We (That's Birmingham Benefit Justice Campaign) called a protest for mid-day by Waterstones in New Street, where there's a bit of open space and lots of people passing. We had originally thought of Victoria Square, where we had a very successful protest past month, but that was in use for the St George's Day celebrations. It worked well, with a lot of people passing, and an excellent atmosphere. We met a lot of people who are seriously concerned about the Bedroom Tax; some didn't know where to turn.
The Bedroom Tax is the latest Tory twist of the screw; if you have a 'spare bedroom', and you're on benefit, then you lose 14% of your Housing Benefit, and have to make it up out of benefits. The problem is that benefit levels are too low for people to live on for starters, and they get cut off for any reason or no reason at all. Wage levels are atrocious, with many people having their pay topped up by benefit. We already have increasing numbers of people relying on food banks, and the number using the one I help with hit a record last week. That's the effect of the latest cuts.
The theory is that people should downsize. Birmingham have five and a half thousand single people in Council flats, and 368 (if I remember right; it's about that) single bedroom flats, so where are they going to move to? Housing Associations don't have single-bedroom flats either. the only 'solution' would be private lets, but that means sky-high rents, and the Housing Benefit bill would go through the roof.
Then there are the arguments around natural justice. When I originally got a Council flat, I was single.They didn't have a one-bedroom flat, so they gave me two bedrooms. Had I still been single, and been on benefits, that would suddenly have become a 'spare bedroom, and a 'problem', after living there for 25 years. My daughter is currently at college in London. That would have been a 'spare bedroom', and we would have been under pressure to downsize, and leave her without a permanent home. Thousands of people are being caught in this sort of trap. I met someone yesterday who has a 'spare bedroom' of fifty-odd square feet, which a baby sleeps in. You can't put a bed plus furniture in there, the Housing Act 1985 specifies that a bedroom has to be at least 70 square feet, but the Council doesn't care. I've already dealt with one case where a seventeen-year-old was expected to share, when the law gave him the right to a single bedroom. It's getting to the point where I just don't know what absurdity is coming next.
If people don't move, many of them will be unable to pay. Evictions cost thousands, and then people have to be rehoused, costing money again. The tax is completely uneconomic, and some Councils round the country are already pledging not to evict anyone who falls into arrears due to the tax. That then leaves the Council with a shortfall. In the short term, one of our aims is to persuade Birmingham City Council to agree to no evictions. If the longer term, we want the tax abolished. This won't happen overnight; it took three years to get rid of the Poll Tax, and we should expect a similar timescale this time. The tax is unworkable, so I've no doubt that it will go.
Birmingham Clarion Singers entertaining us. I've also got film of a walk we took round the city centre, but I haven't had a chance to edit that yet, so I'll have to post it later.
And morris dancers at the Wellington pub afterwards.