Bailiffs guarding Rushcroft Road homes a week on

23 Jul

Yesterday evening we took a stroll along Rushcroft Road to check out a tweet from the Brixton Blog which said there were still bailiffs about.  Bailiffs and security were outside guarding the now empty buildings. Lambeth council are determined that only those who can afford extreme rents will get access to these, and they’re happy to pay out to ensure that this is the case. What a disgusting sight.

To take some comfort, our presence, walking along, trying to look inconspicuous whilst taking photos to document how stupid Lambeth council are and the whole housing as commodities, certainly put them on edge. One of the security guards didn’t take his eyes of us as we passed and watched us until we reached the end of the road and the bailiffs were getting visibly frustrated. At two of the buildings though, security looked a little more lax…!

I guess these guys will be about until ‘guardians’ move in. Today’s Guardian featured an ace article that critically looks at this new form of housing precarity. Check out one Camden councillors promotion of hazardous, slum housing and advocation of social engineering.

Another good read is Hannah Schling’s excellent piece on the Rushcroft Road homes and Lambeth council’s role in creating housing insecurity.

Bailiffs on Rushcroft Road guarding empty buildings

Bailiffs on Rushcroft Road guarding empty buildings

Security outside another building

Security outside another building

Another bailiff

Another bailiff

This security guy sitting on a wall, a little way away from the building he is guarding

This security guy sitting on a wall, a little way away from the building he is guarding

 

 

 

 

Rushcroft Road Eviction Resistance

16 Jul
'Stop Evicting Brixton', ACAB, also 'we eat guardians' written down the side of a window

‘Stop Evicting Brixton’, ACAB, also ‘we eat guardians’ written down the side of a window

Burning barricade

Burning barricade

'Newbold guardians profit from evictions'

‘Newbold guardians profit from evictions’

As you have probably heard – yesterday saw the violent eviction of many homes on Rushcroft road, Brixton, met with strong resistance. I wanted to write down some notes of things that maybe haven’t been reported yet, especially in the mainstream media’s accounts. (This is quite difficult, yesterday was very emotional in many ways. This is the neighbourhood I have grown up in and live in today, watching it be further impoverished as we lose yet more desperately needed public housing stock, seeing people lose their homes, and watching police and bailiff violence on my friends.)

A bit of background

Six beautiful buildings on Rushcroft Road were left in a state of disrepair by Lambeth council back in the 80s. People moved into these buildings, repaired them and turned them into homes. Some residents were given short life licenses for their flats whilst other flats were squatted (the law change that bans residential squatting was not relevant here, as squatters in these flats had a tacit licence from the council). With property prices soaring in gentrifying Brixton, Lambeth council suddenly took an interest in the Rushcroft Road buildings and decided they wanted them back so they could sell them off to private property developers. That these are people’s homes and important public housing, in a borough with massive overcrowding problems, an ever-growing housing waiting list, forced relocation of residents to seaside towns and cities north of London, didn’t perturb Lambeth council who went ahead and ordered the ‘National Eviction Team’ bailiffs, known for being particularly big and violent (and who had brought along their own FIT team with two bailiffs holding small portable cameras and filming people constantly).

Brixton residents gathered on Rushcroft Road from 6.30am to try to stop the evictions. The numbers were not huge, but despite numbers of around one hundred, from the start, people were fucking determined. Barricades were set on fire at the top of the street, paint found its way onto bailiffs and cops (with some supporters getting covered in yellow gloss too), people sat across the road blocking the progress of the cops and bailiffs (“There’s police and bailiffs, it’s just like the old days!” one woman was heard saying into her phone at the roadblock), people blocked front doors as bailiffs charged at them, barricades were put up inside the buildings (a boom would ring out across the street as the bailiffs knocked down doors of the flats from inside the building). Looking back that evening at the days events people remarked what a strong resistance it was from a smallish group. It felt like some fucking feat to have kept them off so long, to have made their job so difficult, to defend the homes as best as we could. Just imagine what we could have done with even more people.

The violence used by the bailiffs and police was incredibly heavy, disturbing and traumatising. As we defended the door to the last building I watched a friend be dragged by the bailiffs over broken glass, people getting strangled, one person on the ground being beaten up, bailiffs charging through the people with a crow bar, police pushing people who were trying to help others away to let the bailiffs get on with their violence. Rows of people were standing in front of the door to stop the bailiffs getting in. Bailiffs charge at doors to knock them down. Only this time they were charging as they would for a door but at people, massive crow bar in hand. I jumped out the way over a small wall in the front yard, and found a bailiff in my face about to attack. I shouted that I was nowhere near the door and wasn’t going to go there and he finally backed off. It was probably the most heavy violence I’ve ever seen – I’ve seen a fair amount of police and bailiff dickheadery. Several very experienced activists said they hadn’t seen anything like this in some time.

