London

Austerity stories you won’t hear about in today’s Budget

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/11/2017 - 11:59pm in

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Rhea needs a home. She is a full-time single mother
of three living in destitution on the brink of homelessness. Yet two local
authorities are reluctant to help. Why?

Red box with gold handle Hard times: For the last seven years British governments have cut spending on public services, which has hit the poorest households hardest. Image by Joe Giddens/PA Wire/PA Images

 

 

One Friday evening last summer, Rhea* and her
children walked through a north London neighbourhood. It was around six
o’clock, pubs and bars on the high street were already heaving, customers
holding glasses spilled onto the streets.

Grace* was nine, the boys, Benny* and Joseph*, were
four and seven. They carried their belongings in rucksacks and bags. Rhea led them
away from the noise of rush hour traffic, down a side street, the bars thinned
out into residential houses. “We don’t have anywhere to go,” she told them.
“Don’t be frightened. Cooperate.”

Their latest troubles had begun three months before when their rented flat flooded. Water poured through the ceiling, the children’s beds got soaked.
A fire officer said there was a problem with the boiler and the flat was
unsafe. Rhea and the children stayed with a friend for the night. Next day she
called the council for help.

Council staff didn’t point blank refuse to help. They
dodged and prevaricated. It took a week and angry tears before Rhea could get
an appointment to be assessed. (The assessment is a statutory duty related to
the children’s needs. It ought to have determined whether the family qualified
for temporary housing and subsistence while the flat was fixed.) Rhea expected
a formal meeting, questions, a decision. But it wasn’t like that. Instead the council
response was piecemeal, random, frightening.

Rhea and her children bounced from one temporary
home to another. Briefly, home was a bed-sit, one of five in a terraced house
with a shared kitchen and bathroom. In the other bedsits lived a woman with a
baby, another mother and her two children, and an elderly man who had mental
health problems.

It didn’t feel safe.

The children were eating dinner one evening when
there was a knock at the door. Their social worker. She fired questions: Why
are the children eating pizza? Who bought it for them?

Still no help.

Rhea was on the bus
taking her son to nursery when one day when her phone rang. More questions.

At the doctors having a
blood test to find out why her eyesight had dimmed. Another phone call. The
council. You must come in now. They needed to ask her more questions.
If you don’t attend, it will be marked as non-compliance, which will invalidate
your claim.
Off she went.

Except for the couple of times the council gave Rhea a food bank voucher, the
interrogations rarely translated into actual help. We don’t have a house,
can you find somewhere else to sleep? Can you come back tomorrow? Why are you
here?

Some nights Rhea and the children slept on sofas. They
slept three nights in a church. Weeks went by and the family still had nowhere
to live, and no access to the flat. The children’s school provided uniforms for
Grace and Joseph. Grace’s school continued to feed her. The outstanding school
dinner fees were added to Rhea’s debt. (A year later that’s around £400).

Rhea had turned to the
council because she needed help. Eventually the council would turn her away,
but before that Rhea was subjected to what felt like trial by local authority
staff. She was judged, accused, threatened. 

Councils are rationing services in sometimes random ways, making assumptions about whether people are deserving or underserving

This wasn’t a case of
one bad experience. Stretched local authorities are forced to prioritise services.
By design or by accident, council officers are rationing services in sometimes
random ways, and making assumptions about whether people are deserving or
underserving.

***              

Since the 2007 financial crash, British governments
have pursued a policy
of austerity
, making deep cuts to services for people in
crisis. In the June 2010 budget George
Osborne
announced cuts so severe that even the BBC’s Nick
Robinson called the Chancellor’s statement
a “massive gamble economically and politically”.

Since then the government has cut and cut again
funding for legal
aid
, social
homes
, supported
housing
, social
services
, lone
parent support
, welfare
benefits
and other public services.

Pain is spread across groups, mostly falling on women, and mostly ethnic minority women.
Grace, Benny and Joseph are among the growing number of British children
growing up in poverty. If planned tax and benefit changes go ahead, by 2020,
their lives will become even harder.

And the cuts will hurt Grace and her brothers more
than most children. Here’s why.

When you look at the cumulative impact of tax,
welfare benefits and spending polices since 2010, it is black and brown women who
lose most
. The Women’s Budget Group and the Runnymede Trust,
who’ve done this analysis, predict that if austerity continues, by 2020, Asian
women in the poorest households will be worse off by £2,200. That’s twice the
loss of white men in the poorest households. The richest white men would lose
£400. 

Black and Asian lone mothers would lose £4,000 and
£4,200 a year on average by 2020. That is around 15 and 17 per cent of their
net income. 

“The data produced by these models tells a powerful
story — showing clearly that across all income groups BME women have
experienced greater losses in proportion to their income than white women or
BME men,” say the Women’s Budget Group. 

 

The report combines economic analysis
and interviews
with working class women and young people in
Manchester and Coventry. Their stories chime with Rhea’s. The system punishes
them more than it helps.

Asian women will be worse off by £2,200. Twice the loss of white men in the poorest households. The richest white men would lose £400

Cuts to housing benefit and tax credits have made
it harder to pay for food and housing. Jobcentre staff and other state
representatives can make women feel pressured, punished, unworthy. Women may be
sanctioned by mistake, driven into debt, forced to stay in violent
relationships to avoid destitution. 

Meanwhile social housing is in short supply. Rhea
needs a home. She is a full-time single mother of three living in destitution
on the brink of homelessness. Yet two local authorities hesitated before
even considering finding her
somewhere to live. 

Why is this happening?

***

Under the new Housing and Planning Act councils
must prioritise the provision of homes for sale (starter homes for first time
buyers) over social housing. When the Act was first published in October 2016 it was billed part of a
“national crusade to get 1 million homes built by 2020”, transforming
“generation rent into generation buy”. 

Small comfort for anyone who can’t afford to buy
their own home (in London, where Rhea lives, the average house price is
£480,000, Even with the 20 per cent discount promised under the Act’s starter
home policy, a household would need an annual income of more than £100,000 to
find a mortgage). 

The small print of the Act is still being worked
out, but councils are already turning people away, especially women. When challenged about
their duties to the most vulnerable councils are quick to point out the
pressure they are under. The government cut funding for local authorities by 50
per cent between 2010 and 2015. The deepest cuts per head have fallen in
the most deprived areas.

And as central
government funding shrinks, councils are forced to ration the support they
give. Some local administrators are even refusing to carry out their statutory duties to help survivors of domestic violence, destitute migrants and their families, homeless people and others in dire need.

One London
councillor asked Rhea why she had children in the first place. Collectively the
council officially denied that it had a duty to house her. And five times
Children’s Services tried to split up the family.

***

The first time was very
soon after she became homeless. 

“The option we have now, we want to take your
children,” one of the officers told her. “We have got accommodation, but only
for your children.” 

Rhea had spent the day pleading with council staff,
being passed from department to department, waiting for hours, being told to
come back another day. But Rhea refused to leave. She had nowhere to go, her
children were by her side. 

The children will go into
foster care
, they said, we just need you to sign an
agreement. 

“No way,” Rhea was
furious. You have to sign, they said. 

“I can’t sign anything.
You can’t separate me from my children,” she said, in tears. 

