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What does Hands Off Our Homes Do?
Since the bedroom tax was introduced in April 2013, we have seen thousands of households falling into debt. People have been cutting down on food and doing without fuel and other essentials, all because they are terrified of losing the roof over their head. Many have been forced into the squalid private rented sector where rents are high and tenancy rights virtually non-existent. Some of the worst affected have been carers and people with disabilities
The bedroom tax is just one part of a massive attack on our rights to security and a decent standard of living. Our benefits, our public services and our homes are all under threat, whilst thousands are forced into low/unpaid work.
Since then we have seen a whole new series of attacks launched on the unemployed, sick and disabled, and on carers of young children: most benefits have been frozen at 2016 levels, the overall household benefit cap has been lowered to the point where even average-sized families on benefits can find it impossible to pay their rent – even in the social rented sector. Benefits for people with disabilities have been slashed, with the ESA (WRAG) component abolished and all disability supplements disappearing under Universal Credit. Low-waged families with children stand to lose thousands as Tax Credits are replaced by Universal Credit.
These cuts are deeply discriminatory: women overall bear in total 86% of the burden of austerity cuts compared to men, but the highest impacts when broken down are on Black and Asian families, and on families where someone has a disability – the highest impacts of all being of course in families where more than one of these factors apply, or where both an adult and a child have a disability.
The government would like to see us all blaming each other for these attacks on our security and quality of life. They tell us the cuts are necessary, that we need to keep the benefits bill down, that people claiming benefits are scroungers and that migrants are putting a strain on our services. All these things are lies designed to divide us and distract attention from the true agenda of syphoning more and more public money into the private sector, whilst making it easier for the worst employers by using the threat of sanctions to force people into jobs with terrible pay and conditions.
We reject the scapegoating of the disabled and the chronically ill, of migrants and of other people from Black and Minority Ethnic groups, of parents and carers and the unemployed. We reject the idea that there is “not enough to go round”, that we have to compete and be divided. We all need welfare, and we know that it is possible to create a system in which everyone’s need can be met.
We also campaign for investment in a massive programme of council house building. Council housing is the best economic model for providing the millions of new homes we need, at affordable rents and with great benefits for the economy. Contrary to what the government would like us to believe, council housing is not subsidised by the tax-payer. Although massive capital grant funding is needed to pay for the new generation of council homes we need, this investment pays off over time like any other, and the current situation is that council tenants, over the years, have paid far more back to the treasury through their rents than the actual debt on the building of their home, its maintenance and management.
But councils have been hamstrung for too long now by lack of government investment, caps on what they can borrow to build, and bogus debts to the treasury, plus the loss of nearly 2 million homes through the right-to-buy – in effect a massive sell-off of public assets into the private sector at discounts paid for by the taxpayer. In addition, stock transfers have put much of the social housing stock into the hands of housing associations – some of which are good social landlords, but which increasingly are moving away from their supposed social purpose, partly under pressure from government policy. Housing Association rents are usually considerably higher than council rents, and new lets are generally at the bogus “affordable rent” of up to 80% of the market rate.
A capital grant of around £8bn a year would be needed to kick-start the council sector enough to produce 100,000 council houses a year – the amount needed to catch up with the increase in households who are unable to afford market rents, as well as make up for the accumulated shortfall due to years of neglect and sell-offs. The Tory government has no intention of addressing this in any meaningful way. The Labour Party has far more positive policies on housing, but we need to keep the pressure up to ensure that those policies are strengthened and not watered down.
Hands Off Our Homes campaigns on all housing justice issues, and supports other initiatives such as tenants unions and campaigns by tenants organisations. We use a range of strategies, including lobbying and information-sharing, but also various types of direct-action and protest. We also try to extend solidarity to tenants and claimants affected by attacks on benefits and social housing, supporting where we can with issues people may have as individuals. Where possible, though, a collective response is always preferable, and we hope to help build solidarity in neighbourhoods so that people can both campaign together and look out for each other.
What can you do?
Tell the council to announce a policy of No Evictions and extension of Discretionary Housing Payments to all tenants affected by benefit cuts. Contact us for help to organise a lobby of councillors in your area.