It was devastating to watch each block be taken from us, bailiffs tramping in and out, people made homeless, yet more loss of our public housing stock, and the continuation of class cleansing in the neighbourhood. Someone had left some of their vinyl collection outside on a window sill and a woman carried the vinyl down with us, hoping to return them to the owner or someone else who would offer them a home, as we were forced down the street with each eviction.

Two Lambeth council officers turned up to watch people be made homeless. I’m not sure why they thought it was OK to do this. People realised these men in suits were from the council and mobbed them, shouting at them for making people homeless and privatising housing and following them down the street as they tried to escape. They were properly hounded to the end of the street and felt so unsafe that the walked back the way they came to get protection from the police. This was a wonderful scene and will happen more often I hope.

Walking along Coldharbour Lane later on, we met some local people outside a shop who had been watching the evictions. They told us they were impressed and supportive of the fight we had put up against the police and bailiffs. “Is this the end?” one man asked. The other man answered confidently: “This isn’t the end. They’re squatters, they’ll find another way back in through some window…I like anarchists, they love sharing stuff.” We told them about Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth which is starting an eviction resistance tree for the area to fight every eviction and they were supportive.

All evictions are shit. The law is shit. But it seems that the last building that was evicted was done so illegally. A man standing on the doorstep asked the police for paperwork as the residents had not been given any. Two policewomen mumbled back “we’ll get the paperwork” very unconvincingly. Then they stood back to make way for the bailiffs to charge at the rows of people to the door. When a friend told a policeman he had been hit in the head by the bailiff that was standing behind him the policeman responded “I’m too busy (being a dickhead)”

I think 4 people were arrested. I received a message about arrestee support at around midnight, but I had fallen asleep way before this. It sounded ace though: “Good vibe, local community support and outdoor living room going down opposite Peckham cop shop…”

And a big thanks to the love and solidarity on Rushcroft Road itself, the neighbouring streets, and from over Twitter.

Over the last couple of weeks, Brixton has seen bailiffs get shot at, an occupation and rowdy protest at Foxtons, and the burning barricades on Rushcroft Road. Brixton doesn’t like evictions.

Awesome workfare picket as part of Boycott Workfare’s Week of Action

13 Jul
Percy says NO! to workfare

Percy says NO! to workfare

Anti-workfare protesters leafletting outside M&S

Anti-workfare protesters leafletting outside M&S

I had so much fun this afternoon on an M&S workfare picket today.

Feminist Fightback, North London SolFed, Rhythms of Resistance, and Boycott Workfare descended on M&S off Mare Street, Hackney. As the hot sun scorched Hackney, the samba band rang out across the street interspersed with chants of ‘M&S pay your workers’. Passersby were loving the samba, with two children clapping along as they waited for a bus and then improvising their own instruments with two twigs. People stopped and joined the demo to chant ‘M&S pay your workers’ with us. There was loads of support and good vibes from people. We handed out so many ‘How to Avoid Workfare’ leaflets and leaflets explaining about M&S’ use of forced unpaid labour that we had to rush off and photocopy another batch.

Lots of people stopped to speak to us about their experience of workfare, people spoke to us about how they had been sanctioned or threatened with sanctions. People thanked us for the rights leaflets and advice we gave them. One man who joined us said, “I’ve never been on a picket or demonstration before, but I’m so angry about what they’re doing, it’s exploitation.” He said he’d stay in touch and come to future demos. He kindly went off and bought us all bottles of chilled water. Another guy asked what we were doing and asked “but they get paid social security”, but that’s not a wage, that would work out at a quid an hour, and then M&S will get rid of their paid workers. “You’ve got a point” he said, genuinely convinced, and it seemed, converted.

There were two community support officers inside the store all day but we managed to enter the store in pairs to hand out leaflets and speak with the workers (and to enjoy the cool air of the refrigerators). The manager had warned workers not to speak to us and we were then escorted from the shop shouting that they should pay their workers. When we were outside again the whole group joined in a rousing chant of “M&S hear us say, we won’t work for JSA”. One person who’d stopped to speak with us remarked “Now that’s what I call a demonstration, just going in there and telling it straight!”

After a solid two and a half hours of leafletting, we started to pack up. North London SolFed are hardcore and kept on going.

It was great spending time talking in the street with strangers and making connections, encouraging them to stay in touch and let us know if we could support them. Hackney did have a welfare group ‘Hackney Welfare Action’ (part of London Coalition Against Poverty) but it’s sort of fizzled out, but from our picket today there’s definitely a lot of people who would be interested in being involved in a welfare action group. I headed back to south London feeling good – it’s all about the street solidarity!

Brixton Foxton’s occupation

6 Jul

Residents of Rushcroft road, who are facing eviction by Lambeth council on 15th July, organised an afternoon against evictions and gentrification in Brixton (and everywhere). Hundreds of people gathered in sunny Windrush square with individuals and housing groups (including Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, Squash Campaign, Loughborough Estate Tenants and Residents Association) speaking out about the housing problems they face and what we’re doing about it. Banners decorated the square, ‘homes not jails’, ‘housing for all’, ‘join the rent strike’. There was a quiz too.