More talking, she felt the pressure to give her
children away. Why am I here? It’s because of these children. They can’t, I
will never.

Rhea’s head hurt. The
children began to cry. 

“If you can kill me, then
you can take them. If you can’t then no.” 

Hours passed. Rhea continued to protest, she lay on
the floor, crying and refusing to leave. The council officers threatened to
call the police, then they did. Rhea asked the officer: “Am I a criminal?” He
said she wasn’t. 

Things could have turned even worse. But then Grace, in tears, said she had a friend at school, they could stay with her. Or what about the
woman that helped us last time?

A council officer seized on that, demanded the
woman’s contact details, phoned her and fired questions at her. It didn’t seem
right. She was just a kind acquaintance who had put the family up once before.
Then she passed the phone to Rhea, who pleaded. The woman said: “I don’t
want them to take your children, just come.”

***

After that Rhea kept the children with her whenever they weren’t at school. But Grace worried they might be taken away
from their mum while they were at school. All three of the children
cowered when the social worker came to see them. The fear of separation
stayed with them. 

Rhea knew this and tried to reassure them the
Friday night they traipsed through those north London streets. She wanted them
to feel safe. They wouldn’t go to the council this time, they would go the police.
“Don’t be frightened. The police are your friend.”

Rhea and her family walked into the police station,
a grand redbrick building with high curved archways. Rhea told them her story.
The council had finally said no and refused to house them nearly a month ago. They
spent three weeks with a stranger, but she’d asked them to leave. They’d gone
to Shelter, the homelessness charity, who were helping them to apply for
housing with another local authority, but meanwhile they were homeless. 

A police officer told them:
“We are here for crime, not housing.”

“Whatever,” Rhea said. “This place is safe. That is
why I am here. It is safe for me and my children and I am here.”

***

That June, just a few miles across London, Theresa
May, the new Prime Minister, stood outside Number 10 Downing Street and seemed
to signal a kinder, more responsible style of government. She wanted to help
the “just about managing” and tackle “burning injustices”.

Was that just talk? The cuts have continued, the
country’s much-needed social safety net is in tatters.  

May did commission a “race
audit”
, a collection
of statistics
showing how different ethnic groups in Britain
experience health, education, justice and employment. The report, published in
October, confirmed what
so many people know by experience:
life is tougher in
Britain if you are from an ethnic minority and/or poor. Children on free school
meals from black and Asian backgrounds do well in school, but as they get older
their outcomes change. For the worse. They face harsher, more punitive
treatment in the courts and in prison. They face a tough and discriminatory jobs
market. Pakistani and Bangladeshi British people are the least likely to be in
employment. Fewer than half of people from Black Caribbean, Bangladeshi and
mixed backgrounds own their home. This is compared to more than two thirds of
people from a white or Indian background.

Rhea’s
experience isn’t exceptional. The statistics, the
government’s own evidence, all suggest that inequality and poverty is growing,
social security nets are being shredded. Rhea knows what this feels like. Her
children, growing up black and in precarity, have all this to overcome.

And more. 

As a migrant Rhea is subject to the ‘hostile environment’
policies designed to make life in Britain tough for the poorest migrants.
Policies spearheaded by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. The idea is to
restrict access to public services in order to 
deter people from coming to the UK.

Transferring ‘gatekeeping at the border’ to
‘gatekeeping access to services’, is how migration
experts
describe it. That deliberate hostility, enshrined
in law, policy and practice, seeps into how people think and behave.

Rhea’s experience illustrates the impact all this
can have.

 

***

Rhea is 39 and came to Britain in her late
twenties. Her three children were born in the UK. When
she became homeless Rhea realised she had no access to public funds because
she’d overstayed on her travel visa. Before this she worked, had a normal life.
It was only in crisis that she was forced to turn to the state. She is in the
process of regularising her status. It’s been more than a year since the Home
Office wrote to say they were considering her case. Grace, who was born in the
UK, must apply for citizenship too. For this Grace’s application Rhea will need to find £973.

As someone with ‘no
recourse to public funds’ she can’t access mainstream welfare benefit like
housing benefit, jobseekers allowance or working tax credits. Nor can she
access social housing or homelessness assistance.  Her children are affected too. A child can
access public funds only when they turn 18. Before that child benefit and other
child-centred support is awarded to their main carer. If their main carer has
no recourse to public funds, they receive nothing. Free school meals count as a
public fund, so Grace, Benny and Joseph don’t qualify, not even when they were
destitute and homeless.

How many children are affected by this? The hardship
faced by those families with ‘no recourse to public funds’ is not captured by the
race audit. But two studies from 2015 and 2016 offer some insight.

Free school meals count as a public fund, so Grace, Benny and Joseph don’t qualify, not even when they were destitute and homeless

Some
background

A study by Oxford University academics published
in 2015 reveals a tension between child safety legislation and Home Office
policy towards migrant families. Councils have a duty to support vulnerable children.
They also have to administer aspects of the hostile environment. As one local
authority staff member told researchers, “A negative attitude
towards them as a client group can be reinforced by the Home Office saying they
should all go back…”.

Restrictions on benefits for migrants goes back
decades. The Labour government formally restricted access to the bulk of
mainstream welfare and support for many migrants within the Immigration and
Asylum Act 1999.

Families with no recourse could still potentially
access accommodation and some support from social services under the Children
Act 1989, providing the household contained a ‘child in need’. But then in
2002, the Labour government amended the law to further restrict the ability of EEA nationals and undocumented migrants to rely on this safety net. At the same time they
further complicated the process local authorities use to assess whether families receive help. It can take many weeks.

Then
Theresa May made life even harder.

In changes to the Immigration Rules introduced
in 2012, she made ‘no recourse to public funds’ the default position for many
migrants granted ‘limited’ (up to ten years) leave to remain in the UK.

And so the number of low-paid, precarious or
unpaid migrant workers with children subject to benefit restrictions grew. At
the same time government pushed the financial burden off its shoulders and onto
local authority social services’ departments. Councils were left to administer
a complex assessment process under the Children Act and support those children,
and their families, whose destitution had reached such a level that they were assessed
as being ‘in need’.

How many families are affected? The Oxford University study, carried out by COMPAS, estimates that local authorities supported roughly 3,391 families with
no recourse to public funds, including around 5,900 children in 2012/13.

More than 50,000 people with dependents were
denied access to public funds between 2014 and 2015, according to the
Children’s Society. How many children
were turned away? Nobody was counting.

The charity estimates that there are
approximately 144,000 undocumented children living in England and Wales, more
than half are born in the UK.

“They
[no recourse families] have generally been in the UK for a considerable period
of time, are well integrated and were not reliant on the state until a crisis
provoked their referral,” the COMPAS report says. “Precarious living and
relationships of dependency expose some parents and children to exploitation.

 

“Where
support is provided, subsistence rates are well below minimum welfare benefit
levels and below those provided for refused asylum seekers. Accommodation is
often in B&Bs, which local authorities acknowledge are unsuitable for the
welfare of the child. Parents’ reasons for remaining in the UK despite the
hardship and insecurity it entails largely relate to the future education and
welfare of their children.”

