Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation and affiliated campaigns show what can be achieved with a strong campaign
Yesterday’s vote in the Scottish parliament has confirmed that no tenant in Scotland will have to pay the Bedroom Tax from 1 April 2014. The Scottish government have at last, albeit almost a year after the introduction of the hated tax, ensured the money will be available to cover every tenant’s Bedroom Tax in Scotland. This is a huge victory for the campaign.[Commonly known as the ‘Bedroom Tax’, this cruel attack on some of the poorest and most vulnerable in society, sees severe cuts to housing benefit (which is to help pay rent costs) for those social housing tenants who have what the government declares is a “spare bedroom” – Ed]
Significantly, the Scottish National Party government in Scotland has confirmed in parliament that even if the Con-Dem government in Westminster refuse to lift the cap on Discretionary Housing Payments, the money will be given to social landlords by another means. It will “ensure that there will no evictions this year for arrears arising from Bedroom Tax”, confirmed John Swinney.
This is a victory for thousands upon thousands of working class people who refused to accept the inevitably of this brutal attack, and who are therefore primarily responsible for this achievement.
The Scottish government now plan to increase the funding to insure that for 2014/15 not one of the 85,000 households in Scotland affected by the tax will have to pay.
Mass campaigning, the organisation of hundreds of public meetings the length and breadth of Scotland; thousands marching on demonstrations; lobbies and protests of councils, Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) and the Scottish government and a refusal to accept any possibility of evictions, proved an unstoppable force.
The Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation, which united the majority of the local campaigns, was crucial in this victory. The Fed and its affiliated groups took the struggle to the doorstep of the elected politicians demanding action.
The Scottish government had come under enormous pressure from the anti-bedroom tax campaign that, from the start, had demanded that the SNP use the powers they had to end the Bedroom Tax in Scotland.
This pressure led to a change of approach by the Scottish government. In September 2013, five months after the Bedroom Tax was introduced, they announced £20 million to top up DHP for the year. This meant that 70% of the cut to Housing Benefit was now covered for 2013/14.
In October Nicola Sturgeon announced another £20 million for 2014/15. This, on top of the £15 million provided by the DWP, left a £15 million hole, which the Scottish government has now pledged to fill for 2014/15.
That the elected politicians in Scotland have now acted, albeit almost a year after its introduction, is down to the unending campaigning work of the scores of anti-bedroom tax campaigns, the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation that united the majority of them, and an unbreakable will not to allow the Bedroom Tax to pass.
This victory will give confidence to the millions suffering cuts and brutal austerity inflicted by the Con-Dem government of millionaires. Imagine what could be achieved if the almost seven million strong trade union movement was mobilised in the form of a 24-hour general strike, which would be a mighty blow against the capitalist austerity agenda.
The defeat of the hated tax will also give a huge boost to the campaign in England and Wales who will step-up demands for its abolition and for councils and Housing Associations to refuse to carry out evictions.
The campaign in Scotland will remain vigilant and will continue to fight to demand all Bedroom Tax debts are written off. And that any and all legal action currently being taken by councils and Housing Associations leading to possible eviction are immediately suspended.
How the Bedroom Tax was defeated
In February and March of 2013 Socialist Party Scotland began organising public meetings against the Bedroom Tax in the working class housing schemes in Dundee, Glasgow and Renfrewshire. Very quickly it became clear there was the potential to build a big campaign. The methods we used mirrored that of the campaign against the poll tax 25 years earlier.
The building of local campaigns, uniting them together in a Federation, saw marches and the pledging to defend those that could not pay the Bedroom Tax. Campaigns against the bedroom tax were springing up across the country, with thousands of tenants looking to build a defence of their communities.
Tommy Sheridan, a veteran of the anti-poll tax campaign, played a key role in helping to build the campaign.
In the West of Scotland, a Federation of local campaigns was formed on a democratic basis to raise awareness, organise a march on the streets of Glasgow in defiance of the Tax, and to plan a conference for any interested campaigns to debate the best way to defeat the Bedroom Tax.
On 30 March 2013 5,000 marched in Edinburgh and over 8000 people marched through the streets of Glasgow
From Glasgow Green to George Square we saw a show of strength from the housing schemes not seen since the days of poll tax. But thousands not directly affected by the attack on housing benefit also came out to show their opposition.