We spotted two pairs of triangular ears and ran over to a wicker basket sitting on a ‘rent strike now’ banner to find two tiny kittens opposing evictions.

One woman who was speaking to the crowd called on us to go onto the high street and do a flashmob at one of the new stores or posh cafes. We called out that Foxtons was nearby – ‘perfect!’ People were really up for it and a crowd of over a hundred headed the short distance across the road to the glass fronted Foxtons. People dashed inside with the ‘yuppies out’ banner and the rest of us spilled out onto the street and road. Chants of ‘yuppies out’, ‘no evictions’, and ‘fuck off back to Chelsea, fuck of back to Chelsea, la la la la, hey, la la la la, hey!’ filled the streets. There was a really good response from people passing by. Many stopped to join in with the ‘yuppies out’ chanting. We stuck around for a good half an hour. People who still had energy after this called on us to head for Brixton Village, another striking symbol of Brixton’s gentrification, and a group of people headed along. It was exciting to see this organic, autonomous action emerge and the support that it got.

Lots of people signed onto a mailing list to support the residents of Rushcroft road and to organise further actions – with the housing crisis being felt so intensely and the blatant class cleansing that is so visible to us all, there is sure to be plenty more.

Eviction Resistance Kittens

Eviction Resistance Kittens

Open meeting on evictions and gentrification

Open meeting on evictions and gentrification

 

Homes for all, Foxtons Scum

Homes for all, Foxtons Scum

 

Homes not jails - setting the standards high for banners

Homes not jails – setting the standards high for banners

 

Foxtons occupation

Foxtons occupation

 

Foxtons occupation

Foxtons occupation

 

More of Foxtons Occupation

More of Foxtons Occupation

 

Crowds outside Foxtons

Crowds outside Foxtons

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welfare action in Edinburgh

29 Jun
ACE! Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh

ACE! Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh

Here are some notes from our recent trip to Edinburgh to meet Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty. The first is a short version, the article below has a bit more detail.

We headed up to Edinburgh this week to meet with the Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty folk. A group who we had read and heard lots about but hadn’t seen in action IRL.

The group has been running for decades, giving solidarity for low income people in their city. After being evicted from their first home in the 90s, the group re-occupied the space numerous times before the council gave up and let them have it for two years. Once the lease had run out, they found themselves threatened with eviction again and were under siege for 6 months (in what has been dubbed an Italian style social centre – in both countries squatting is completely illegal), until being violently evicted by police. Their home since 1997 has been the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh, a small, beautiful, and homey space.

From here they run a weekly drop in session for benefit claimants, low-paid workers, and those with debt or housing issues. Run largely as a one-to-one advice session, there is still a sense of collectivity and solidarity as people talk with one another while they wait, exchanging nightmare stories and survival tactics, and most importantly, empathy. With no help to be found elsewhere, sitting down with someone to fill out yet another dreaded DWP form is inherently radical, breaking the feeling of isolation and hopelessness.

ECAP also have a buddy system to accompany people to ATOS and Job Centre appointments, providing safety in numbers, strengthening claimants positions, and sharing ways to get through the brutal processes laid before them.

Larger direct actions the group have used to fight for claimants rights include occupying A4e to demand their right for claimants to have someone accompany them to interviews and a mass visit to a local councillor with a woman who had been hounded from her home by Edinburgh city council over the bedroom tax. The group have also held numerous pickets and occupations of workfare stores.

Walking around ACE, the area is covered in their brilliant posters, creating a strong feeling of solidarity in the streets, reassuring people that they do not have to struggle alone, but that welfare is a collective issue and will be exposed and acted upon in this way. The group also hold regular leafletting sessions outside Job Centres.

Meeting and talking with these folk about their actions was really valuable and enjoyable. With more claimants action groups getting going, it’s great to make these links and share ideas and information.

Breaking: We just heard this morning that Bristol are setting up a claimants group as well! Woo!

Favourite poster

Favourite poster

ATOS poster

ATOS poster

****************************************************************************************************************************************************************

We’d heard tales of A4e occupations to overturn sanctions and read inspiring anti-workfare action reports from Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty and so asked if we could visit them to share stories, ideas, and sanction smashing tips. As we try and get our own south London welfare action groups going and with the welfare system getting more and more brutal and unbearable we thought chatting with these folk would be helpful.

There is plenty to be inspired by in London and elsewhere, simply take a read of this LCAP booklet and a one off JSA and ESA skillshare at the Eileen house squat months back, but the ECAP group have decades of experience in direct action, solidarity, and support for low income people and we were keen to hear and learn about how they do things.