A report by the Children’s Society
echoes this and brings fresh evidence of the increasing destitution of no
recourse families. Councils place barriers to them receiving any support.
Children are
left hungry and without lunch for school, they are made street homeless, and
forced to live hours from school. The charity says: “These children and their
parents face extreme levels of destitution and risk which are multiple and
varied including living in unsafe accommodation, being unable to afford food
and engaging in informal sexual relationships for small amounts of money.”

Councils receive zero funding from the Home
Office to cover the millions they now spend on families with no recourse.
Lawyers say that changes (yet to be introduced) contained in Theresa May’s
Immigration Act 2016 will make things even worse.

***

That night at the police station in June 2016, an
officer gave Rhea and her children an interview room. The boys slept. Grace
watched her mum phoning everyone she knew. She called the council’s out of
hours number. They told her the case had been closed and hung up.

What happens now? You can imagine the unhappy ways
that Rhea’s story goes from here.

But Rhea’s quest had already led her to a Sunday
meeting in East London. She’d met other women like her: “There are lots of
people going through this. A lot of women. Everybody is scared.”

She had begun to understand the law and what was
happening to her. “Before all this I didn’t know about no recourse. I didn’t know anything.”

The group, called Nelma,
offers solidarity, a place to eat, relax and talk and the kind of practical
support that Rhea wasn’t getting from the council. It was set up by volunteers
from migrant drop-in centres across north London, volunteers alarmed by the
accelerating damage being done to the people who came to them for help. 

 Nelma offers solidarity, a place to eat, relax and talk and the kind of practical support that Rhea wasn’t getting from the council

They were meeting destitute asylum seekers,
migrants fallen on hard times, homeless pensioners who have lived in Britain
all their lives told they have to pay for NHS treatment, Eastern Europeans
worried about the implications of Brexit.

They were meeting people with no recourse to public funds who were being denied support from the council. More and more
frequently, they were hearing that people were being treated with something
worse than discourtesy: contempt.

The volunteers started an accompanying service, so
that people wouldn’t have to go alone to meetings with the council. They take
notes, offer emotional support, act as a witness.

“It’s really quite dehumanising. People come to
these appointments already in difficult emotional situations, already facing
destitution,” says Sophie, a Nelma volunteer. “They are faced with aggressive
questioning, bullying tactics. Often social services bring the attitude that if
you are asking for support you must be lying. Trying to catch people out. 

“The atmosphere can be very very tense. And very
very exhausting. And it often goes on for days. Often at the end of the day the
council will say, ‘We can’t support you. You need to come back tomorrow with
all this evidence.’”

That is evidence of destitution. In the form of an
eviction letter, bank statements, proof of residency.

When Rhea needed proof of her destitution, Nelma
helped her gather it. When the council refused to believe her old flat was
unsafe, Nelma called the fire station and got a statement from the officer who
inspected her flat and told her it wasn’t safe.

Nelma activists don’t see themselves as service
providers or a charity. Sophie, a researcher in her day-job, said:

“We want to
address the wider injustice of no recourse to public funds, we think it should
end. The wider injustices of council gatekeeping practices. These practices are
obstructing routes to support for some of the most vulnerable people in
society. We want to help people navigate this really difficult situation but we
also want to call attention to injustices of that situation in the first place
and campaign for change.”

***

After a frantic weekend of calls, Rhea and her
Nelma friends managed to secure a meeting at a different local authority for
Monday morning. Rhea worried that the whole humiliating process would start
again.

But this social services staff member behaved
professionally, informed Rhea of her rights and what to expect. A social worker
visited the children’s school. The council gave her a bus pass and a
Sainsbury’s voucher. Over the next month the family stayed in four B&Bs,
each day Rhea sent a text to find out where they would be sleeping that night.
Eventually, last winter, the council found them a temporary flat close to the
children’s school. It was nearly five months since they’d left their flooded flat.

The
struggle isn’t over for Rhea and her children. They remain subject to
immigration control, the hostile environment, the daily bombardment of the
message: you are
undeserving, you have brought your troubles upon yourself
.
As one Nelma
member puts it: “If you don’t have status you are nobody”.

It’s hard not to internalise that message, Rhea
says, to become depressed and defeated. But the comradeship she has found
through Nelma, have helped her to resist.

Rhea hands leaflets out to other mothers at school,
joins in protests, supports others, spreads the word. Her children inspire her.
“They are innocent. In this life, there are some things you can’t make a choice
of. Where you are born, who gave birth to you. You can’t choose.”

 

 

*Names changed to protect identity. 

 

 

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

Housing activists stand up to dodgy landlords and council bullies

Refuse, retract, resist: boycott the schools census

Rats in the yard: 4 years of UK asylum housing by G4S

The end of domestic violence support for black and brown women in the UK?

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How to start a housing movement

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/11/2017 - 11:00pm in

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London

Radical groups working on housing, racism, poverty, sex worker and migrant rights are springing up all over London. Embedded in local communities, they are seasoned activists, precarious workers and families.

Final part of our Q&A with Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, a community group challenging housing injustice in south London. Read part one introducing the group here, and part two, on their housing actions here

Pink hat with Save Our Homes written across it. More and more radical housing groups are springing up across London. Image by Wasi Daniju. All rights reserved.

Our questions and subheads are in bold, with Izzy’s answers immediately following.

 

What does HASL’s work involve?

Our regular meetings are probably the most
important part of our work, as this is where we build experience in
different types of housing issues, housing law, how councils behave, and
possible solutions.

The group meetings mean that we can draw on
this experience and everyone can contribute in whatever way they feel able. One
of the best things is when someone who came to the group with a housing problem,
sorts it out and is then able to share their experience with a new member doing
something similar.

We try to make the meetings as accessible
as possible. We have Spanish-English translation and we are working on making
our meetings much more kid friendly.

We run legal training sessions, again to
develop the knowledge and capacity of our group so that we can stick up for
each other.

And there’s buddying. A buddy goes along
with you when you meet the council. They give moral support, take notes. They
support you in asserting your rights. Having a buddy can make the difference
between getting temporary accommodation or getting fobbed off. Some of our
long-term members (having resolved their own cases) have been really
forthcoming about offering this help to new members of the group.

We organise actions together if we have
been ignored by the council or if there seems to be no other available options.
We plan actions around campaigns that we have been working on. For Southwark
council protests, we gather as large a group as we can organise and head to the
town hall. Going together as a big group means we’re harder to ignore. It is also
a really accessible action, everyone can be involved and it breaks down
language barriers.

Sometimes it works and gives direct results.
Sometimes it doesn’t. But it is part of a longer-term campaign. Organising
together means we don’t give up! Through occupations at Southwark town hall,
one family were re-housed by the council back in their local community.

Our tweets and blogs draw support and share
experience and intelligence. We’ve used Twitter storms (a coordinated mass
campaign) to force Southwark council to house a domestic
violence survivor and her children.
Councillors don’t like their appalling
decisions being publicly exposed. 

Building
solidarity with other activist groups

We work with sister groups in the London
Coalition Against Poverty, such as Haringey Housing Action Group and other
groups. These include English
for Action
, North
East London Migrant Action
, and South
East London Sisters Uncut
. We’re planning housing rights workshops with United Voices of
the World and a local mums’ group called Espacio Mama.

