The eight Labour MPs who attended the lobby meeting were perhaps somewhat discomforted by the level of hostility, and indeed rowdiness that occasionally erupted from the floor of Meeting Room 12. It was obvious from the chair, Ian Lavery’s, comments and opening address, that the MPs involved, and their offices had hoped for a reassurance of votes won from grassroots bedroom tax campaigners. The assembled activists, who had come from as far afield as Glasgow and Kent, were not so keen on patting any MP on the back, and the most obvious complaint voiced from the floor was that, despite Labour opposition to the Bedroom Tax policy, Labour held local councils are nonetheless proceeding with evictions against council tenants.
The MPs present, in the order in which they spoke, included the chair of the meeting: Ian Lavery MP for Wansbeck [http://www.ianlavery.co.uk/], Margaret Curran, MP for Glasgow East, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland [http://margaretcurran.org/], Kate Green, MP Stretford and Urmston, Shadow Minister for Disabled People [http://www.kategreen.org/], Emma Reynolds, MP for Wolverhampton, Shadow Housing Minister [http://www.emmareynolds.org.uk/], Jack Dromey, MP for Erdington, Shadow Home Affairs Minister [http://www.jackdromey.org], Rachel Reeves, MP for Leeds West, Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions [http://www.rachelreeves.net], Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham, Shadow minister for Employment [http://www.stephentimms.org.uk/], and Wayne David, MP for Caerphilly [http://www.waynedavid.labour.co.uk/].
The MP heckled the most was, without a doubt, Rachel Reeves, whose comments on welfare as reported in the Observer came under fire. There seemed to be a general consensus among the MPs on why the bedroom tax must be scrapped, most obviously that it’s implementation is actually more expensive than any possible saving, Stephen Timms mentioning the research of Prof. Rebecca Tunstall. [http://www.york.ac.uk/chp/people/tunstall/, Full report here: http://www.york.ac.uk/media/chp/documents/2013/Testing%20DWP%20Assessment%20of%20Impact%20of%20SRS%20Size%20Criterion%20on%20HB%20Costs%20University%20of%20York.pdf], where other MPs such as Mr Lavery and Mr David mentioning the human cost of the policy, and Emma Reynolds and Rachel Reeves mentioning the infrastructural cost of the policy, namely that housing associations facing reduced rental income cannot afford to invest in new housing stock at a time of great housing shortage.
Having found the audience less welcoming than they had perhaps expected, the chair and assembled MPs went to great lengths to point out that the bedroom tax lobby meeting was occurring just before an opposition day devoted entirely to fighting the Bedroom Tax in the commons. Needless to say, the motion to end the Bedroom Tax was defeated 252:226 [http://www.parliament.uk/business/news/2013/november-/mps-debate-abolition-of-the-bedroom-tax/]. The aspect of this timing that the chair, Mr Lavery in particular, was keen to impress on the assembled activists was that this motion was only brought forward because of the vociferous nature of our campaigns against the Bedroom Tax, which are now gaining the attention of such papers as the Guardian [http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/oct/20/protests-grow-over-benefit-cuts]
Shaun O’Regan from Southwark Benefit Justice Campaign, among others, also viewed the related debate in the commons, mentioned above. He noted that the lobby meeting ‘surprised the Labour politicians about how angry we are, not just about the bedroom tax, but all the other cuts’. He added that the ‘shameful Lib Dems and Tories’ who spoke in favour of retaining the Bedroom tax in the Commons debate ‘made us more determined to go aay and build for the Southwark Benefit justice demonstration on the 25th of January 2014.’ Southwark Benefit Justice Campaign have also been instrumental in lobbying Harriet Harman, whose fierce opposition to the Bedroom Tax has recently been reported by the Independent [http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/nick-cleggs-promise-of-bedroom-tax-review-is-a-sham-says-harriet-harman-8930911.html]
The Southwark campaign have also obtained the following response from their local council. [link to file]. The following Guardian Article published on the 18th of October illustrates the injustice of Southwark Council, who had issued 5,800 summonses. [http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/oct/18/thousands-court-council-tax]
Councillor Richard Livingston issued a response (text below), in which he explains both his abhorrence for the ‘particularly brutal’ Bedroom Tax, and explains how he is helping effected households in his Livingston ward, ‘using all the Discretionary Housing Payment money we receive to keep families in their homes by bridging the gap created by the Bedroom Tax, we are also finding extra money from other tenants through the Housing Revenue Account.’
A great deal of credit for the occurrence of the meeting on Tuesday 12th must be offered to the grassroots groups who seem to have caught the ear of the Labour shadow cabinet, not least Southwark Benefit Justice Campaign. Here is what some of those activists contributed:
Much of the ire voiced in the meeting was eloquently summed up by Mr Robert Punton of DPAC, who described empty promises as ‘wind in the air’ and whose standing ovation was reported by the Morning Star: [http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-7614-bedroom-tax-provokes-stormy-scenes-in-Parliament#.UoYhXXBK8-c]
‘Robert Punton DPAC activist and advocate of Birmingham Anti Bedroom was infuriated by the crass disregard in which the panel of Labour MP’s quoted that they where here to listen to the people suffering under this bill, but spent 90% of 2 hour preaching party rhetoric at an increasing angered impassioned audience.
