Glasgow Against the Bedroom Tax – From the Front Line

Huffington Post

                                                        

MLitt Digital Journalism Student and writer for The Inner Circle 

‘Glasgow Against the Bedroom Tax – From the Front Line’ Posted: 14/03/2013 11:27

A red dawn rises over the river Clyde.

The hurt, frustration and anger provoked by the benefit cut known as the ‘bedroom tax‘ is causing rumblings in Glasgow’s underbelly which could unleash the kind of wave of civil unrest that has defined the city’s politics over the last century in the faces of this generation’s most hated oppressors: the coalition.

But what will the new day bring?

Will the campaign against the ‘bedroom tax’ be a glorious last stand for the forces of democracy against the scourge of tyranny? Or simply a flock of well-intentioned but shepherd-less sheep throwing themselves into the midst of British politics’ wolverines?

Both these scenarios are distinctly plausible depending on how this protest movement organises itself.

That such a movement exists is logical in Glasgow, a city in which a reported 90,000 people receive housing benefit, many of whom live in houses with unoccupied bedrooms. The lack of single-bed social housing means that few will be able to downsize and avoid the 14%-25% penalty for ‘under-occupancy’. The added fact that 60-70% of those penalised are disabled has stoked the outrage of the working class and the political left to the point of combustion.

It is therefore surprising that, as a socially conscious and politically minded journalism student covering the Glasgow beat, I only heard about the anti-bedroom tax movement when an interviewee for a different story pointed out one of its weaknesses.

Professor David Archibald of Glasgow University was comparing the days of the rent riots, ‘Red Clydeside’ and the poll tax to the present:

“What’s lacking these days is any kind of leadership: the organisational structure of these movements is in a state of flux.

“At the moment the problem is confidence – people aren’t convinced that if they fight they will win.”

His case-in-point to illustrate this lack of confidence and structure was the ‘bedroom tax’, though he attributed the movement’s lack of traction thus far to factors beyond its control:

“There have been a number of local community meetings to discuss the ‘bedroom tax’ but it’s something you don’t see very much of in the news. Even the likes of Channel 4 News tend not to focus on what’s happening in working class communities.”

But these problems may be one and the same. Looking at popular movements such as Hacked Off, confidence and strong leadership raised their media profile to the point where they became a massive influence on public opinion and on the Leveson Enquiry into press standards.

While that campaign united people with very specific opinions on a single issue, those looking to mobilise the Glaswegian community against the ‘bedroom tax’ face a very different challenge.

Some preliminary research into Glasgow’s ‘bedroom tax’ campaign reveals the remonstrations of countless scattered, diffuse factions, all with a near-unique reason for opposing the cut.

Scotland’s two biggest political parties, Labour and the SNP, have both declared their disapproval of the ‘bedroom tax’ but have been reluctant to condone any strike action, demonstrations or legal challenges to the rules either in Holyrood or the City Chambers.

There have been calls for the Glasgow City Council to follow the example of Renfrewshire Council which has made arrears due to the ‘bedroom tax’ a “non-evictable debt”. However this would be impossible in Glasgow, where social housing is controlled by private housing associations independent of the council. This makes it impossible for the city council to calculate the losses such an amnesty would incur.

Much of the exploration into potential means of avoiding evictions due to the cut has been done by the charitable Govan Law Centre which, as well as advising those directly affected, has petitioned the Scottish Government to change the Housing (Scotland) Act to make ‘bedroom tax’-related evictions illegal in Scotland.

Other charities, too, have thrown their weight behind research into the potential legal and financial pitfalls inherent in such sweeping cuts. Shelter Scotland presented the Scottish Government with a three-point plan to protect tenants from homelessness and social landlords from bankruptcy.

Disability rights charities have also signalled their intent to campaign against the cut as a form of discrimination against disabled people, with both Black Triangle and Glasgow Disability Alliance becoming notable voices.

Trade Unions have stood against the tax as well, with the Bakers’ Union surprisingly leading the way in balloting for a 24-hour general strike, a move which has since been followed by the PCS and the Glasgow Trades Council. This is not surprising as many trade unionists are also affiliated with campaign groups such as the Scottish Anti-Cuts Coalition and Fight Racism Fight Imperialism.

These groups also have close links with left-wing political parties, notably the Socialist Party Scotland, the Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers’ Party.