There were plenty of great stories to be heard. Back in the 90s the council stopped funding for an unemployed workers centre and tried to close it down. The person who had been employed to work there locked out the unemployed people from their own centre and so they found a way back in and refused to leave. The paid worker came back and removed the computers and photocopiers and locked it up again. The determined group found a way back in again and were able to remain there as the lease was for 2 years. After the lease was up, the council tried to kick them out, resulting in a 6 month siege (inspired by the prolific Italian social centres – in both countries squatting is completely illegal) and violent eviction by the police, arresting 20 people. Since 1997 ECAP has been running from the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh, a beautiful and homey space with tonnes of interesting literature and other stuff (an old photo in the toilet with a massive banner drop ‘No way JSA’ – old skool resistance!). Every Tuesday since 1997 they have held their advice and support session for people with benefit, housing, or debt issues. In the last two years these sessions have seen more people visit partly as word about them gets out and partly due to the impacts of welfare cuts.

We sat in on a Tuesday session which was busy from start to finish. People sign up to be advisors for each session, usually there are 5-6 people there to run it, and people can drop in between the hours of 12pm-3pm to speak with the advisors. Advisors will consult and talk with other advisors when helping someone, and claimants get chatting with one another whilst they wait, so there is a sense of collectivity and a sharing of knowledge and ideas. But at times, it did also feel a little like a one-to-one advice service. We asked if there was a way to make it more collective to break down an ‘advisor’ ‘client’ separation and hierarchy which can happen (indeed, one advisor noted the power differentials that may exist from the start between someone who has the free time to volunteer there and those who may be in a vulnerable situation). Turning it into a larger meeting for people to make collective decisions would mean they wouldn’t leave until 10pm because of the number of people they see, but they did suggest that perhaps there were ways of working in small groups. This would also mean that several advisors would get to know one claimants case and this would help create better continuity – so if one advisor isn’t there one week, others will be up to speed. Working in smaller groups would also emphasise the knowledge and experience that claimants too have of the system so that advice sharing is not just one way.

Sitting down filling out a dreaded form with someone is radical. It combats the immense fear and alienation of doing it alone. As someone at the space said, “there is no help anywhere, this is the only place there is”.

One man told us how he’d been helped by ECAP and was now helping others by attending ATOS and job centre interviews with people. This is another really important thing that ECAP do – providing buddies for appointments in order to provide support and make challenges. He took a bundle of ECAP posters to stick around his neighbourhood. Around ACE we’d seen them fly postered everywhere (they have an active fanbase who flypost their brilliant posters over the city, despite the warnings carried on them that they are not for fly postering). Including one of our favourite ever posters. As the man pointed out “we need this solidarity in the streets” and that’s exactly how it feels when you walk down the street spotting them. The group also show solidarity with claimants with regular leafletting sessions outside Job Centres.

As well as advice sessions and buddies, ECAP also take collective direct action. When A4e refused to let claimants have somebody accompany them to their appointments, ECAP used a combination of legal and direct action. They continued to accompany one person to his A4e interviews and so A4e sanctioned the person for not attending their appointment. ECAP escalated and occupied the offices as a group, handing out leaflets, until the police removed them. A4e backed down.

In the Monday evening ECAP organising meeting, we also heard about how the group had visited on mass a local councillors surgery to support a woman who had been hounded from her home by the council demanding the bedroom tax she should have been exempt from. “He’s afraid of large groups” someone remarked. Hearing of this sort of community mobilisation and solidarity is really heartening. We also got to speak about the Boycott Workfare campaign and discuss ideas about workfare campaigning and what we can do about the post-Work Programme ‘hit squads’ in which claimants are subjected to even more vicious weekly interviews. It was really enjoyable and valuable to discuss and share our workfare ideas (for example calls for more Job Centre occupations) and activities and make stronger links with other folk outside of London. We also got to share our respective propaganda. We took up a bundle of Occupied Times anti-work issues which went down really well and we collected some of their leaflets on Universal Jobs Match and their brilliant posters.

We also learnt of a dog in Italy that would always chase after the police trying to bite them. Did they train it to do that we asked. “The owners said the dog did it autonomously!”

Breaking: We just heard this morning that Bristol are setting up a claimants group as well! Woo!

Our anarcho-adventures in Scotland also included catching the film All Cats Are Brilliant as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. The drama follows a young woman’s life in Athens as she tries to deal with her partner’s imprisonment, pressurising parents, her work as an artist and babysitter, walking her dog Durruti. We weren’t quite sure what to make of the film (and we were curious about what the packed cinema thought of it too – cos they didn’t look like an ACAB sort of crowd…) – was it appropriating anarchist politics because this is ‘cool’ and ‘edgy’ or was it a faithful attempt to portray anarchist ideas and struggles, the brutal clampdown by the state on anarchists and the very personal toll this takes. Was it critiquing problematic aspects of the anarchist community – there were certainly some bad gender dynamics, the isolation Electra felt within the radical ‘community’ – or was it simply repeating them…There were some really nice scenes in the film as well as a couple of cringe points to it, so we left with mixed feelings.

Housing struggles in Europe – videos!!!