We’ve been supporting North East
London Migrant Action’s campaign
and legal challenge against the government’s policy of
detaining and deporting EEA nationals caught rough sleeping. Yesterday we joined them outside court for the first day of the
judicial review to challenge this hateful government policy. It’s great to
support each other’s work and make links between the issues we face. It helps
us feel a lot bigger too!

 homes not borders/ Joining forces: HASL with migrant solidarity and housing activists protesting Home Office deportations of Eastern European rough sleepers.

Do you have advice for people wanting to fight for decent
housing where they live?

Don’t give up. This came up
repeatedly at the last London
Coalition Against Poverty
meeting we went to. It’s like a mantra of collective organizing. We
support each other and we are stronger together. Our successes, like forcing
the council to reconsider making a family homeless, show that when we work
together we can achieve a lot.

So many of our members deal with difficult
situations. Families live in overcrowded housing, people face imminent
homelessness, survivors fleeing abuse. All unable to get adequate help.

On top of this, members of our group deal
with health problems (often exacerbated by bad housing), they balance this with
parenting, full-time paid work, unpaid work. The pressures on us are
relentless.

But returning to the group helps relieve
some of these pressures. We make progress by dealing with them together, by
drawing on each other’s strengths and experience. Our members remain involved
even after their cases are resolved. Most of our new members come through
recommendations by friends. We have members who’ve been involved in a really
committed way for over a year. That they keep on coming to meetings shows how
important it is to them.

Smiling men, women and small children stand in centre of a church hall. HASL families take a break. Image by HASL. Used with permission.

Setting up
a housing solidarity group

There’s a booklet written by LCAP with good advice about organising
together on housing. When HASL first started, we used this and the inspiring
stories we’d heard about Hackney Housing Group’s organising.

In the beginning, the most useful things
that we did include:

  • ** linking up with other local groups who shared our concerns,
  • ** leafleting outside housing offices,
  • ** getting advice from other LCAP groups,
    ** and holding a ‘know your rights’ training sessions to build our
    knowledge.

Make your meetings accessible. Organise translation
and childcare for example. Come up with concrete steps and action points.
Allocate jobs (ringing the council, writing a petition, managing the Twitter
feed). People will then see things are happening and how they can help.

What are the things to think about when resisting
gatekeeping, dealing with difficult case work, investigating the state, blogging,
staying well, protesting, finding time to be positive and imaging a better
future?

I think this is a really good list of some
of the challenges we face and some of our activities. I’d add the feeling of
the sheer scale of what we face to this list.

In the last year, our meetings have grown from
10 people to about 25-30, which felt like a great achievement. But in less
time, an entire estate of private rented flats was built in our neighbourhood.
More housing for rich residents. They moved in before we could protest the
development by starting an occupation. 

A soon-to-be demolished housing estate in south London. Image by Wasi Daniju. All rights reserved.

And figuring out how to facilitate bigger
meetings of 30 people with immediate housing issues has also been a bit of a
challenge.

I think doing things together helps make
everything feel less overwhelming and often makes whatever it is more enjoyable
and just better generally. Our meetings are places where we can check in with
each other about our cases and they are a focus for us, because that’s where we
can best deal with our issues.

We try to meet up in other ways in between
meetings. We’ve run lunch clubs, we meet at our London Coalition Against
Poverty meetings. And more recently we set up the homework club which was
really busy and popular, with both kids and adults! It is useful to have more
time to hang out together and work on practical tasks. People learn from each
other, the work is more evenly distributed. It builds solidarity, rather than
create a service dynamic, which can be a problem in housing action groups. 

What difference does HASL make to you?

After one of our busiest meetings, where we
were all crammed into our meeting room, a young boy who I hadn’t met before
turned to me and said very seriously: “That was a good meeting.” I was a little
taken aback. He was definitely right. I was exhausted from the meeting but
there was a lot of energy from everyone there. Then he said it again, “That was
a good meeting.” It could have been because we’d just eaten a chocolate
caterpillar cake to celebrate one of our members getting council housing. I
realised afterwards that I should have asked him what he thought was good about
it. Other HASL kids have also asked me when the next meeting will be. It’s
really lovely that for them too, the group has become a feature in their lives.

At our last meeting, we celebrated with
three families who had lived in overcrowded housing and had finally managed to
get council homes. They have been key members for over a year. “We couldn't
have done it without you,” one them, Gloria, told us all.

Another member and her family lived in their council home
for a year. Every time I have met her since they moved in, she has told me how
it has changed their life. “Before I went to the housing office and they said ‘no,
no, no’. And then you wrote a letter. Every evening, I sit in my living room
and look out of the window and I am thankful.”

For me personally, I’m so inspired and
proud seeing my HASL friends, often dealing with terrible housing situations, fight their
cases and support others. It’s really inspiring seeing collective organising,
support and solidarity work and win. To help facilitate that and be involved is
really special.

Every month a silent walk is held in memory of the victims and suvivors of the Grenfell tower fire. The next march will be held on 14th December. 

 

 

Note from the editor

We offered both Lambeth and Southwark council right of reply to Shine’s articles, which raise serious issues about social housing allocations in their areas. Southwark has yet to comment. A spokesperson from Lambeth council said:

“Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth have contacted us several times regarding a small number of cases. We have investigated these and provided full responses to them on multiple occasions.

 

We thoroughly assess all homelessness applications and deal with them appropriately. There is ever-increasing demand for accommodation of all kinds in Lambeth and we work hard to direct to available resources to those who are most in need.

In accordance with the Housing Act 1996, our allocation scheme gives preference to applicants judged to be in the most need. Applicants are kept fully informed of the level of their priority throughout.

 

Lambeth is in the grip of a housing crisis – with over 23,000 families on our waiting list, 1,800 homeless and in temporary accommodation, and many council tenants living in dilapidated accommodation that we can’t afford to refurbish. We need to do everything we can to tackle this problem, within stringent spending limits.

 

The council is taking a lead in bold, but necessary, decisions like estate rebuilding to tackle the shortage of genuinely affordable housing, and to build better homes for our existing tenants and more homes for the wider community.”

 

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Housing activists stand up to dodgy landlords and council bullies

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/11/2017 - 11:00pm in

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London, Equality

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The Grenfell tower fire forced a public debate on housing inequality in London. Tenants have long been at the mercy of landlords, private and social. But resistance is growing.

Graffiti on a red brick wall. Reads Justice 4 Grenfell. Graffiti near Grenfell tower in London. NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.

In the early hours on 14th June more than 70 people
died when fire engulfed a 24-storey tower block in west London. More than 350 firefighters worked to extinguish the flames over several hours.

Hundreds were trapped in the upper floors of the building while
the fire raged, including 6-month-old Leena Belkadi. The baby girl was found dead in
her mother’s arms in a stairwell between the 19th and 20th
floors.

Grenfell tower was home to a mixed community of working-class
families, young couples, refugees, migrants, elderly residents living alone.

The final death toll is unknown. There are fears that
unregistered migrants who lived in the block may never be identified. Just 71
victims
have been identified so far. In June the Metropolitan police said it could take months to
identify everyone. Last week the Met said:
“Based on all the work carried out so far and the expert advice, it is highly
unlikely there is anyone who remains inside Grenfell Tower.”