This is where the protest movement hits a potential snag. Inter-organisational relations within the left of Scottish politics bear a strong resemblance to those between the Judean People’s Front and The People’s Front of Judea in Monty Python’s Life of Brian with a lack of leadership and consensus hampering even the most honourable of campaigns.

One person who knows more than most about the dangers of these internal politics is Rosie Kane, the former Scottish Socialist Party MSP who watched her party, in her own words, “tear itself apart” following internal splits which added to those between the SSP and other leftist parties in Scotland:

“I find it hard to be in those rooms anymore; there are people that I can’t bear to be near; I can’t stand their behaviour; I can’t stand the way they organise themselves,” said Kane, still a community activist as well as a stage actress, but who has distanced herself from party politics in recent years:

“I find it hard to be in the same room as certain political animals even when the issue is really important – though I’ll still be at the demo’s and in the community.

“Organised politics is very important and the left in particular needs to organise itself but some of the egos need to shut up and sit down.

“Young people just now are very active. Young people will be hit by the bedroom tax, so I think it would be a shame if they get involved for all the right reasons and then the tub-thumping politics turns them off.

“But it would be even worse if they just follow the leader regardless just because they’re a good speaker.

“I’m very jaded at the moment so the only way I would know how to organise would be the way I used to do it which is in the community…and then other things like sitting here being interviewed by you.”

The last point is an important one. Kane continually criticises the suave, suited spectre of professional politics as putting selfish, personal agendas before the issues but even the most frequent subject of her criticism – her former party leader, Tommy Sheridan – was, if nothing else, a great PR man guaranteed to raise an issue’s profile in the media.

Sure enough, as recently as Monday March 4th he resurfaced in the Daily Record vowing to fight against the ‘bedroom tax’ on the front lines, just as he did with the poll tax.

Having served a year in prison for perjury and, perhaps worse for a socialist, spent three weeks in the Big Brother house, Sheridan’s star, for so many years in the ascendant, has now imploded into a black hole which, given his reputation in much of the British press, threatens to suck the integrity from anything which dares linger in its presence too long.

However, he remains close to Mike Dailly, the equally media savvy lawyer behind Govan Law Centre’s petition to the Scottish Parliament and Sheridan’s return to the centre of attention may be seen as recognition that the anti-‘bedroom tax’ campaign needs to raise its public profile through any sympathetic celebrity catalyst available.

However, the same issue of the Daily Record also features an arguably far more important figure in Glasgow’s resistance. Alan Wylie, an activist from Paisley who self-describes as “not a socialist, not a capitalist, just a normal guy who knows the difference between right and wrong.”

Wylie has organised many of the ground-level meetings which have put activists such as himself in touch with those worst affected by the cut.

The problem with these meetings is that word of mouth can only mobilise people in droves if they are attended by natural orators in the mould of Sheridan and George Galloway. Speeches read nervously from pieces of paper do not bring governments to their knees, however valid the content.

However, Wylie was also among the first to give this campaign an online presence, setting up a Facebook group to organise the Glasgow edition of the nationwide demonstrations taking place at the end of this month.

The Record article in which he features also demonstrates a recognition of the important role a largely sympathetic liberal media can play.

The key challenge for the campaign now will be keeping the issue of the ‘bedroom tax’ the focus of a persistently iconoclastic media’s attention.    

Follow Gregor Cubie on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GregorCubie

The Huffington Post

Comments
  • Serenity March 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    The Scottish gov are quick enough too pass legislation when it’s something in their own interest ie voting for 16yr olds but if it’s in the public interest they are not interested it would seem, so much for independence being better, aye better for Salmond and his croneens!

  • Humanity2012 March 15, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Better Red Clydeside than Enslaved to Capitalism and Poverty Con Dem Britain

    Better Redistribution of Wealth from Rich to Poor than Oppression of the Poor
    and All the Codswallop Patronising that goes with it

  • Tracy Collins March 17, 2013 at 11:03 am

    KEEP SIGNING GUYS, LOCAL AUTHORITIES ARE ALREADY STANDING UP AND REFUSING TO EVICT TENANTS WHO CANNOT PAY THE BEDROOM TAX!!

    http://www.24dash.com/news/housing/2013-03-15-Council-no-tenant-to-be-evicted-over-bedroom-tax

    http://www.firmmagazine.com/news/3148/Dundee_becomes_1st_Council_to_refuse_%E2%80%99bedroom_tax%E2%80%99_evictions_.html

    Dear Dave,

    I would like to remind you of something.