Once Mr Punton got the opportunity to speak he told the greatly decreased panel, (because contrary to their promised to listen once they delivered their speeches they flooded out of committee room on mass) until the Labour Party turns it’s words into actions, then all their promises of post 2015 are just hot air on the wind! They must demand their Labour Council colleague who told Councils to refuse evictions and tear up arrear bills. Labour MP’s oho are true Socialists must join campaigning groups such as DPAC OCCUPY. UK UNCUT, ANNONYMOUS, UNIONS & PEOPLES ASSEMBLY on the streets to demand Social justice for all. The sentiments expressed throughout Mr Punton where echoed and expanded upon from other speakers from floor from all sections of society and communities the length the country.
Until Labour wash away “new” Labour ideals and return to the true principles or grandparents generation a free NHS welfare rights not charity and a playing level field which treats all equal, they need to bring the Party back to the people NOT expect the so titled underclass to move to them. Until they do they will remain unelectable as far the targets of the Coalition are concerned
The actions of the Labour Party over next two weeks months will determine the true credentials and prospects of whether they truly deserve the chance and responsibility to govern us in 2015. If they honestly support the growing unrest being represented by Grassroot groups such as DPAC, UK UNCUT & OCCUPY they will turn their hot air into action.
Will they prove to us they are part of Solution or just collaborators in the problem which is the Coalition. Will they cut back or join us fighting back!
They need to realise that the peoplesunrest escalating and desperately cornered people will vote for change not in the ballot box but in the street and on the road.
The people are doing community advocacy through DIRECT ACTION!’
The fact that the motion to end the hated bedroom tax was defeated in the commons is a disheartening blow to all of us, but on the other hand, the fact that it took place at all means that the opposition are listening to at least some of our cries. Moreover, the media coverage of the day gives us some small consolation that our voices will be heard.
It is difficult to know even whether Mr Lavery’s response to one question, that he desired an end to the Work Capability Assessment, and not just the replacement of ATOS, was something which actually reflects the thinking of his entire party. One thing is certain, they want our votes, and the energy and enthusiasm of our grassroots campaigning to back them in 2015. Whether the Labour party deserves our support perhaps remains to be seen.
Postscript: Media Coverage
Here’s Alan Wylie’s blog about the day: http://diaryofaloonyleftie.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/bedroom-tax-meeting-in-parliament.html
Also present was Ros Wynne Jones, who live tweeted throughout the event
Coverage of the commons debate
– http://www.itv.com/news/2013-11-12/iain-duncan-smith-to-miss-bedroom-tax-debate-in-commons/ (describes us as “a number of protesters!)
Letter to Southwark Benefit Justice Campaign from Councillor Richard Livingstone
I am sorry I cannot be with you today. As you know the fight for benefit justice has many fronts and so this morning I am at a meeting alongside the Citizens Advice Bureau and other voluntary organisations in Southwark to lobby Job Centre Plus about the explosion in the number of benefit claimants who have had the totality of their benefits removed through sanctions, in what often appears to be an arbitrary way.
The Bedroom Tax is a particularly brutal piece of legislation that fails to understand the realities of, and pressures on, social housing. As a local Councillor I have had to deal time and time again with cases of families with disabled members whose needs are ignored in how the Bedroom Tax is applied, with separated families where the access rights of the children to one of the parents have been compromised as the room that they stay at the weekend has been declared surplus by the DWP. Or the cases where Southwark Council has decided that a family needs three bedrooms, that family is suddenly being hit by the Bedroom Tax as a result of the DWP applying a new set of harsher criteria.
Government talk about the Bedroom Tax being in incentive for families to downsize their homes to the minimum that they need. But where are these homes going to come from? Like the rest of London, we have acute housing problems in Southwark. The waiting list for a council home in Southwark has 20,000 families on it. We estimate it would take ten years to move every family affected by the Bedroom Tax to a new home that government deems to be the right size. And all this, of course, is before you consider the physical and emotional upheaval of having to leave the family home for something smaller.
We are trying to help families caught up in this as much as legally possible. In particular, we are not only using al the Discretionary Housing Payment money we receive to keep families in their homes by bridging the gap created by the Bedroom Tax, we are also finding extra money from other tenants through the Housing Revenue Account. Once again, the government is making sure that it is the poor that have to pay for the poorest.
The Bedroom Tax is an obscenity. I welcome the commitment of Rachel Reeves an our next Labour government to repeal it and wish you all well in the Lobby today.
Councillor Richard Livingstone
Cabinet member for Finance, Resources and Community Safety
Labour councillor for Livesey Ward