Update – week of action on benefits, housing in Leeds, Fair Ten challenge to electoral candidates and more

This update includes information about a planned week of action on benefits from Saturday 25th April to Saturday 2nd May. We also include a report of the petition on housing to Leeds City Council, organised by TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition). Hands Off Our Homes and Leeds Welfare Fightback have participated in a project to challenge electoral candidates on issues of concern to Leeds people – including housing and welfare – see below for event on 29th April. Finally, we tell you more about how you can get involved in campaigning on welfare, housing and related issues.

National Week of Action on Benefits, Saturday 25th April to Saturday 2nd May.

This has been organised by Boycott Workfare, and will involve people all over the country taking action to highlight the exploitation of benefit claimants through compulsory unpaid work placements (backed up by the threat of sanctions). These issues have been increasingly highlighted in the national press, and there are some indications that the tide of opinion is turning against the deliberate scapegoating and demonising of benefits claimants, and the continuing lack of decently paid secure jobs; however, there is a huge amount of corporate profit involved in the Work Programme and other parts of the Welfare-to-Work apparatus which none of the major parties are going to let go of lightly. Indeed, there are increasing fears that plans for more “targeted support” for claimants who are described as “vulnerable” will result in more and more damaging demands which pose serious risks to claimants’ mental and physical health.

In Leeds we have decided that the best approach in this pre-election period is to continue to raise public awareness of the harshness of the benefits system, the use of sanctions to bully people into taking up inappropriate and exploitative work or other activities in the interests of wage suppression and corporate profit, and the penalising of ill health, disability and mental health issues through the benefits system. Therefore, we will be out in Briggate for as much of that week as possible, with stalls, information displays and leaflets aimed at the general public, on all aspects of welfare including housing and the bedroom tax . We need as many people as possible to give some time to this. If you can give a few hours during that week, please get in touch with Leeds Welfare Fightback at leedsagainstsanctions@gmail.com, or leave a message on 07930966205.

There are also general planning meetings on Tuesday afternoons in the Unite Community office at Ebor Court,  Skinner Street,  Leeds. LS1 4ND. Please come down if you can – come around 1.30pm, and call 07932424118 at the door to be let in. Following the election we will need to take stock of the new government’s plans for welfare, and decide the focus of our actions for the coming months. For example, this could include specific targeting of Work Programme providers or of organisations profiting from workfare. If you have any experience of the Work Programme or any other scheme for job-seekers and ESA claimants, please get in touch with us – we need to gather as much information as we can about what is happening to claimants in Leeds. If you are struggling with low-paid and insecure work (eg zero hours contracts), or you know your employer uses workfare staff, we would also like to hear about it – it’s really important that we continue to highlight the common interests of people in waged work and those classed as unemployed.

Boycott workfare have produced useful information and advice about your rights as a claimant – see their website here

Petition to Leeds City Council on housing

On 1st April activists in TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) took a deputation to the full council meeting asking for the council to adopt a policy of building far more council homes (instead of homes to buy, or to let at so-called “affordable” rents which are up to 80% of local private rental rates, and therefore beyond the means of residents on low-to-average incomes). They are also asking the council to tackle soaring rents and poor conditions in the private sector by setting up a not-for-profit letting agency which will set a ceiling on rents and vet conditions provided by landlords who want to be registered in the scheme. As TUSC points out, this on its own will not solve the problems of homelessness, unaffordable rents, displacement and poor living conditions which are caused by government policies favouring corporate profit over the needs of residents; however, the council could be doing far more to ease the situation for local residents and counteract the continuing upward pressure on rents from market conditions. You can read TUSC’s presentation of the issues and their demands here.

Please also sign and share TUSC’s petition to the council here

You can follow Leeds TUSC on Facebook here

Fair ten challenge to electoral candidates – Wednesday April 29th, 6.10pm – 8.30pm, Oxford Place Methodist Centre (near the Town Hall)

This is the Fair TEN LEEDerS debate organised by Leeds for Change. Below is an explanation of the project, in Leeds for Change’s own words. Please note that if you want to atttend the debate and hear where your electoral candidates stand on issues important to you, you need to register with Eventbrite (it’s free by the way). The link to register is below.

Leeds for Change members have crafted and voted upon ten of what we feel are some of the most important issues currently facing our society. Over the next few weeks, with your help, we will be pressing parliamentary candidates in Leeds to answer these questions directly, giving us an idea of where they stand on changing the world. To find out more about the questions and how you can press candidates, visit our Fair Ten Challenge page http://www.leedsforchange.org.uk/l4c_action/fair-10-challenge/.

The Fair Ten LEEDerS Debate will be the culmination of this campaign. We will be inviting one candidate from each party to sit on a panel, tell us in their own words their stance on these questions, and then inviting you to question them on their answers. How will they achieve what they say? Why do they not agree? How will they pursue an agenda in the future?

This promises to be an engaging debate on some contentious issues, so whether you’re undecided, want to reaffirm your voting choice, or are seeking some clarity on these issues, we look forward to seeing you there. Don’t forget to register for your free ticket on Eventbrite!

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/the-fair-10-leeders-debate-tickets-16478911869

The debate will be filmed, so please make it known on arrival if you would prefer not to be shown in the filming.

The Plan:

6.10: Arrive, register and vote for the questions you’d most like to hear answered. We unfortunately don’t have time for all ten, so if you want to hear a particular question, make sure you get here early!

6.30: Prompt start – welcome and introductions. The debate will be chaired by the excellent journalist, Peg Alexander (www.pegalexander.com/about)

6.40: Start questions. Candidates will have one minutes to respond to the question and then we’ll have a couple of questions from the floor for candidates to answer.

Ask the five top Fair Ten questions.

8.20: Wrap up

The question submitted by Hands Off Our Homes is as follows:

“The chronic shortage of social housing combined with soaring private sector rents and swingeing cuts and sanctions to benefits are resulting in soaring rates of homelessness. Will you fight to establish rent controls and guarantee benefit levels adequate to cover housing costs; force absentee landlords to either let or sell their empty homes to councils; prevent the sell-off of social housing to the private sector; and invest in a massive publicly-funded programme to increase the stock of affordable and well-constructed social housing?”

The question submitted by Leeds Welfare Fightback is as follows:

“The inhumane regime of sanctions against claimants of JSA and in the Work-Related Activities Group of ESA is causing misery and hardship to huge numbers of the country’s poorest. Sanctioning is also contributing to the burgeoning problem of in-work poverty, by forcing jobseekers to accept low pay and poor conditions of employment. Will you fight to outlaw the removal of benefits from the unemployed, sick and disabled, and to reverse the encroachment of sanctions-backed conditionality into in-work benefits through Universal Credit?”

Finally, the next Hands Off Our Homes meeting will be on Wednesday 6th May, at 7pm at the UNISON offices, 160A Woodhouse Lane (near the university and opposite the Fenton pub).

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