Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Westminster Council plans to use powers recently given to local councils to pass new by-laws banning people from lying down or sleeping in public places, depositing ‘materials used as bedding’ or distributing food for free in a half-mile radius in the Victoria area. Any of these offences will generate a £500 fine. The ‘no free food’ part of the by-law is the culmination of many years of animosity that the council has shown towards soup-run groups.
The by-law is just the latest attempt by Westminster to remove the poor from the borough. The infamous Shirley Porter, the city council leader from 1983 and mayor in 1990, played a significant – and illegal – role in cutting back social housing as a means of increasing the Conservative vote. After a near defeat in the 1986 local elections, Westminster’s Conservatives set about replacing council tenants, students and nurses with owner occupiers, who they assumed would vote Conservative. They targeted marginal wards, selling off council flats as they became vacant – a policy that paid off with handsome Tory victories in 1990.
The people they displaced were either housed out of the borough or in asbestos-ridden tower blocks in Labour-controlled areas. Even after the policy had been exposed, and Shirley Porter and her cohorts were being chased by the district auditor for a multi-million pound surcharge, Westminster Council still aimed to sell off 500 council homes a year.
What now is Westminster’s problem with soup runs? These involve small groups of volunteers, often but not always connected to churches, gurdwaras or other religious groups, who feed people on London’s streets. At least 50 groups are engaged in feeding people across London every night. The soup runs, unlike the services funded by the council, feed anyone who turns up, with no restrictions such as immigration status. Research carried out by the London School of Economics in 2009 (partly funded by Westminster) recommended that they should be better coordinated and distributed more evenly across London but recognised their value.
Under the government’s devolution of more power to local authorities, all Westminster has to do to pass a new by-law is ‘consult’ with local residents. The consultation closed on 25 March. The council received 500-plus responses and is currently looking at them to decide what to do next. That they have not pushed straight ahead with a vote can be taken as a victory for campaigners against the by-law. Westminster has a strong Conservative majority, and it is certain the vote will be won if it is put to the council.
If Westminster does decide to ban the distribution of free food, many groups have vowed to continue regardless. The police may not be keen on arresting church-attending pensioners from the suburbs. However, what will happen if the other part of the by-law is passed, criminalising homeless people for lying down or sleeping, is less clear. The area the by-law covers is not clearly demarcated, so it will be difficult to warn homeless people that they may be committing a crime.
There is already the archaic Vagrancy Act 1824, which allows police to arrest people should they be ‘vagrant’ – have accommodation available and refuse to go to it. In 2009 a freedom of information request by The Pavement magazine discovered that 1,220 arrests had been made in London under the Act. With the new by-law Westminster seeks to create an offence purely to make sure that someone can be arrested for sleeping in a public place because they have nowhere else to go.
Westminster has more homeless people then any other borough in London, with 1,600 people sleeping rough in the borough over the course of a year. Yet Homeless Link has estimated that its members, homeless charities, expect a 25 per cent average cut in funding and they will therefore have to reduce the number of homeless people they work with. At the same time, cuts in housing benefit will mean claimants will no longer be able to live in Westminster.
As more people become homeless, many for the second, third or fourth time, many will find their way back to Victoria’s streets, back to the day centres and soup runs. With a rock-solid Conservative majority on the council, only the strength of public opposition can stop them using this by-law to push the poor out.
To join the campaign go to www.housingjustice.org.uk
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
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
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
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