An
inquiry
has been set up to investigate
the circumstances around the fire. The devastation and death caused exposed
festering problems of neglect and mismanagement by Kensington and Chelsea Council.
Hundreds of residents and survivors are still homeless more than five months on. Early
November central government published a report which criticises council leaders for their lack of humanity. In a
statement Sajid Javid, communities and local government secretary, said the
council response to the fire was “sluggish and chaotic”.

But the government’s criticism of rotten local politics came too
late. Residents and survivors fear the inquiry will ignore deep rooted problems
of housing and inequality in London. Problems that created the conditions for
the fire.

After all, residents tried to warn authorities years before the
fire in June.

The Grenfell Action
Group formed in 2010 and repeatedly raised safety concerns about the tower
block. They published countless blogs outlining mismanagement and neglect at
Grenfell tower and other housing estates in Kensington. They campaigned for decent housing and challenged the rise of luxury housing developments and managed decline of social homes. Their blog supported struggles against changes that would make London unlivable
for all but the rich. 

Their work is not unusual – across London radical housing groups
fight for the rights of tenants in a hostile housing market. Social housing is
scarce. Councils are broke and ill-equipped (and sometimes unwilling) to support
people moving in and out of poverty, families with complex needs. Average
private rents are high.

After the Grenfell tower fire, what will change?

Plenty, if London’s grassroots housing activists have their way.

We spoke to Izzy Koksal from Housing Action Southwark and
Lambeth
(HASL), a community group from south London, about their work challenging
housing injustice. They are one of many radical groups working on housing
inequality, racism, poverty, sex worker rights and migrant rights in London.
Embedded in local communities, they are a mix of seasoned activists, precarious
workers, and families moving in and out of poverty.

HASL is part of the London Coalition Against Poverty, known as
LCAP, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. The coalition is made up
of local housing support and action groups from across the London boroughs.

Since 2013, HASL has organised around and
blogged about the daily housing injustices they encounter at the hands of local
councils and private landlords.

Below is an edited version of our written Q&A with Izzy, published in three parts, where she tells us about the group’s work, challenges they face and offers
advice for readers interested in setting up their own housing solidarity groups.

 

 

Q&A below, our questions and subheads in bold, with Izzy’s answers immediately following.

Crowd of smiling people in a room Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth is a local community group. Image taken by group, used with permission.

What is Housing Action Southwark And Lambeth? Who is
Involved?

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth is a
local community group made up of people facing housing problems. We meet twice
a month to support each other, organize action around our personal housing issues,
and campaign for housing rights.

Most of our members are working class women
of colour, migrant women, and their children. We have lots of children at our
meetings. We’re thinking of different ways to involve them in what we do.
We want to create something like the Radical
Monarchs
, an alternative Brownies in California. This summer we trialled
our first homework club.

We also have supporters without immediate
housing problems, but who are concerned about housing inequality, poverty and
gentrification. In London, everyone is very aware that they could face serious
housing problems at any moment.

Taking on
dodgy landlords and council bullies 

Common housing problems members face
include overcrowding, pending homelessness, difficulty accessing housing help
from the council, being housed in unsuitable temporary accommodation. Families
can be stuck for years in cramped, expensive temporary accommodation while
waiting for council housing.

Then there are dodgy landlords. Recently,
one landlord tried to steal a member’s deposit. Another landlord harassed a
female member and threatened to throw away her belongings.

To combat some of this, we accompany each other
to homelessness assessments. This is where a housing officer investigates your
case to see if the council owes you a homeless duty. If you are a single homeless
person, council officers decide whether you are vulnerable enough to receive
help with your housing. Our members have experienced bullying and gatekeeping
during these sessions (Gatekeeping is when the council prevents people accessing
services they’re entitled to).

Attending assessments with support
makes the whole process slightly less terrifying. It means we can politely
challenge gatekeeping and make a record of what’s happened.

There’s other work too. We help each other fill out forms and
source good housing lawyers. We give each other moral support, understanding
and anger. Other times, we occupy the town hall. For example, when one of our
members was housed in unsuitable temporary accommodation and her children
forced to take three buses to school, we marched to the town hall. We
demanded the family be given a home close to school. After 30 minutes of us
being there, suitable temporary accommodation was found.

HASL is over four years old now, a huge
achievement for a group organised voluntarily by people dealing with
homelessness, insecure housing, medical issues, childcare commitments, paid
work and other stresses. On top of that, some members now have to worry about Brexit. “Will they throw us out?” a member asked at a recent meeting.

Why was Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth set up?

Where you have people suffering, living in poverty, unable to access secure homes or discriminated against because of
their race, class or migration status, housing groups are vital.

Getting help when you are homelessness is made so difficult by
local councils. Accessing basic housing help is impossible to do alone.
There are even greater barriers when you don’t have English as a
first language, which is the case for many of our members.

Gatekeeping when you face homelessness
isn’t a problem unique to Lambeth and Southwark. All over London, people going
through hard times struggle to access the most basic housing rights. Grenfell tower residents are experiencing that same struggle now.

We had hoped that Kensington & Chelsea
council would make the re-housing process as swift and sympathetic as possible
for Grenfell residents. Yet news reports suggest they are still
struggling to get the right housing support.

The re-housing problems
faced by Grenfell residents echo what our members experience. Things like the confusion and mixed messages from the council about whether people will be housed in temporary
accommodation in the borough. Arrogance from individual councillors. Councils collectively failing to listen to what people need. 

HASL protest against tenants being housed miles from their children's schools. Image by HASL, used with permission.

When the
law falls short

While having access to good housing lawyers
is important (if you qualify for legal aid), the legal process can be slow,
stressful and limited. We organise collectively to complement
legal action. One HASL member was congratulated by her lawyer for winning her
case with the council. He admitted that his own role had been minimal!

This particular member was a survivor of domestic
violence who had endured 30 years of abuse, yet Southwark council initially
decided she was not vulnerable enough to qualify for help. She
will soon be moving into her new council flat, having navigated the homelessness
process with HASL support. She would have given up without our help, she says. In turn, she has since supported some friends in a domestic violence refuge to access their homelessness rights. The collective support, understanding and determination
we have for each other is special and inspiring.

 

 

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council to listen...
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How housing activists are challenging town hall decisions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/11/2017 - 11:00pm in

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London

Using direct action, housing activists challenge unfeeling and harsh local authority decisionmaking 

Part 2 of our Q&A with Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, a community group challenging housing injustice in south London. Read part one introducing the group here

Across London communities are challenging the demolition of quality social housing. Image by Wasi Daniju. All rights reserved.

Our questions and subheads are in bold, with Izzy’s answers immediately following.

 

For years the Grenfell Action Group fought for basic housing
rights and raised safety issues. They warned that people would die
if they were ignored. Yet the council and landlords did nothing. In your
experience is this common? Do councils ignore people when they ask for safe and
secure housing? 

People are ignored by the council when it’s
obvious they’re vulnerable. They are asking for help for a reason, but the
council seem to operate a policy of disbelief. 

For the last year, we’ve been
supporting four HASL families who live in statutorily overcrowded housing in
the private rented sector Southwark. Their living conditions are appalling and
inhumane. The last Labour government said statutory overcrowding was
‘no longer defensible in modern society’. It happens everyday. 

 no more overcrowding. HASL members of all ages protest a council meeting. Image by HASL, used with permission.

Southwark council tells people they’ve
caused overcrowding themselves,
that it is a ‘deliberate act’ to live in overcrowded housing. That they
should have found something better, tried zoopla.com. And they even ask
why the families choose to live in Southwark. These are families who left Spain
because they were homeless and couldn’t find work.

Last December we went to a
Southwark Council cabinet
meeting. One of our members stood up and said: “I ask you to
please help us with our housing. My children especially are suffering at
school. Their headmaster is willing to help us and said they are severely
underperforming due to the stress of the living situation.”

Another member said: “I have been trying to
apply for a long time and my applications have frequently been closed. I am
asking you to help me because we are living in a very small space.”

We held up a drawing of her overcrowded
house for the councillors to see. “This is a folding table,” she said pointing
at the drawing. “This where we have dinner and we have two beds. And a cot and
now she is walking so it is getting more difficult. Thank you very much for
listening, I ask for your help.”

One of our younger members made a video about her living
situation. Filming after school one day she said: “We need help because we have
a small room and there is 16 people here. There’s six rooms. It is complicated
when it is time to eat and go to the bathroom.”

Another young member, Juan, filmed his
home. In the film Juan shows us his bedroom which he shares with his two brothers.
His bed is a blanket on the floor. “Let me show you where I do my homework,” he
says. “Where we eat, where my brothers do their homework and they always stress
me because they don’t let me concentrate to do my exams.”

The council continued to ignore us. We
started a petition addressed to the
councillor with responsibility for housing.

At Grenfell people raised concerns and were
ignored. We’re afraid of what will happen if we’re ignored too. Overcrowded
housing is unsafe housing. Victim blaming is not an acceptable response.

We’ve had similar problems with Lambeth
council too. One of our members lived with her family
in one room. It was tiny. She shared it with her husband and their two
daughters. They shared kitchen and bathroom facilities with other families, who
lived in the other bedrooms of the small house. In total there were 12 people
living in three rooms.

The council refused to help.

Months after this member first went to the
council, she was physically assaulted by someone from another household sharing
the accommodation.

After the assault, our member went to the
housing office again to make a homeless application. The council said she would
need to report the assault to the police before they could open a homeless
assessment. Because she had a buddy with her, they managed to fight this
gatekeeping and get a homeless assessment and temporary housing for the family.
But the temporary housing was out of borough meaning long journeys to school
for the children.

Together we fought the council’s position and demanded suitable accommodation: we conducted a Twitter campaign, we held a large protest, we made official complaints. The council refused to engage with us directly, but after a protest outside the housing office, our member was given higher priority on the council housing waiting list.

What has the council response been to HASL directly
intervening in cases?

The councils’ responses are mixed. But one
thing is for sure, both Lambeth and Southwark councils have failed to engage meaningfully and respectfully with us.

They have failed to address the housing
issues and abuses we’ve highlighted. They were not interested in supporting
some of their most vulnerable residents. Reading through a recent council
letter sent to a number of members, councillors seem horrified and resentful
that poor migrant families could even consider making Southwark their home.

Most London private renters struggle to
find suitable housing. This is more complicated if you have children, claim
benefits and don’t have English as a first language. Five families were living
in statutorily overcrowded housing because they struggled to find suitable
homes. They were locked out of the private rental market because of
discrimination and racism. Yet Southwark council deemed them living in
overcrowded housing a ‘deliberate act’. This is a quote from the council’s
letter:

“...having conducted several searches on
the external property website www.zoopla.com we found several
properties within southeast London which fell within the local housing
allowance rental level.

 

“I am
satisfied that the overcrowded circumstances your household is currently
residing within has been caused through a deliberate act ... I have not found
any grounds to conclude it is a necessity for your household to reside in the
borough to maintain employment.”

Illustration of group of people packed into a sardine can. Image by Queen Mob Collective.

Last year we were invited to a meeting with
Southwark housing officers to discuss the problems we face. In advance of the
meeting we gave the housing officers details of the cases we wanted them to
investigate. But when we arrived they hadn’t even looked at the cases. Their
response to our questions was, “Yeah, we'll look into it.” They refused to
commit to anything there and then. For us, the meeting was a waste of time. Someone noticed that the manager had kept looking at his watch throughout the
meeting.

That’s not to say we haven’t had any
success. When the council
refused to house a woman and her children fleeing domestic violence we
campaigned against the decision. Within 24 hours the council
changed its mind
and housed the family.

Recently,
we met another woman made homeless after fleeing domestic violence a year ago.
Last October she had approached Southwark housing office, but they stalled in
helping her.  They should have started a
homeless assessment, but failed to do so. She was homeless, forced to sleep on
a friend’s sofa.

Earlier
this year, she went back to the council this year with a buddy. Still no homeless assessment. This is something she was legally entitled to. During that
visit, the woman and her buddy got a copy of the council’s refusal. It was a
handwritten note. We
shared the note on Twitter.
Soon after that the council got in touch and a homeless assessment was
arranged. 

 

 Screenshot of @HousingActionSL tweet of an image of a handwritten note. Direct action, case by case

Other times our influence is indirect. Before HASL and in our early days, we heard reports of Southwark council turning away homeless families without legal help. People said the atmosphere in the housing office was one of bullying and intimidation.
People would turn up to our meetings saying they had tried to make a homeless
application but had been turned away with nothing.  

One family came to our meeting and said they
had visited the housing office eight times and each time they had been turned
away without any help.

A few years ago, we met a father and his
toddler leaving the housing office having been turned away with no housing
assistance. “You guys were my saviour that day,” he told us later. 

He explains what happened:

“I was sent there to a caseworker, judging me,
this man judging me straight saying, ‘no, you can’t have a house, you have to
go and look for private accommodation’. And they said I made myself
intentionally homeless without investigating my case and they threw me out.

 

“I came out and I met you guys … you
accompanied me and then there was a commotion there [at the housing office] …
From there on they had to change. The manager came and then the decision was
reversed. I was given another appointment. I came back and it was a bit
[easier] for me. Because of the intervention? I don’t know. And from there, we
are alright.”

We blogged about what was happening. We
helped people get council appointments. We leafleted outside the housing office
so people knew their rights. It was a way to show solidarity for people
going into appointments.

The council could not ignore us. They began
to deal with the gatekeeping. People at HASL meetings stopped saying they
couldn’t get homeless appointments. Some of our members were able to secure
homeless applications themselves. Others remarked that the atmosphere inside the
housing office had improved considerably.

However, there is still work to do. For
over a year the council has ignored a number of
HASL families
who are statutorily overcrowded.

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Is Lexit a centrist fantasy?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/11/2017 - 6:44pm in

Tags 

UK, London

Lexit exists more in the mind of its opponents than in any on-the-ground reality. Why do commentators in the FT and Economist talk it up?

If Labour were mad about Lexit, then why would it appoint Starmer?Writing in the Financial Times, Philip Stephens, asserts this week of Corbyn’s Labour that they hail “from a small far left sect that views Brussels as a capitalist plot”. Close and long-suffering watchers of Brexit will know this position, affectionately, as “lexit”, and “the left-wing version of Brexit” is its clunkier title for those already past caring.

