and heir to many millions more, as he explains the necessity of cutting public services, libraries, pensions as well as payments to the poor, the disabled, and those who will never inherit a single baronetcy, no matter how hard they train for it.

The crisis we’re all apparently joined in – it’s generally agreed – was caused by the failures, greed and recklessness of a clique we call, for short, ‘the bankers’

Yet the people having to pay for their chaos are not the bankers. They’re the disabled and the homeless, the firefighters and lollipop ladies and anyone who depends on them. Maybe George Osborne believes these were the culprits, that it was lollipop ladies telling kids “Wait by the road a minute, love, I’m just loaning ten million quid on the basis that property values are certain to double every six months forever, and awarding myself half a million as a bonus. Right, now that’s done we’re safe to cross.”

For the poor to pay a major contribution towards the crisis created by the bankers would be a screaming injustice, but it’s so much worse than that. Because one of the few professions that doesn’t have to cough up is the bankers themselves. And to ease their pain of watching everyone apart from themselves suffer, one of the few measures taken by this government that gives more money away rather than less has been a tax cut for the richest one per cent.

There are many consequences of this, among them the fact that many people in Britain now express their feelings about economics with a theory that goes, more or less, “Aaaaaaagh.” Sometimes they go into more detail, adding “The BASTARDS.” And then “Aaaaaaaagh.”

But the coalition’s outrages are only part of the frustration felt by so many. Because there can hardly have been a time when so many people, disgusted by their government, have been at such a loss as to what we can do about it.

Until recently, many people found a home for their anger at social injustice in the Labour Party. But the New Labour years, if we’re being harsh, weren’t all that successful at promoting peace and equality. Although there are Labour members who are wonderfully effective, such as Tony Benn and Owen Jones, many of their activists left or became disillusioned.

Left wing groups have collapsed more spectacularly, in a series of crises that makes you wonder whether their activities are organised by the scriptwriters of Eastenders, leaving another layer of socialists and campaigners in confusion.

But another piece of this jigsaw of frustration is that the basis for an opposition is evident. The government is by no means overwhelmingly popular, and the Lib-Dem part of it widely held in contempt. Anyone who watches Question Time knows the easiest way for a panellist to win a round of applause is to make an angry speech about greedy bankers. When a few hundred activists moved into tents under the ‘Occupy’ banner, they won the sympathy of millions and forced ministers to appear on the news making unconvincing attempts to justify their actions.

When an opposition has appeared credible, it has won an astounding level of support – such as when George Galloway won the election in Bradford, or when Caroline Lucas was victorious in Brighton for the Green Party. Campaigns such as the one in Lewisham to prevent the closure of the A&E department at the hospital have amassed tens of thousands of supporters. But for the most part these moments remain in one area, or pass quickly, then it’s back to yelling at the telly, or if you’re really dedicated, the radio as well.

Would it be possible, I find myself thinking, to bring together those who share these frustrations, to connect with each other?

Some people are already in groups or parties, such as UK Uncut, the Greens or Labour, but I’m sure they’d acknowledge there are many people beyond their own supporters who’d be willing to contribute towards a squabble with George Osborne.

It might be tempting to consider these thoughts, then conclude you’d done your bit by thinking them, and if you wanted to do any more you could occasionally arrange them into a moan. But it seems – since enough people are thinking this way at once – that a genuine movement is possible.

For example Owen Jones, one of the most eloquent opponents of the Coalition’s austerity, is eager to help set up such a network. Salma Yaqoob, who many will know as an inspiring opponent of the war in Iraq, is another. Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, feels the same, as does Laurie Penny, the journalist who wrote powerfully as part of the Occupy movement.

The trade unions are committed to establishing this network, which can link the campaigns, the meetings, the petitions and the squeals of anguish that try to prevent the cruelties of austerity. Almost every major union has pledged to back such a movement, which it will call a ‘People’s Assembly’.

And crucially, many of this large and growingly frustrated TV-abusing section of society have greeted the idea with enthusiasm, and even a hint of optimism. For example a single letter in a newspaper announcing the Assembly attracted hundreds of initial supporters. So this is the plan.

Within the next few weeks a series of gatherings in the biggest cities in Britain will take place to launch the Assembly in each area. From there groups can be set up that will discuss ways to oppose the barrage of attacks coming from the coalition, leading to a People’s Assembly on June 22 in London. You can register for that day here

Many possibilities can open up once the connections are made. A group in one part of the country can discuss how to support a campaign to defend a hospital in another part. Even a joint letter to a local newspaper is an improvement on a lonely individual seethe.

It will be a network that embraces supporters of different groups and parties, as well as those with no affiliations. And it will bring together enough people eager to participate, who would rather do something than nothing, who would rather find themselves alongside others who agree than remain on their own.

The evidence suggests that wherever a community unites and campaigns to defend its hospitals, its libraries, it parks and its people, it succeeds at least in part. The aim of the People’s Assembly will be simply to tap into the vast amount of humanity, imagination and wit of those who wish to curtail the injustices swirling around us, and create a place that we all feel better for being in, and all feel better for having helped to create.

That’s all.

And you can carry on swearing at George Osborne on the telly as well if you like.

So leave a name or a message if you’re interested and we can add it to the many who have already said they are, and to show I’m fair, I’ll even let you leave a name and a message if you’re not interested and think I’m completely round the sodding bend.

UNISON demo outside Poole Hospital

Several hundred delegates from the UNISON conference being held at the BIC in Bournemouth attended a lunchtime flash demo, on June 21st, outside Poole General Hospital in protest against the South West Pay NHS Cartel.

Sixteen NHS trusts in the South West have banded together in a bid to make “radical” changes to staff pay, terms and conditions outside of the national Agenda for Change agreement. Each trust paid £10,000 to join this cartel.

The consortium of trusts is considering a suite of proposals to reduce workforce costs by 8 per cent across the region.

A leaked document drawn up by this consortium reveals that, if a deal cannot be reached, trusts may consider dismissing staff and rehiring them on the new terms in order to force through the changes.

Plans include changes to working hours, annual leave entitlements and pay. The consortium also intends to look at “attractive, performance-driven approaches” to pay and conditions.

Poole NHS trust is a “key player” in setting up the cartel as its chief executive, Chris Bown, is chair of its steering group.

Unison say the plans will “damage patient care and drive down pay”, and threatens the future of on-going national negotiations between unions and government representatives on changes to Agenda for Change.

Unison South West state: “We believe the cartel’s approach is simply a cost cutting exercise which will affect the quality of services.”

“The consequences for the region will be disastrous; skilled health workers will be driven out of the region, taking money out of the local economy, deepening the healthcare postcode lottery.”

Unison head of health Christina McAnea, said: “The setting up of this pay cartel is a crude attempt to drive down wages, which in turn will damage the quality of patient care in all 16 trusts.

“The cartel will lead to shortages of key staff who will vote with their feet and move to hospitals where the pay is better and patients will be the ones who suffer.”

She added: “Cutting wages of hospital workers will also have a knock-on effect on already depressed economies in the South West. Health workers are already suffering from a two year pay freeze and this further assault on their pay and conditions will hit morale as well as their spending power.”

“We do not want rogue employers threatening to undermine the stability of national pay bargaining and Agenda for Change. It is not too late for those 16 trusts to do the right thing by their patients and staff and drop this damaging and divisive plan.”

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Sources: UNISONHealth Sources Journal Nursing TimesRCN

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