Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Housing cuts: Resistance begins at home

Isabel Parrott on what can be done to tackle the housing cuts

February 27, 2011
6 min read

From this April, the government will cut housing benefit, allow social landlords to charge 80 per cent of market rents and permit limited-term social tenancies in place of lifelong security of tenure. In the long term, the coalition aims to drastically reduce social housing and to cut homelessness assistance, leaving the precarious and expensive private sector as the only option for most households. And in the short term, the public sector stands to save very little, as the £2 billion the government will save on the existing housing benefit bill risks being spent on emergency bed and breakfast accommodation for newly homeless families.

The housing cuts come to a sector that has already suffered from underinvestment. It has led to poor-quality and overcrowded housing, long waiting lists, harsh ‘gate-keeping’ practices at homeless persons’ units, and a £20 billion housing benefit bill, which has increased by 50 per cent over the past ten years as a result of the housing shortage and rising rents.

The Department for Work and Pensions calculates that 936,960 households will lose an average £12 a week in housing benefit under the new regime, meaning that many people will be forced to cut back on basic necessities. In London itself, 82,000 families are vulnerable to losing their homes in what is effectively a bid to cleanse inner London boroughs of poorer households, placing a greater strain on homelessness provision in outer London. Even those in outer London boroughs could face a choice between cutting back on weekly expenditure or leaving their home, job, school, family, and support networks.

Members of the self-help Hackney Housing Group recognise that the fight needs to be for more social and affordable housing, not just against housing benefit cuts. Homelessness is not just caused by the cuts but by a lack of housing. Members of the group have been meeting regularly for the past two years and have supported each other to win housing from the council through a range of tactics, including marching down to the housing office and refusing to leave until demands are met.

One Hackney Housing Group member, Janinha, found herself locked out of her temporary accommodation and the locks changed while she was looking after a relative in hospital. She by-passed the council’s official complaints procedure and, accompanied by a large group of supporters, took a letter down to the town hall. In response, she was told she had no grounds for complaint – but in the same envelope found an acceptance letter for social housing. By having the support of a group of people, rather than facing the council as an individual, she had managed to win her case.

Many of the people in Hackney Housing Group have taken direct action to resolve difficult housing or benefit problems. They have gone on to support other people, learning from their own struggles and continuing as part of the group. Through mutual support and wider campaigns, they have gained a political awareness that comes from understanding that ordinary people have the power to make changes. Moving from personal victories, group members have turned to wider campaigns for more social housing and rent controls and, of course, against the housing benefit cuts.

Being part of a sustainable support group is very important to members of the group. Morta was made homeless with a five‑day-old baby and failed to win her case because she did not have a ‘right to reside’ in the borough. She took advice from the group and managed to get permanently housed by gaining a right to reside through a part-time job and eventually winning a legal case. ‘When I first came to the group I didn’t take it very seriously,’ she says. ‘Now I think it is really important to support each other.’ One year later, she is an active member of both the Hackney Housing Group and London Coalition Against Poverty.

Its experiences over the past few years means that Hackney Housing Group is well placed to know what people need and how to fight against the current cuts. As group member Ellie Sching puts it, ‘If we can’t stop the cuts then we need to stop the evictions. To get people involved we need to be campaigning to change our own situations, to defend our homes and to win housing for ourselves.’ The group believes that any campaign must involve the people who are facing the housing benefit cuts and that the anti-cuts movement should not simply be about protests and lobbies but should help people change their own lives. In the case of housing, people need support to keep their homes, as well as participating in a bigger campaign.

The group is currently establishing an emergency phone tree with other existing groups and activist networks in Hackney to provide an emergency number for people worried about losing their home. Members hope that the phone tree will provide a way for people to stop evictions, through advice, information about group meetings and call-outs to stand in the way of evictions.

The group’s approach combines mutual support and direct action with a local publicity campaign and is linked up with other groups that are more experienced at lobbying. Together with Defend Council Housing, the group are lobbying Hackney council to agree ‘to campaign against cuts in housing benefit and refuse to implement cuts in housing benefit where this is under local control and to promise not to evict tenants who get behind with their rent as a result of the new cuts in housing benefit.’ Defend Council Housing has already got Barking, Dagenham and Islington councils to sign up to this demand.

The lesson from past campaigns, such as that against the poll tax, is clear. The anti-poll tax movement gathered momentum on a ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’ basis, and included actions such as trying to keep non-payment court cases going as long as possible. Widespread involvement with the campaign only occurred because of the use of direct action by ordinary people to meet people’s immediate, practical needs. It was this that finally won the battle.

Today, we need to recognise that the anti-cuts movement will remain limited to people with experience of political involvement if it does not attempt to help people address their immediate needs. While important, marches and rallies will neither build the movement far beyond ‘the usual suspects’ nor win the campaign against the cuts. As groups such as Hackney Housing Group have shown, by winning individual victories, people’s personal struggles become a collective fight.

For more advice on starting an emergency housing group or running a sustainable group, taking direct action and campaigning locally against the housing cuts, get in touch with London Coalition Against Poverty (londoncoalitionagainstpoverty@gmail.com). Other groups that will offer useful advice include Defend Council Housing (info@defendcouncilhousing.org.uk), Advisory Service for Squatters for advice on how to stop evictions (advice@squatter.org.uk) and UK Uncut for wider direct action (www.ukuncut.org.uk)

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced

India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya

North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero


11