Last night (14th February), Hands off our Homes held another tremendously successful Bedroom Tax meeting in Armley. The meeting drew 50 local residents and activists from Armley, Bramley and Wortley as well as elsewhere in the city to discuss how the bedroom tax and other benefit cuts are affecting residents of Leeds and what could be done to resist the implementation.
Hands off our Homes campaigners John and Liz opened the meeting with an introductory talk to the bedroom tax. Liz, who lives alone in a two bedroom flat in Chapeltown, talked about how the bedroom tax was going to affect her. She spoke of her outrage at the prospect of eviction from her home which she’d lived in for many years, her spare room where her grandkids came to stay so her daughter could have the odd evening off, and the friendships she had built with her neighbours and others in the community over the years which she didn’t want to lose.
John also talked about how the only realistic option for many was to ‘Stay Calm and Keep Put’. For the majority of tenants moving is simply not an option, there is nowhere to move to and those that are able to move will often leave behind a necessary level of ‘comfort’ such as a garden for children to play in and their communities. The feeling from both the floor and the front was that non-payment not only is necessary in many cases when the only other option is go hungry or get into huge debt, but may also be a vital tactic in resisting the tax.
One of Armley’s Labour councillors, Alison Lowe, then raised her hand to say a few words. She mentioned that she sympathised and that the Labour group was opposed to the Westminster imposed policy. However she was quickly put on the defensive when challenged that the Council should be doing more to oppose the policy and should promise not to evict tenants how fall into arrears due to housing benefit cuts. It was also mentioned that when the very high cost of individual evictions were taken, it was extremely unlikely that the council would be able to perform mass evictions if tenants decided upon collective non-payment of the bedroom tax.
The most powerful and important part of the meeting was attendees telling their own stories of how they are affected. It was clear that many people are effected; young and older (many pensioners will be effected from October), families and single people, disabled and able bodied, in work and out of it, however it was clear to the whole room that all these situations represent an injustice. Wider issues were not lost, many talked of the unfairness of the blame for the housing and economic crisis been passed on to those who did not cause it and their right to have control over their own home.
The meeting ended in an optimistic mood when the vast majority of attendees raised their hands to commit to another meeting next week (7pm, 21st February, Denison Hall Club) to discuss practical steps to get the community together and build opposition to this barbaric tax. Many flyers and posters were taken to be further distributed and both organisers and attendees left feeling that this is something that can be fought and can be won.
The bedroom tax is unworkable and unjust: it blames social housing tenants for a housing crisis they didn’t create. If we stick together we can win!
With two local meetings behind us we await the Middleton meeting with anticipation.