17 Jun

Two ace videos of housing activists speaking about their campaigns in Spain and Germany at  a recent ‘Stop Evictions’ conference held in London.  These short videos are really interesting and inspiring. As we look for ways to challenge the (artificial) housing crisis we face across the UK with the decimation of housing benefit, criminalisation of residential squatting, soaring rents, gentrification, increasing attacks on rough sleepers by thugs [1] and the official thugs of the police, it’s great to have this dialogue and learn from others elsewhere.

 

 

 

Also check out this wonderful animation from Berlin about the campaign against the eviction of the Gulbols (the family mentioned in the above video) which also clearly explains the forces at work behind the housing crisis.

 

 

Housing action UK – there are a number of established and newly emerging groups of people taking direct action for housing rights. Take a look at Combat Bedroom Tax Liverpool, Stand Up In Bootle, Leeds’ Hands Off Our HomesLondon Coalition Against Poverty, and the London Eviction Resistance Network.

Finally, this week in Warsaw, direct action housing activists from across Europe are meeting up to share stories and ideas and make links with each other. A call out on facebook is here and also pasted below.

From June 21 – 23 we invite direct action housing rights groups for a practice-based meeting in Warsaw, Poland.

*Fight back for housing! Warsaw, June 21-23*

Dear All,

Our friend, tenants’ rights activist and co-founder of one of
Warsaw’s grassroots tenants’ rights associations- Jola
Brzeska- was brutally murdered in March 2011. Two years after
her death, whoever paid to kidnap, pour diesel fuel and set Jola
on fire has still not heard charges. Instead, those with the
greatest interest in her removal, most notably the developer who
took over her building, continue business as usual on
privatization of Warsaw’s public housing. Jola’s murder shows
the severity of what is already the collective tragedy of
thousands of the city’s tenants, abandoned to the speculative
caprice of the market. As the authorities put profits over
people, they increase private investment and systematically
reduce public housing options to the great harm of tenants
forced onto the street and out of the city.

The degradation of the right to housing and wild privatization
occur across European countries. We feel that it is time to
learn from each others’ experiences of direct struggle against
these processes (blocking evictions, reappropriation actions),
to exchange knowledge about tactics used to enforce
privatization in our respective countries, and to put an effort
to externalize the struggle on a European-wide scale. *From June
21 – 23 we invite direct action housing rights groups for a
practice-based meeting in Warsaw, Poland. *From Friday to Sunday
we will have workshop presentations on the struggle for the
right to housing by country/city, time for closed discussion on
strategies and perspectives for collective action, and a day of
housing action here in Warsaw.

We will provide accommodations at our occupied social center-
Syrena (www.syrena.tk <http://www.syrena.tk/>), located in
center city Warsaw. *Please RSVP to this email by May 31st if
you/your group would like to propose a workshop, discussion,
film projection, or other activity*. Also, should you like to
participate, please send any materials concerning the struggle
for housing in your country/city, as we would like to put
together a practical publication.

In attachment, materials for printing.

We hope to see you in Warsaw!
Syrena collective /syrenawarszawa@gmail.com

[1] This call out was posted by Streets Revolution on 30th May 2013

*************************URGENT*******************************
please circulate

It has came to our attention that Rough Sleepers are currently being attacked in Central London by a gang of three men on a nightly basis.

We urgently appeal that this information is spread far and wide to those associated with our streets in London.

There have been at least 10 attacks that we are aware of in the last week. In all attacks the rough sleepers were alone and asleep at the time. The severe beatings have lasted a few minutes and the peoples meagre personal possessions: Phones, ID, passports and belongings have also been stolen. Due to the nature of people having to find sleeping spots off the beaten track there have been few witnesses.

The ‘gang’ consists of three white men in their late 20’s – early thirties and appear to be targeting mainly East European homeless Folk. This is significant as the attackers may be aware that those new to the country are less likely to get the authorities involved due to justified mistrust.

Violence sadly is part and parcel of the real everyday risks that exist for those who find themselves homeless. This current organised escalation in violence is a very worrying trend and we need to make our homeless community aware and do whatever we can to prevent these attacks. On one night alone we know of 3 separate attacks carried out by this gang.

For any further information please contact: jon.glackin@streetsrevolution.com

Lambeth council’s ‘welfare’ – cutting benefits, fighting for police

24 May

This has turned into quite a rant – it’s quite long and incoherent, but I wanted to talk about the welfare cuts in Lambeth, mental health, the police, and what scum Lambeth council are. I just got really sick of all of the propaganda they’ve been putting around. I hope some of it makes sense and is interesting.

Lambeth council benefit cuts campaign

Woman: “Hello, I was calling to get advice on the latest benefit cuts”

Benefits helpline: “It’s not us you want to speak to, I’ll put you through to Lambeth Living”

Gets redirected to Lambeth Living

Woman: “I saw some posters up with scissors cutting across a pound sign. I was calling for advice. My benefits have been cut because of the bedroom tax and council tax benefit cut. I work in the public sector so my pay has been frozen for the last couple of years. My pay check doesn’t get me to the end of the month any more and this was before the most recent cuts. I wondered if you had advice on income maximisation?”