    Your speech on April 27th 2010.

    You said: ” Let’s mend our broken society.”

    You said: ” I know I’ve been criticized for saying our society is broken and I know I will again.”

    You said: “Something is broken. Society is broken.

    The broken society is not one thing alone.

    It is not just the crime.

    It is a whole stew of violence, anti-social behaviour, debt, addiction, family breakdown, educational failure, poverty and despair.

    This is life – or the backdrop of life – for millions of people in this country.

    So how should we respond?

    The first response – the human response – is to feel unutterably sad at so much waste.

    Wasted hopes. Wasted potential. Wasted lives.

    But sadness and anger aren’t going to change anything on their own.

    Mending the broken society needs head as well as heart.”

    You said: “There is, I believe, only one way out of this national crisis – and that is what I have called the Big Society.

    A society where we see social responsibility, not state control, as the principal driving force for social progress.

    A society where we come together, and work together, to solve problems.

    A society where we remember every day that we’re all in this together.

    And today, I want to make the case for the values that should drive the creation of the Big Society – and the policy agenda that flows from those values.

    It requires, I believe, drawing on the deepest values of Conservatism, giving power to people not the state, strengthening families, encouraging responsibility, common sense and rigour, and applying these values to the key aims of improving the lives of people in our country – especially the very poorest”.

    You said: ‘The poorest are getting poorer”.

    You said: “We need to move from big government to the Big Society – a society with personal and collective responsibility right at its heart.

    To set off on this new course, we will be guided by the philosophy of progressive conservatism.

    Progressive – because if the Big Society exists for any reason, it must be to help the most disadvantaged in our country and seek to create a more united and equal place for us all.”

    BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY YOU SAID: “Above all, we will be the most family-friendly Government you’ve ever seen in this country, because I believe that the family is the crucible of responsibility.

    Strong families lead to strong societies.

    It’s as simple as that.

    We are going to do all that we can to support every family – and every kind of family

    Many of our biggest problems start and end with the family – and there can be little progress until we recognise this.”

    So Dave.

    You were right on one thing.

    You will be “criticized for saying our society is broken and I know I will again.”

    Because I am criticizing you now.

    You talked of a broken society and you acknowledged that : “Many of our biggest problems start and end with the family – and there can be little progress until we recognise this.”

    So what do you do, Dave?

    You introduce the bedroom tax, abolish council tax benefit and replace it with local schemes forcing local authorities to clean up your mess, and cap benefit payments even though you acknowledge that: “‘the poorest are getting poorer”.

    How does this fix our broken society, Dave?

    Please.

    Explain.

    You instruct ATOS to carry out work capacity assessments on your behalf.

    So far, Dave, 7,100 people have died after being placed in groups entitled to unconditional support because they were considered to ill or disabled to work.

    1,300 people have died after being placed in a work related activity group.

    And, 2,200 people have died before their ATOS assessment was even completed.

    And, on average, a further 73 people die every week.

    So, please Dave.

    Explain.

    This is nothing short of the culling of the most desperate and vulnerable members of our society…..I call it : “The Cameron Culling Policy”.

    And it doesn’t end there, does it, Dave?

    How can you claim: “Above all, we will be the most family-friendly Government you’ve ever seen in this country, because I believe that the family is the crucible of responsibility” and then introduce welfare reforms that could see families forced out of their homes?

    Homes where families have been brought up, homes where grand children visit to stay with nanny and grandad for the weekend, homes that people have built up over the years and hold precious memories.

    You even target the homes of those out fighting for your country by demanding bedroom tax whilst they are away- men and women risking their lives fighting for YOUR country.

    Home is where the heart is Dave.

    And you are ripping out what is left of the heart of the already broken society you talk about-and damaging it beyond repair.

    So, yes, Dave.

    Society is broken.

    And YOU broke it.

    Haven’t you worked that one out yet?
    Sincerely,

    TRACY COLLINS and

    SIGN HERE: https://www.change.org/petitions/the-government-stop-bedroom-tax-the-atos-assessment-the-abolition-of-council-tax-and-universal-payment

    THANK YOU!!

  • You must be logged in to comment. Log in
%d bloggers like this: