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)
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
The under-30s could be decisive in the general election. Frances Grahl meets young people hit by Tory austerity and looks at what's driving their support for Labour
“To them it’s just another number, someone else being sent back. But when you’ve got three children being left without their dad … it’s quite major,” writes Rebecca Omonira-Okeykanmi.
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker
In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing
After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry
Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again
Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood
7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.
After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani
If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945
On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.
Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow
The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite
Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself