I’ve not seen a lot of discussion yet about the latest bedroom tax news from Scotland. At first glance, it looks like a great victory, but I don’t want to rush to conclusions too quickly about how far this is genuinely going to make things better and how far it’s just politicians saying stuff that sounds good. Still, for the record, here’s what the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation have to say about it:
“Victory – Mass campaign sinks the Bedroom Tax in Scotland The Bedroom Tax has been defeated in Scotland. The imminent announcement that the Scottish government intend to effectively end the crushing burden of the hated and reviled Bedroom Tax is a huge victory for the thousands upon thousands of working class people who refused to accept the so-called inevitable, and are responsible for its defeat.
It’s a victory reminiscent of the defeat of the poll tax in the early 1990’s. Mass campaigning, hundreds of public meetings the length and breadth of Scotland, thousands on demonstrations, lobbies and protests and a refusal to accept any possibility of evictions proved an unstoppable force. Unlike the poll tax, the Bedroom Tax directly attacked only a small percentage of the working class. Yet it aroused huge anger among the overwhelming majority, whether directly affected or not. 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 Con-Dem government of millionaires. It will give a huge boost to the campaign in England and Wales who will demand its abolition.
How the Bedroom Tax was defeated. In February and March of 2013 campaigns against the bedroom tax were springing up across the country, with thousands of tenants looking to build a defence of their communities. Local anti-Bedroom Tax campaigns sprung up across the working class communites of Scotland. 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 organise a conference for any interested campaigns to debate the best way to defeat the Bedroom Tax. On the 30th of March 2013 5,000 marched in Edinburgh and over 8000 people marched through the streets of Glasgow, from Glasgow Green to George Square in a show of strength from the schemes not seen since the poll tax. “Axe, Axe the Bedroom Tax” was the slogan, along with the promise to build an anti-eviction army to prevent any attempts at evictions. From the podium the call was made to assemble an Anti-Eviction Army to stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone who’s home was under threat. 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 had won the first Bedroom Tax concession from the SNP run council, a heavily caveated ‘no evictions’ policy for a year, and the other campaigns were looking for a forum to share tactics and lessons from each other. The Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation was formed at it’s founding Conference on the 27th April 2013. This conference was attended by over 250 Delegates from over 40 campaigns and Trade Union branches.
From its founding the Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation and scores of local affiliated campaigns have been leading the fight against the Bedroom Tax. From the beginning the Federation called for:
1. The Scottish government to come up with the £50million 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.
We have supported the Govan Law Centre’s campaign to have the Scottish Parliament change the law in order to prevent evictions for Bedroom Tax arrears. 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 didn’t take a position against it. We campaigned on the streets of housing schemes helping the petition to get 5000 signatures. We were lobbying the parliament in April when the petition was heard by the petitions committee. We were back at the parliament in June when the petitions committee referred the proposal to the welfare reform committee. We have supported the proposals put forward by the Govan Law Centre that are now contained in the Jackie Baillie bill, and have been instrumental in building the public pressure that has dragged the Labour party kicking and screaming into taking a position against the Bedroom Tax.
The Campaigns affiliated to the Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation have won some major concessions from Local Authorities up and down the country. The SNP controlled Dundee council was forced to take a ‘no evictions for a year’ position very early on after tenants rallied and lobbied a council meeting demanding action. While the campaigners recognised the limitations of these ‘no evictions’ policies, they also recognised how difficult it would be politically to evict once these proclamations were made. This policy became policy for the SNP controlled councils as the party pushed motions through where they could. In Renfrewshire the Labour group who control the council faced pressure from three high profile local campaigns who used the local press to build immense pressure that forced the council to take a ‘no evictions’ policy but without the one year time limit. Tellingly the SNP voted against this policy in Renfrewshire, a fact that was noted by the other campaigns in the Federation. With the Labour party nationally still lost at sea, and the SNP saying that only if there was a YES vote in the referendum would the Bedroom Tax be gone from Scotland, it was clear that on a National level there was no intention to do anything to protect tenants.
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 June the first and the 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 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 the Autumn it was the conferences of the major political parties. With the Lib-Dem national conference being held in Glasgow, the Scottish Anti Bedroom Tax Federation mobilised again. We held a successful lobby right outside the building as the Bedroom Tax was debated inside. Through talking with delegates and with our very visual presence we were instrumental in having the delegates vote a motion calling for a review of the Bedroom Tax that was later ignored by the Lib-Dem leadership. 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 it’s affiliated campaigns has 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 helped thousands of tenants through the appeals process, using the Govan Law Centre Tool-kit in an attempt to clog up the system. We have forced councils to top up their DHP to the maximum allowed and forced the £40 million out of the Scottish government meaning that over 70% of those originally affected now have access to protection in their homes. We have Shaped Labour party policy on this issue and didn’t accept the SNP position that only a YES vote would end the misery of the Bedroom Tax In Scotland and today’s announcement has proven us to be correct.
Now we must ensure that all the Bedroom Tax Debt that has accrued over the last year is written off, and any court proceedings for possesion of tenancies due to Bedroom Tax should be suspended.
This just shows what is possible when we have a cause to unite around, and are willing to say that enough is enough!!!”
I can’t say how accurate that is, and I’ll be happy to share more critical accounts if I find any, but that was the first substantial statement from Scottish anti-bedroom tax campaigners I’ve been able to find so far. The Govan Law Centre have also released a statement welcoming the news, and I’ll close with some words from a claimant that I found in one of the anti-bedroom tax groups on facebook:
“Listen up Daily Record lets get it straight … you were not in the front line of the action in the anti bedroom tax campaign you did not have a constant report of action against it, not only me but many other people in Face Book campaign rooms shared posting of what they were doing and any letters posted to the Media were never acknowledged or published, including your offices. It was the vulnerable people on low incomes that were being affected by the bedroom tax that started this campaign and the result is OUR result.”