Lambeth Living: “We haven’t heard about that [the benefits advice campaign that Lambeth are running, which advertised the first phone number as a place to get advice]. We don’t know about that…the cuts have come in, they’re happening”

Boy does my friend know that they’re happening. Before the crisis my friend had figured out a way to just about survive on low wages and low status at work both of which compound her already severe mental health issues. With the cascade of cuts things have got significantly worse for her.

Now all she has money for is food. She walks everywhere as public transport is too expensive – this means that she is then even more exhausted during the time free from work, making survival even more difficult and deepening her depression. Important time and energy is taken up fighting for the benefits she needs. I attended the housing office to support her with her claim and witnessed the suspicion you are treated with as you go through an exercise of humiliation proving how little you have.

Life at work has only got worse with the cuts. Whilst struggling to deliver a decent library service in the face of long-term underinvestment and the more recent cuts, library staff have been under increased pressure as well as surveillance and bullying from management. Council staff are not allowed to speak out against the council, but anyone who visits a library can see the diminishing welfare of the staff as well a witness a service that is only just functioning. Now the staff have been told that they will be providing welfare advice as well as the library service (which always doubled up as social services anyway as vulnerable people sought assistance here).

Supporting welfare cuts

“The cuts are happening” so goes the Lambeth benefit cuts campaign. Lambeth argue that this is the doing of central government, which indeed it is. But Lambeth council are implicated in it too. They are supporting these brutal cuts. Their posters, depicting scissors cutting through the pound sign, state what everyone on low incomes knew already. The posters encourage acceptance and acquiescence. The council could have written anything on these posters, how about “Lambeth let’s organise/loot – luxury for all” but instead they informed us that benefit cuts were happening and that is that. We can get some patronising advice about how to cope with deepening poverty apparently – although the phone call above suggests that the council has failed to tell its staff of this service/campaign. I resented seeing these posters in my neighbourhood which were effectively adverts for welfare cuts. Them enforcing their reality onto us as if their could be no struggle. The absence of any kind of opposition and outrage on what is being inflicted on our communities is complicity with the cuts. Lambeth have not spoken out against these brutal and violent welfare cuts and this is why they are scum – there’s (lots) more to come to support this.

Councillor Edward Davie shows his support for so-called ‘welfare reform’ in his article for the Guardian in which he expresses contempt and suspicion of those on benefits, repeating the myth that benefit fraud is actually a thing. The council’s Emergency Support Scheme (which replaces central government’s social fund which was cut this April) facilitates the role out of another disastrous aspect of ‘welfare reform’ – Universal Credit: “ The council wishes to encourage people to take up Credit Union membership so that they have access to mainstream support and a proper bank account in the run up to the implementation of Universal Credit. Making Crisis Loands conditional on membership achieves this, reducing the likelihood of people getting into difficulty in the future. Charging a small amount of interest allows money to be ploughed back into the pot to help more people.” http://www.lambeth.gov.uk/moderngov/documents/s51837/05%20Cabinet%20report%20171212%20-%20Emergency%20Support%20Scheme%20-%20FINAL.pdf

Of course, in this document about the Emergency Support Scheme, those vindictive words ‘personal responsibility’ appear as a stated aim of the scheme.

More Lambeth council propaganda

Letter from Lambeth Welfare Reform Team

The Work Programme can help you LOL

Lies and misinformation

Another round of Lambeth propaganda posters informed residents that their council tax had been frozen for another year. Lambeth here are again smug and self-congratulatory. However, this is simply not true for 20,758 residents who have seen their council tax benefit scrapped and an increase in the amount they must now pay. On average, they will have to pay £2.12 extra a week, with the greatest amount being £7.68. This may not sound like a lot, but when your pay or JSA already struggles to get you to the end of the month, suddenly losing £2 a week is a big deal. Whilst other local authorities decided to maintain council tax benefit for those who need it, deciding it would be more costly to administer and collect from those who simply do not have it, Lambeth council decided to pass it on to some of its poorest residents (pensioners, disabled people, carers, those affected by the benefit cap will still receive council tax benefit). They are most definitely not on our side.

Lambeth council had apparently consulted on what scheme should replace the centrally administered Council Tax Benefit, however a friend who had responded to this ‘consultation’ told me how the consultation form had been guiding to what Lambeth wanted to hear. She had wanted to propose collecting council tax from second homes in the borough in order to keep council tax benefit but this was not presented as an option by Lambeth and there was nowhere for her to write this suggestion.