“Axe, Axe the Bedroom Tax” was the slogan, along with the promise to build an anti-eviction army to prevent any attempts at evictions. And that call was widely accepted, with local campaigns from Inverclyde to the Lothians, Dundee to Dumfries, all willing to engage in a campaign of civil disobedience, if the need ever came.
Bin the Bedroom tax Dundee, initiated by Socialist Party Scotland members, had won the first Bedroom Tax concession in Scotland from the local SNP run council.
The council agreed a heavily caveated ’no evictions’ policy for a year, and the first cracks were appearing in the edifice of the Bedroom Tax. Other SNP councils followed, as did Renfrewshire Labour-led council under pressure from the local campaign.
The Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation was formed at its founding Conference on the 27 April 2013. This conference was attended by over 250 delegates from over 40 campaigns and trade union branches, with Glasgow City Unison playing a vitally important role in supporting and sustaining the work of the Fed.
From the beginning the Federation called for:
1. The Scottish government to come up with the £50 million a year needed to ensure that all those affected by the Bedroom Tax would not have to pay.
2. That the Scottish government change the law to rule out evictions for Bedroom Tax arrears
3. That councils and housing associations refuse to carry out evictions.
These Proposals now form the basis of the Private Members bill that has been put forward by the Labour Party MSP, Jackie Baillie. But back in April when the Bedroom Tax was introduced the Labour party was a long way from taking such a position.
Govan Law Centre
The Govan Law Centre petition to the Scottish parliament calling for a change in the Housing Act on evictions was widely supported. They also played a vital role in offering advice and support to many people affected by the Bedroom tax in Scotland. The Fed helped large numbers of tenants through the appeals process, using the Govan Law Centre Tool-kit in an attempt to clog up the system.
Over the summer with new local campaigns still springing up and affiliating, and established campaigns calling actions to force local politicians into taking a definite position. The Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation was co-ordinating the campaigning work and keeping the Bedroom Tax firmly in the spotlight.
There was a national demonstration on 1 June and a Mass Sleep Out event outside the office of Ruth Davidson MSP.
As the autumn began, the Labour run local authorities began to crumble under the pressure that had been built. Renfrewshire Council were forced to set up a tenant’s fund worth £600,000 in order to relieve the strain that the DHP fund was under.
North Lanarkshire council had tried to evict Lorraine Fraser, a disabled tenant who had fallen into arrears. A mobilisation was called and at a packed meeting in Viewpark council leader Jim McCabe, was forced into a humiliating U-turn and announced a ’no eviction’ policy.
In September the SNP-led Scottish government announced that they would top-up the DHP money by £20 million for 2013/14. Just before the SNP conference in Perth in October, it was announced that there would be a further £20 million put into the discretionary housing payment fund by the Scottish Parliament.
The timing of this announcement was no coincidence, as the Federation had called a demo on the Saturday of the conference. The SNP were trying to placate the campaigners but the announcement just gave them a taste of victory.
The Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation and its affiliated campaigns have shown what can be achieved with a strong campaign. We have forced the political agenda to address our demands and led the way at every stage of this fight.
We have forced Labour party policy on this issue and didn’t accept the SNP position that only a YES vote in the referendum on Scottish independence later this year would end the misery of the Bedroom Tax in Scotland.
Federation Chair and former MSP Tommy Sheridan said:
“The response from the thousands of people in the housing schemes of Scotland who turned up at meetings and voted to be part of a campaign of resistance to this vile tax has been tremendous. All our hard work has paid off, we have set the agenda in this fight and both the Labour party and SNP have finally seen sense and have put an end to the madness that is the Bedroom Tax.”
Federation Secretary Gail Morrow said:
“This victory shows what can be achieved if the political will is there, but if it hadn’t been for the Federation campaign, bringing local Anti-Bedroom Tax groups together around a common set of demands then the SNP and Labour would not have acted at all to protect tenants. They were ready to sit back and blame the Tories, and not do anything at all to mitigate the effects of this horrible legislation. We have had to spell out at every stage of this campaign what could be done and today we were proven right.”
Richard Neville, Renfrewshire Bin the Bedroom Tax Campaign