Despite the logical-seeming simplicity of Stephens’s argument, as the Brexit process gets ever more critical and remainers seek a new ‘Will of the people', the provenance of lexit needs scrutiny if it is not to be found, all too late, to have been only a misleading trope.

Firstly it is important to recognise that "lexit" in the popular imagination and vocabulary, does not really exist. Devout politicos know to what it refers, but the concept only registers any clout in Google trends on a few days of 2016 when the Guardian ran one article successfully outlining what lexit might be. Perhaps that is not a problem; the idea does not need not be popular currency to have hold in the minds of Corbyn and McDonnell, but even this is to succumb to the centrist’s other laziness of thought by which Corbyn’s Labour is compulsively to be regarded as homogeneous. It is to ignore that Diane Abbott avoided the Article 50 vote, Clive Lewis resigned as shadow business secretary so as to disobey the whip on it, and the entire Labour project on Brexit is under the stewardship of heart-on-sleeve Europhile and open remain-backer, Keir Starmer QC.

Why would professional political commentators be so reluctant to read the cards as they are being dealt? Having already been shown that Momentum was predominantly not a Trotskyite cult that would alienate Labour from its voters, lexit has maybe become the new guise for that old logic, and the judgment, or pre-judgment, of many in the pundit class has been clouded by a need to see Labour as a threat and an extreme project.

Commentators have speculated openly whether Corbyn’s Labour see the chaos and financial collapse of Brexit as the ideal soil for a creative destruction out of which to grow socialism. The more obvious reason for Labour equivocating – that the bulk of Labour MPs are in leave-voting seats – often fails to penetrate their dogma, despite its glaring obviousness. That Labour, on the European Court of Justice and EU citizens’ rights are quite clearly amenable to making Brexit as sane as possible, has already passed them by, such is the fidelity to the creed that Corbyn must be mad. Fanatics always tend to see others in their own image, and it is arguably the fanatics of a shrinking centre who are now projecting their own mania on to rational actors within Labour.

This is not to say that there are no old communists, anarchists and radicals who voted leave in protest at the perception of the EU as a neoliberal order – there are. That group might be as statistically insignificant as Trotskyists are to Momentum’s numbers, but that they do exist is as unquestionable as the fact that they are now being given outsized prominence. Perhaps the great irony here is that, while the left and centre-left work overtime to stress that railways can be nationalised, strategic industry subsidised and minimum wages raised inside the EU, centre-right financial pundits producing narrative journalism-cum-opinion give credence to the myth of the EU neoliberal club.

One recent good example of this was provided by The Economist, which in consecutive paragraphs reasoned that the city of Preston – much admired for its social, local procurement policy – was used to demonstrate why Corbyn might want out of EU rules. Both writer and editor failed to highlight what was so obvious but key it seemed regrettably to have been missed – that these admired policies were being implemented within the EU.

All this leaves an urgent need to address the fact that lexit is the form by which a dwindling political centre and pundit class legitimises a pre-existing certainty that Corbyn, having been found not unelectable, must in fact be dangerous. Fair enough, people always hold tight to their views in politics, politicos all the more so. But what if they are wrong? This too leaves two options. The first possibility is that they are wrong but in good faith; that they believe their mistake to be true, unaware that the need to doubt and pillory Labour under Corybn could cost them a valuable ally in maintaining their EU. Or are they wrong but in bad faith; they have divined that Labour are in fact agnostic on the EU, but – threatened by a Corbyn government – the spectre of lexit, at-best fringe in Labour circles, must be peddled to discredit this movement. That none of the left's regular think tanks seem eager to elaborate on this lexit, that the Labour membership is overwhelmingly pro-EU, become inconvenient but elided factors in the misnomer of the Brexit left.

In one thing the pundit class are certainly right, even if their pejorative tone often associated with the statement is unnecessary: Corbyn and McDonnell will stop at nothing to get a UK built on social and economic justice.  Where they in their mania are wrong is the failure to realise that that ‘nothing’ probably includes, in the right political circumstances, remaining in the EU. For any who would want that outcome, the priority should be creating those circumstances, and helping to drop the myth of lexit.

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This article has been commissioned as part of our “Looking at Lexit” series, investigating the possibilities and limitations of leaving the EU. We would welcome further contributions on freedom of movement: please get in touch via Twitter (@juliansayerer or @xjb20).

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Jeremy Irons: Actor Scab

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/11/2017 - 11:47pm in

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Hollywood Thesp Jeremy Irons told striking workers to be "reasonable" so that he could read some poems.

"I found it racist and also disgraceful, the way he is talking to us. We have been reasonable."

Henry Chango Lopez, porter at the University of London

read more

The Young Turks on the Sexual Abuse of Boys in Hollywood

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 05/11/2017 - 5:21am in

In this short piece from The Young Turks, hosts Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian report and comment on a story in the Guardian about the rampant abuse of male actors in the film industry. Kasparian states that while there has been much said and written about the abuse of female actors, less has been said about the male victims of this predatory behaviour. She states that there is a great stigma among me about coming forward with their experiences, and wishes to pay her tributes to their courage as well.

After Aaron Rapp talked about how he was subjected to Kevin Spacey’s unwanted advances, other actors have also told about their experiences. One of these was the London-based actor and director, Alex Winter, who states that the subject is very taboo, but he does not know any boys in any pocket of the entertainment industry, who do not suffer some form of predatory behaviour.

Another gay actor, Wilson Cruz, who plays Rapp’s love interest in the new Star Trek series, has also spoken recently about his experience of sexual harassment at the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network awards event, stating that he has been approached by older ‘gentlemen’, and he was left wondering what he should have done about it, although he did not take them up. Uygur and Kasparian state that this is natural, as before the internet the gatekeepers in the industry were very powerful, and repulsing their advances could all too easily damage your career.

They make the point that while sexual abuse is occasionally carried out by women, it’s mostly done by men, including gay men. People’s sexual morals when it comes to exploiting those less powerful than themselves don’t improve or get worse depending on their sexuality, as the number of straight male sexual abusers like Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and Bill Cosby show.

Dennis Skinner: Stop Treating Northern People like Second Class Citizens for HST Rail Link

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/11/2017 - 2:10am in

In this short piece from RT, Dennis Skinner angrily demands that Theresa May stop treating the people of the north as second class citizens, whose homes can be casually demolished to build the HST rail line.

He states that research has shown that down in the ‘leafy suburbs of the south’, 30 per cent of the first 140 miles of the rail line will be tunnelled under ground to prevent having to knock houses down. But in the north, only 2 per cent will go underground, because the company states blandly that it’s cheaper to knock them down. He requests the Prime Minister to meet with the constituents in his part of Bolsover to assure them that a further thirty houses will not be knocked down.

May simply replies that she is sure that HST will be happy to look into that, and says she would like to remind him about the benefits that HST will bring with the northern powerhouse and the growing economy in the Midlands. To which the Beast of Bolsover looks extremely unimpressed, shaking his head with his other colleagues on the bench.

In fact Skinner has every right to be sceptical, as research has been done that predicts that rather than benefit the north, the rail link will actually take industry and jobs from that already struggling part of the UK.