Letters from Lambeth Welfare Reform Team partnered with the homelessness charity Broadway have been sent to the 658 families who will be affected by the benefit cap, these letters have also appeared in my local library. A colourful scene of a residential street mocks the reader who is informed that they will be unlikely to remain in their home. “Work is an option that will have to be considered” we’re informed patronisingly by people who clearly have no understanding of the current crisis, one of the consequences being 1,700 people applying for 8 jobs at a local Costa cafe, meaning that waged work is simply not an option. Nor do they seem to know that many housing benefit claimants are already in paid work (over 90% of new claims made between 2010-2011 were made by those in paid work); or that those not in paid work do spend their days working but do not receive a wage. In order to ‘help’ people into waged work, Broadway claim to be working in partnership with the local Work Programme providers. These Work Programme providers sanction claimants with relish, taking away their only means of subsistence. You stand a better chance of getting paid work if you’re not on the Work Programme than if you are. Yet, as the letter acknowledges itself, people are mandated onto the Work Programme – if they do not participate they will lose their benefits. Lambeth Council and Broadway charity are working in partnership with providers who can further impoverish claimants.

Whilst Lambeth council claim to be powerless to act against central government cuts – which we know is false, seeing as they are happily enough driving them through – in areas where it does have significantly more power, Lambeth has consistently acted against its residents and on behalf of large developers and gentrifiers. The council have allowed developers to ditch their commitments to social housing on the Brixton Square development. The developers of Vauxhall Sky Gardens have also applied to ditch their commitment of 31% ‘affordable’ housing to 0%. Whilst the social housing that had been promised would have only been a tiny fraction of what is needed (in a borough which has severe overcrowding, an ever increasing housing waiting list, and hundreds of families being forced from their homes with the forthcoming benefit cap) it would have been at least some kind of tokenistic gesture that the council acknowledge the urgent housing needs of its residents. Instead, the ‘needs’ of developers gentrifiers are of greater interest to the council.

100 more ACAB

Social day cut

Rage

The most infuriating, sickening, and insulting part of all of this is that whilst Lambeth council fail to take an active stance against these brutal welfare cuts, they suddenly do speak out and campaign when it comes to police cuts. At my local GPs I was met with a pile of postcards depicting two cheery looking police hats perched upon the figure 100 demanding ‘100 more police’. Demanding 100 more police in a borough where communities are terrorised and targeted by the police, where the police bully and beat up and kill those with mental health issues shows Lambeth’s disturbing vision of ‘welfare’. Welfare provision has morphed into the policeman’s boot. Of course, welfare has always been a form of domination and control, but now the boot, which had previously nudged at us, is now kicking us in our stomachs and pushing our faces into the concrete.

100 more police will apparently ‘make Lambeth safer for women’ – says the council which is closing one o’clock clubs (one mother told me how important these places were for women, she identified domestic violence as being linked with women having nowhere outside the house to go to), drastically cutting their incomes, and taking away autonomy through their promotion of the Work Programme.

The disgusting and abusive treatment by the police of those with mental health issues (last year, a video went around on Twitter showing police men attacking a mentally ill man outside Brixton library. A protest was held outside the police station that evening against their violence to our communities) parallels the contempt that the council shows. In a borough which has a proportion of people with mental health issues in Lambeth is 12 times the national average, the council has taken away bus passes from mental health patients, ended a weekly social session (see photo above), and outsourced some mental health services to a charity which sees work as conducive to good mental health (rather than thinking more critically about the role of work and acknowledging its role in compromising mental health). No doubt there have been other cuts to mental health services which have been unreported. In the face of these cuts, it seems the police will be left to ‘deal’ with those affected by the cuts, as more police is what the council deemed important to campaign for over other, less violent, forms of welfare. This is the ‘welfare’ that Lambeth are promoting for our increasingly impoverished communities.

Isolation feeds sadness

Isolation feeds sadness

The letters dropping through people’s doors, telling them they may have to work, or ‘manage their money better’ or whatever other crap Lambeth have come up with, are part of individualising the welfare cuts. That they are a personal problem, that must be dealt with on this level, whether it means you are forced from your home, end up needing a food bank to feed your family, or walk yourself everywhere to exhaustion. As the 1968 graffiti declared, “isolation feeds sadness”. To combat this feeling of isolation, helplessness, and self-blame, local residents are organising together to deal with their issues collectively, to challenge the disrespect experienced by people trying to access housing and benefits” as London Coalition Against Poverty eloquently puts it. Residents have been coming together as South London Welfare Action and Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth where, based upon and inspired by the models of LCAP and ECAP, they discuss the problems they are facing, provide support for each other, and collectively decide what direct action to take. These groups allow people to see that it is not an individual issue or failing to be struggling with benefits or housing, but one that is common to us all. Through leafletting and holding meeting for these groups, we’ve met our neighbours and talked with each other. It was inspiring to listen to people talk about their situation and be so enthusiastic about the groups and taking action together. As one woman said to me when we were discussing housing problems: “Everything is going up, but my wages are the same, my social rent has gone up again this year. Gas, electric, food are all going up as well. I would definitely like to be involved.” In the face of our communities literally being torn apart by welfare cuts, this coming together seems like the most important thing that we can do.

Lambeth have created an interesting ‘profiler tool’ which allows you to view the benefit cuts ward by ward. Worth taking a look at here to try and get an idea of what is happening to our communities. Does not come near to speaking with people about the cuts and crisis though.

