Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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 (email@example.com). Other groups that will offer useful advice include Defend Council Housing (firstname.lastname@example.org), Advisory Service for Squatters for advice on how to stop evictions (email@example.com) and UK Uncut for wider direct action (www.ukuncut.org.uk)
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
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