Quite apart from the manifest injustice of the rail chiefs apparently considering that the homes of the good people of the north aren’t worth the same consideration and preservation as those in the south. I can very well believe that they take this view, as there is very much a London first mentality amongst the metropolitan elite, and particularly amongst the Tories. You can see that in the way any major artistic or cultural project is immediately scheduled for London rather than any of our nation’s great provincial cities. And this was especially true when the capital was run by Boris Johnson.

Despite the rhetoric, May and the Tories have absolutely no interest in how the rail network will affect people in the deprived parts of Britain, which it will allegedly benefit, and are only concerned in case it harms their part of the south.

Thoughts and Prayers with the People of New York after the Terror Attack

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/11/2017 - 5:19am in

This is just to say that my thoughts and prayers of with the good folks of New York, and particularly the family and friends left bereaved by the terrorist attack this morning. I have no doubt that the perp will be caught and brought to justice for this appalling crime.

And my prayers and thoughts are also with the other victims of terrorism, unjust war and the butchery and enslavement of innocents around the world, whether in New York, London, Paris, Madrid, or Moscow, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

This isn’t about the West versus Islam or the peoples of the Middle East. ISIS has committed more terrorist acts, and maimed, butchered and enslaved the peoples of that region, whether Muslim, Christian, Yezidi or whatever, than it has killed westerners. It’s about ordinary men and women the world over standing together against hate, bigotry, cruelty and genocide.

And in my view, this also means standing against those politicians, arms manufacturers and defence contractors, who use these vile and despicable acts as a means of promoting further war and exploitation of the Middle East, and of the western taxpayer back home, simply for the big bucks this will bring their management and shareholders.

My very best wishes for the people of this greatest of American cities in this hour. And for everyone else, who wants peace, love and justice, wherever they are in this world.

Tony Greenstein Announces Launch of New Group against Anti-Semitism Smears and Witch-Hunt

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 23/10/2017 - 9:19pm in

Last Saturday, 21st October 2017, there was a meeting in London for the victims of the campaign of smearing and suspensions by the Blairites and the Zionist lobby in the Labour party. These two factions have tried to hold on to their flimsy power base in the Labour party and defend Israel and it’s continued persecution and ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians by falsely accusing decent, anti-racist people, both gentiles and Jews, of anti-Semitism when they have rightly criticised Israel for this. The victims of this witch-hunt include, and some would go so far as to say, specifically target, Torah-observant and self-regarding secular Jews. Many of these Jews condemn Israel and its brutal maltreatment of the Palestinians because of their liberal Jewish beliefs, which they feel command them always to side with the oppressed, never with the oppressor. They object to the massacres, home seizures and ethnic cleansing of Israel’s indigenous Arabs precisely because it is how Jews have been historically persecuted.

Thousands have had their names besmirched, and been suspended and excluded from the Labour party. They include Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and Tony Greenstein himself.

Now the victims are fighting back, and demanding an end to the witch-hunt. Mr Greenstein has put up an article about the meeting today on his website. He describes recent events which saw the Jewish groups at the Labour party demand the expulsion of the Jewish Labour Movement, the Zionist group in the Labour party that has been responsible for many of these smears. Greenstein has also pointed out that while the organisation claims to be Jewish, the majority, or at least a sizable minority of its members are actually gentiles. He also discusses personal embarrassments to the Blairites’ and Zionists’ leaders. The two factions have overreached themselves in the expulsion of the very respected Israeli academic and socialist, Moshe Machover. Machover is a distinguished academic and mathematician, and his Matzpen organisation in Israel includes both Jews and Arabs. The Blairites summarily expelled him, and now have found themselves inundated by calls by his supporters to have him reinstated.

Greenstein lays out the new organisations few, simple policies in the first paragraphs. They are

The time has come to fight back. The Left simply cannot allow the Right to continue with expelling those they don’t like. The Momentum leadership under Lansman, which should have taken on the fight against the witch hunt has, instead, got into bed with the witch hunters. It was Lansman and his friends who laid the basis for Jackie Walker’s suspension from the Labour Party by removing Jackie from her position as Vice Chair of Momentum. If people really want to see a radical and socialist government under Jeremy Corbyn we have to stop the witch hunt in its tracks. Indeed we need to be rooting out the Blairite bureaucracy.

•1. No auto exclusions Everyone has the right to a hearing. The Chakrabarti Report found that Labour’s disciplinary and complaints procedures “… lacked sufficient transparency, uniformity and expertise” and failed to observe “the vital legal principles of due process (or natural justice) and proportionality”.

•2. It is unacceptable that there are differing definitions of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism isn’t a difficult thing to define. It is hostility or hatred of Jews. You don’t need a 450 word definition unless your purpose is to conflate opposition to Zionism, the ideology that led to the foundation of the Israeli state and genuine anti-Semitism.

Corbyn has adopted the short, two sentence International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

This definition is itself too imprecise, open ended and uncertain. What makes it unacceptable is that it introduces and lays the basis for 11 ‘examples’ of anti-Semitism, 7 of which relate to Israel. In other words the whole purpose of the definition is to conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Whilst Corbyn has not adopted these 11 examples the Labour bureaucracy has. We have therefore adopted the definition first espoused by Professor Brian Klug of Oxford University in his lecture ‘Echoes of Shattering Glass’ delivered in his 2014 lecture in Berlin’s Jewish Museum on the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

‘antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are.’

3. Thirdly our demand is that the Compliance Unit is abolished. It is completely undemocratic and unaccountable. Instead all disciplinary action is to be taken by elected bodies in future.

It is important that LAW builds itself quickly in the coming months and engages in a series of activities, such as a picket of the NEC to demand the reinstatement of Moshe Machover to holding meetings and a conference.

He also states that a four-person Executive Committee was elected, consisting of himself and Jackie Walker, Stan Keable, and Pete Firmin.

The groups is actively looking for new members.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/labour-against-witchhunt-forms-in.html

Greenstein is exactly correct in his definition of anti-Semitism. This goes back to the League of Anti-Semites in Wilhelmine Germany and its founder, Wilhelm Marr. Marr defined it as a hatred of Jews as a race or ethnic group, without regard to Judaism as a religion or any other beliefs or ideologies. They had a revolting little rhyme about how the ‘swinishness’ was ‘in the blood’.

He, and other critics of Israel and Zionism, have shown time and again that historically Zionism was peripheral to Judaism; that many Jews opposed it as a blasphemous secularisation of their religion; and that, horrifically, Zionists have had contempt for diaspora Jews, and have been willing to collaborate with genuine anti-Semites, including the Nazis for a brief period, in order to further their goals of creating a Jewish state in Palestine.

And they have used the accusation of anti-Semitism to smear and silence their opponents. Despite the danger that they are crying ‘Wolf’, and that one day, because of their abuse of the term, nobody will be bothered by the emergence of the real wolves.

Mr. Greenstein, Jackie Walker, Stan Keable and Peter Firmin have my very best wishes for their organisation and its aims. I hope that at long last, justice will prevail and decent people may at last be able to speak about Israel and its barbarous treatment of the Palestinians without fear of being expelled or slandered.

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