Housing and anti-work articles

8 May

I recently wrote an article for Red Pepper magazine about bedroom tax organising happening across the UK. I had great fun at a rowdy town hall meeting in Crawley and was moved and inspired by a Leeds’ meeting in which a group of strangers created an incredible feeling of togetherness by the end. I loved speaking with people. I was saddened and enraged by their stories, but also inspired and hopeful. Read it here.

My prolific use of the hashtag #WrongToWork got me an invitation from the Occupied Times to rage against work. I just visited LARC to cram my pannier bag full of this issue on the topic of work. I chatted with one of the Occupied Times folk about the importance of free radical media that you can hold in your hands and pass on to others (after listening to Novara with me yesterday, my mum said she’d like to read more about politics but doesn’t have the internet at home, so OT and other free zines are really important). The OT collective all work for free. They could do with help folding the paper and distributing it, so contact them if you can help. My article is here. There’s also an ace article on workfare (link for this not up yet, but will add it when it is) and a fantastic workfare infogram.

Finally, I read this last night and it made my evening.

Mental health, post-fordism, and animals

6 May
Imperial College Stress Less campaign

Imperial College Stress Less campaign

A friend of mine told me about an email sent to Imperial College students – there will be farm animals and a bouncy castle on campus this term to help deal with exam stress. We had a good laugh about this – we’d just been to a fantastic discussion on Mental Health and Post-Fordism as part of the Immaterial Labour Isn’t Working series – and now here, Imperial had given yet another example of the ‘privatization of stress’ that Mark Fisher had been describing. I love petting animals as much as the next person, but it was the ludicrousness that petting some animals for an afternoon would address 3-4 years of mental torment, as we labour under debt accumulating to tens of thousands of pounds. Student anxiety, depression, stress, suicide could be dealt with by providing students with some farm animals, ignoring the alienating, destructive, intensely pressurised, and increasingly privatized education system which creates such feelings. Through the seemingly innocuous petting of a cow or session on the bouncy castle, students’ mental health issues are decontextualised and seen as specific to individuals and therefore the ‘solutions’ are similarly individualised and superficial. Petting therapy is certainly easier than an overhaul of the education system and also gives Imperial another ‘student experience’ selling point – “your time here will be shit, but you’ll get to pet a rabbit.” Facing £9,000 a year fees and perpetual examination, too right you’d expect some farm animals thrown into the deal.

(My friend also expressed sadness that the petting zoo is a one day event, rather than a more long term feature of Imperial, as they had been lead to believe.)

Home Sweet Heygate

16 Apr

Home Sweet Home, Enrica Colusso (2012)

Home Sweet Home, a documentary based in the Heygate estate, speaks with both residents and council and corporate figures as the estate is gradually emptied through the latter’s’ ‘regeneration’ plans. Through this exploration, Colusso tries to draw out wider questions: what is a home, who owns our cities? However, the film maker’s whimsical voice tries too hard, the narrative-poetry does not come from the Heygate and feels forced and affected. It is more infuriating than informative. Shots of her Mac and iphone displaying archive footage, perhaps an attempt to play with documentary conventions, are jarring, unnecessary and inappropriate. Or perhaps it was some sort of reflexive acknowledgement of her class privilege or an ironic comment on the Mac class to whom the Heygate is being handed over to by Southwark council.

Yet, Colusso has captured some brilliant footage that makes the film important viewing. Speaking with residents in and around their homes and sometimes as they leave for the final time; these scenes are captivating – at times hilarious and very moving. A single parent mother tries to articulate her feelings about the imminent eviction as her daughter plays with a toy that sings a piercing jingle. A man sits for the last time in his armchair in the home he has spent half his life in. A grandmother wraps up her trinkets telling the stories that they hold as she gets ready to leave. These scenes convey uniquely and powerfully the inherent violence of gentrification. Juxtaposed with these homes – spaces that have been lived and loved in, now being brutally yanked away – a plastic looking man from Lend Lease, tries to convince us that he understands the meaning of ‘home’ describing the old farmhouse he and his partner have bought and are “SPENDING LOTS OF MONEY” renovating. Other interviews with the architect of the new development, the leader of Southwark council, and some other Southwark council non-entity, are fascinating in their grotesqueness. It is impossible to do what they said justice, but it involved a mantra of contempt for “poor people”. Taking themselves seriously, they came out with statements such as: “There are rich people and there are poor people, we need to mix them up a bit. Call me utopian…” Someone plays around with a model of the Elephant area, picking up the Heygate chunk and casting it aside. Replacing it with their vision, he proudly points out the new passage ways which have been created allowing people to “flow”. Through their language and actions they are surprisingly honest about their project of class cleansing. The absurdity of it all is shown through archive footage of Bill Clinton declaring that “Elephant is the place to be”.

A cliché ending with the Special’s Ghost Town tells the narrative that Lend Lease and Southwark council scum would have you believe. With one home still inhabited and many people still using the space for games, gardening and other activities, they have not won.