Louise Baldock was a Labour Councillor in the city of Liverpool for two terms, 2006 - 2014. This was her award-winning blog, written mainly as a councillor about issues affecting Kensington and Fairfield ward, sometimes as a politician, and sometimes simply personal commentary. Although she thought she might rekindle the blog after May 2015, she has now changed her mind and leaves this as an archive and record.
Monday, April 08, 2013
Liverpool Labour and the Bedroom Tax
We have been asked a few questions by activists in the city about what Liverpool Labour is doing to combat the bedroom tax. This is our current position.
a) What you are doing and
what do you intend to do to prevent Liverpool residents from being evicted from
Labour councillors in Liverpool have established a
grassroots Labour members’ campaign which has been rolled out nationally to other grassroots Labour members, to demand
that the Government abolishes the bedroom tax and which calls upon the
Parliamentary Labour Party to commit to abolish it when they are able to form a
Government. We have funded this campaign ourselves personally – most of the
expense being in the establishment of a website where tenants can share their
stories and where Labour campaigners can access campaign materials to use in
their local areas. The website can be found at www.labouragainstthebedroomtax.org.uk
We also unanimously passed a motion in the Town Hall which
you may have read about in the Liverpool Echo a few weeks ago.
You will be aware that the council itself has no housing
stock, all homes having been transferred through stock transfer some years ago
under the Lib Dem administration. That said, many Labour councillors are members
of Housing Associations, either independently or as appointments from the local
authority, and they will be party to discussions about how each association can
best manage the bedroom tax – and the introduction of universal credit paid
directly to tenants – to minimise the threat to tenancies. Some of them may well
be discussing non/eviction policies. Some of them are also discussingmeasures to help fund the cost of moving, or support with caretaker
services to make it easier to do so on the day for those who want to move. And some HAs with our support have set up hardship funds to pay the bedroom tax on behalf of tenants where appropriate.
We hope very much there will not be mass evictions –
Housing Associations are always reluctant to evict tenants and do so only rarely
– more usually because of crime or anti-social behaviour. We don’t believe they
will be in any hurry to evict tenants who are not able to make up their rent and
we also don’t believe that such applicants would find favour with judges who
need to sign such eviction orders off. Quite apart from anything else, it will
take a long time for sizeable arrears to build up. That said we are not remotely
complacent about it and will be doing all we can to support any tenants who find themselves in this invidious position.
HAs are also keenly pursuing mutually agreeable swaps and
indeed one Liverpool landlord managed a five-way swap last month, to support
tenants who are prepared to move and need help. This was with the support of a
Labour councillor who sits on the board of that HA.
All the Liverpool Housing Associations working together
have formed a group called the Registered Providers Welfare Reform Group and are
committed to funding independent benefits advice and benefits maximisation
workers to help tenants and we have met with members of that group to talk about
how we can further support them to protect tenants from this crippling financial
blow. They are also working on how they can find loopholes or make changes to
policies that will in any way protect the tenants they were established to
support. You will be aware that many HAs are charities and have been in
operation for decades to support social tenants.
You may also know that the Labour council has given
£1million to a consortium of 7 credit unions to help local people to manage
their limited budgets and keep them out of the hands of loan sharks. We also
believe that with our support the credit unions will be able to offer so called
“jam jar” accounts so that tenants can ensure their rent (and other bills) are
paid when their benefits arrive.
We have also given £50,000 to local food banks and many
Labour Councillors volunteer in foodbanks or support them in their area with
extra funds from their devolved budgets.
We have also set aside £400,000 for a hardship fund.
And we ensured that the council tax benefit cuts
passported from the Government have not been applied in full, but half of that
shortfall of 17.5% to working age claimants has been met by the council itself (and some from a grant from the Government)
so that residents in receipt of council tax benefit will only have to pay 8.5%
of council tax instead of the full 17.5%. It still means people paying who have never had to do so before, but it is half of what it would have cost them.
We also wrote in the strongest terms
to the Government to object and indeed the Mayor has sent Eric
Pickles, Tory Minister, the money for a train ticket to Liverpool so that he can
come and see the problems himself (he wont come of course) as well as organising
a nationwide conference on the austerity cuts which was attended by council
leaders and bishops from around the country, objecting to the unfair cuts heaped
on our city.
b) Will your political organisation repeal the legislation
in its entirety if elected - for everyone who is affected?
We are not in a position to speak for the Labour national
front bench who have not yet stated whether they will repeal this. They have
said that they believe it is perverse and unfair and that they want it to be
scrapped now, by this Government, with many shadow Secretaries of State speaking
at demonstrations on 16th March, giving that message. But so far they have not
actually said they will repeal it. We continue to call for them to say that they
will, we believe that it is our duty to provide the powerful voice of grassroots
Labour Party members so that they will ultimately give that commitment.
c) Will your organisation be organising further protests against the
Liverpool Labour Party will go on protesting against the
bedroom tax for as long as it takes. We have been out knocking on doors in
affected areas, going to local Tenants and Residents Associations, taking
petitions into local shopping centres like Fairfield, Anfield, Walton Village
and Norris Green for instance, and tackling cases through our advice surgeries –
of which dozens take place every week. We won a case for a tenant on Friday and
expect to win further cases this coming week (and hopefully in the months to
come of course). We would expect all of this to continue. We will also be
continuing to promote stories of affected tenants on our website.