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


Social housing not social cleansing

Communities affected by the government’s housing policies are coming together to resist them, writes Vickie Cooper

August 1, 2014
5 min read

In August 2013, residents living in the specialist Focus E15 Foyer hostel in Stratford, east London, were served with eviction notices to move out within three months. Residents were made homeless as a result of being evicted from the hostel that was supposed to protect them from homelessness. Newham Council removed funding from the hostel and suggested to some residents that they should move out of London, to Manchester, Birmingham and Hastings. Twenty-nine mothers who were all hostel residents at the time came together to resist these evictions and formed the campaign group Focus E15 Mothers.

One lead campaigner, Jasmin Stone, says, ‘We’re meeting people every week who are moved out of London. We knew one girl who was 19 and she was moved to Milton Keynes.’ Most of the mothers, though, have now been rehoused in private rented accommodation in the Stratford area.

‘We only got to stay in London because of this campaign,’ Stone tells me. With the support of community organisers, Focus E15 Mothers has grown into an effective campaign. The women talk to people on the busy local high street every Saturday, and by doing so have gathered many similar housing stories. They have created several ‘story boards’, inviting local members of the community to write about their social housing histories. In January, they occupied East Thames Housing Association and Newham Council offices. In February, they arrived in a double decker ‘Fun Bus’ at London City Hall, where they handed over their petition for better social housing.

Despite being rehoused, the women continue to campaign. In June, they demonstrated outside empty homes on Newham’s Carpenters estate, on the edge of the Olympic Park, along with Carpenters Against Regeneration Plans (CARP), UK Uncut and the People’s Assembly. They pasted posters on the boarded-up windows reading ‘This home needs a family/This family needs a home’, hung banners calling for ‘social housing not social cleansing’.

Focus E15 Mothers is now joining forces with CARP in its fight to prevent the Carpenters estate from being demolished. CARP was initially set up to ensure that tenants were returned to the estate after its proposed redevelopment. ‘But then the Olympic Games happened,’ says Tamawanda, a campaigner and resident of Carpenters estate. ‘The Olympics turned this area into prime real estate, and the council are trying to get us out fast.’

She was talking to me in the middle of an estate that is now fortressed by building cranes and new high-rise apartment buildings. This is aggressive property development at the government’s behest and the tenants’ cost. By comparison, the estate is made to look like the last chance saloon, as the council has boarded up the properties from which tenants have been decanted.

Focus E15 Mothers has also linked up with UK Uncut to connect its campaign for social housing with that against corporate tax avoidance. In June, the two groups demonstrated against the tax avoidance strategies of Vodafone and similar corporations. Their banner – ‘Vodahomes’ – highlighted the loss of public funds through corporate tax avoidance while tenants are being evicted due to housing benefit cuts.

Work cut out

Meanwhile, in Liverpool, the grassroots organisation ReClaim, which brings together anti-austerity campaigners who first met through the Mersey Federation of Anti-Bedroom Tax Groups, has set up office in a modest church. From here, four volunteers support people who come to them from across Merseyside. Well versed in housing law and human rights legislation, the volunteers aim to instil more confidence in those seeking help.

They have their work cut out. When a tenant appeals against their housing benefit being cut because of the bedroom tax, they can expect to receive a 60 to 130‑page case file from their local authority. In response, ReClaim volunteers meticulously pull together their own case file to claim exemption. Their arguments draw on the extensive legal knowledge acquired since the group was set up.

One volunteer, Mick Bennett, talks me through a case that involved him referring to 12 separate pieces of legislation. He tells me that, ‘The grassroots movement has gained so much knowledge, it’s become second nature to us to support them in court. There’s no one helping these people in tribunals and we’ve been in situations where we’ve even known more than the lawyers’.

ReClaim also tries to inform people about their rights before their arrears get out of hand. Its members quickly became aware that the people who are most affected by the bedroom tax are also the least well-informed. One volunteer, Jill, says, ‘We set aside one day a week to stand outside the One Stop Shops and Job Centres, informing people how they can appeal. Now we stand inside these places, queuing up to put the appeals in!’

ReClaim’s members feel disenfranchised by local politics. Juliet Edgar asks of the Labour-led local councils: ‘What are Labour councillors doing in Merseyside to prevent this from happening? Nothing, that’s what. They’re doing the bare minimum to support their tenants.’ Currently tenants can only rely on the temporary reprieve of discretionary housing payments (DHP), which are due to end next year anyway.

The Unite Community branch in Merseyside also offers some support and solidarity. Jill Morgan from ReClaim says, ‘Unite have provided us with things like coach fares to go and protest outside the Chartered Institute for Housing and we can use their offices for things like printing and leafleting.’

With trade unions working in solidarity with grassroots movements, housing and homelessness is beginning to be repoliticised. Gone are the days when homelessness was seen only as a personal failure and an apolitical problem. People are being denied their housing rights and grassroots organisations are mobilising to support tenants who find themselves on the brink of eviction – and giving housing officials a run for their money.

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  

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

Labour’s NEC has started to empower party members – but we still have a mountain to climb
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go

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