A brief report from today's action in Newcastle Upon Tyne to resist the eviction of a disabled tenant due to rent arrears incurred from the Bedroom Tax
Only days after a risible puff piece in The Guardian that attempted to paint council leader Nick Forbes as a principled, pragmatic bulwark against central government's austerity agenda* came the news that the Labour controlled Newcastle City Council were attempting to carry out an eviction order on a disabled tenant. After a callout by anti Bedroom Tax campaigners and anti eviction activists earlier in the week, and while a last minute attempt was being made to have the order quashed on a legal basis at the Quayside Courts, supporters gathered this morning outside the block of flats in the Arthur's Hill area of the west end to show solidarity and resist the eviction.
The tenant in question, who has displayed great bravery and dignity throughout the process, suffers from debilitating physical ailments as well as severe depression and anxiety which render them clearly unable to commit to work. As part of their treatment for these conditions the tenant is proscribed strong sedatives that further impinge on their ability to be able to work safely. Yet despite this, they were declared fit for work by ATOS and had their Employment Support Allowance benefits cut off after their fourth appointment, resulting in the tenant accruing rent arrears. To double the impact of the blow, the council hit them with the Bedroom Tax as well. With their entitlement to housing benefit scrapped, the tenant had historical debt arrears, but they were in check and quickly reducing. Undoubtedly stressful, but at least manageable. But with the extra tax on top of things? An impossible situation.
As an aside, its important to remember that there have been benefit tribunal rulings in Fife, Westminster and Glasgow (and likely more to come) that clearly demonstrate that while local councils may not be able to completely disregard the law without Eric Pickles sending in his cronies to enforce it, they can take significant steps towards alleviating the impact of the bedroom tax for literally thousands of people with little chance of significant government reprisal. This would make genuine, albeit ultimately still fairly punishing changes to vulnerable peoples lives. Yet Forbes and Newcastle City Council chose not to do this, claiming that any action after the council simply having a symbolic vote against the tax itself would be "unhelpful". Even more insultingly, he claimed to have "led the campaign against the bedroom tax in Newcastle" which surprised those of us actually involved in the campaign who were subject to police aggression and surveillance and denied entry to various nominally open public forums to oppose it.
The tenants flat is provided by an ALMO. That is, by an Arms Length Management Organization -a suitably Orwellian acronym for the subtle privatization of housing associations through bogus two-stage plans that usually result in ALMO board members (including, unsurprisingly, councilors) grasping the opportunity to become directors of lucrative private companies whilst providing minimal investment. With this kind of organization managing the property in question its little wonder that vulnerable tenants who are unable to keep up with rent payments due to the institution of a blatantly unfair tax are deemed surplus to requirements, even those for whom the council should ostensibly hold a duty of care over. Indeed, the actions of Newcastle City Council - this supposedly progressive force against austerity - have been shameful. They have been fully aware of the long term medical needs of the tenant while repeatedly failing to invite them to defend the eviction at court and forced through an eviction order even though an appeal for a Discretionary Housing Benefits decision was ongoing.
There were a mixture of groups and individuals present to resist the eviction today, including members of the local community, independent supporters of the individual in question and more overtly political groups such as the Anarchist Federation, SolFed, Revolutionary Communist Group and Socialist Party. The atmosphere was good natured yet all those present were committed to opposing the eviction through direct action if necessary. The inevitable police presence was rolled out to "prevent a breach of the peace" and a couple of vans parked either side of the entrance to the property.
The threat of resistance, combined with the physical presence of between 30-50 supporters outside the property and the appearance of the local press was apparently enough to convince the council to grant the tenant a stay of execution: the news filtered through to us from the courts at around 11AM that a 42 day adjournment had been put in place. Even after we received news of this positive development, activists remained around the block of flats to ensure no bailiffs or council workers were sent in to intimidate the tenant.
Clearly unprepared for this show of solidarity, the council will now regroup and no doubt ready themselves for their next attack. This is but one especially egregious example of how a violent, unworkable law exists to further the social cleansing that austerity thrives on.
We will continue to resist this eviction and others like it wherever they take place in Newcastle.
*The article itself also features a serious misrepresentation, in both the body of the story itself and in the pull out quote attached to it, of events that took place when Forbes was confronted by a protester during an anti-austerity march in the city. In the protesters own words:
'I was arrested for challenging a local Labour councilor a few years ago , who was in charge of the 100m cuts program that started 2 years ago. I was never charged and thanks to people power ..the case got dropped. Today the Guardian has done an article on this councilor, in which an inaccuracy is made, which claims I attacked him. Please read article and comment on the page if you know me and the case.'