Tag Archives: police

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


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.

Olympic critical mass crackdown

30 Aug

Photo by diamond geezer from flickr

This is a little old now – but still important!

The Olympics may be over now, but for 182 cyclists the Olympic nightmare continues as they challenge punitive bail conditions and await the next moves of the Metropolitan police for their crime of cycling north of the river on the opening night of the games.

As millions of people were watching the Olympic opening ceremony from the comfort of their sofas at home, or in the stadium itself, hundreds of cyclists found themselves sitting on the pavement within sight of the stadium having been arrested for the crime of ‘cycling north of the river’. Whilst the Olympic ceremony was supposed to be a showcase of the achievements of the UK, the events occurring on its doorstep gave a much more sombre picture of the state of our democracy. With suffragettes and miners parading happily on the stage, free from the police violence that had been the reality of their struggles, perhaps the police felt the need to reassert their presence. The heavy clampdown on cyclists that night reminded us – that despite the distractions of the glorious kitsch of the Olympics – not to take our so-called freedoms for granted.

Critical Mass is a monthly celebration of cycling, and other self-propelled wheel-based forms of transport including skateboarders, wheelchairs, and roller skaters, that takes place on the last Friday of every month in over four hundred cities all over the world. In April of this year it had celebrated its 18th birthday of monthly jaunts around London which see 200-1000+ cyclists take to the roads on a spontaneous and ever changing route guided by whoever happens to be at the front. Music blaring from bike sound systems turn the mass into a giant street party, but what Critical Mass is and means is different for the huge diversity of participants. It is precisely this random nature that saw the highest law court in England overrule Metropolitan police attempts to ban Critical Mass from taking place back in 2008. Showing an impressive understanding of the nature of Critical Mass, Lord Brown of Eaton-Under-Heywood spoke eloquently in favour of the bike rides and declared them legal, ‘Spontaneity is at their heart. To insist upon a settled route would be to destroy their character and purpose…Individually cyclists feel threatened; en masse they feel in control. There is nothing intrinsically unlawful about these events, inconvenient though they sometimes are to other road users’.

Despite this ruling, the police seem to have come to the conclusion that this Olympic Critical Mass should not take place. As cyclists and skateboarders gathered on the Southbank at Waterloo bridge there was a strong police presence. Police were filming the group from the top of Waterloo bridge, other police were on bikes in an attempt to keep up with the mass, and an army helicopter flew above – a bit of an overreaction to the group of 600 or so whose aim was simply to ride around the city. Despite this unpromising start, the mass set off as usual and headed towards Waterloo bridge to cross over to the north side of the river. East London and perhaps the Olympic stadium would perhaps be sites of interest for the mass which usually pays a visit to the latest London spectacle; some cyclists and skaters had even dressed for the occasion with head sweat bands, one man sporting a gold medal around his neck with the Chariots of Fire theme song blasting out from his sound system backpack. Yet this clearly did not convince the police that we were harmless sports aficionados. They blocked the top of Waterloo bridge to prevent cyclists from passing. The mass, trying to figure out as a collective how to respond to the police obstacles in their paths, ended up splitting off into 4 different groups which all weaved their way eastwards.

Just as the spontaneity of Critical Mass had evaded the police ban in the lords, so on the ground that night, the hundreds of cyclists managed to dodge past police blockades and continue on their way. The police tactics went beyond that of blockades to the use of violence on cyclists. One youtube video shows a policeman lashing out at cyclists with his baton – a disabled man who tried to intervene after this policeman had assaulted a woman was sprayed in the face with pepper spray and arrested. Another incident saw police beating people out of the way of a car which ‘sports role model’ David Beckham was driving. Beckham then proceeded to drive dangerously along the road, narrowly missing a pedestrian and a cyclist, illustrating precisely some of the issues that Critical Mass is trying to raise.

As the hundreds of cyclists in their different groups got within sight of the Olympic stadium cyclists overheard a policeman speak into his radio ‘this is game over’. 60 police vans swarmed into the area, their sirens flashing and blaring to surround the cyclists. The police clampdown saw the largest mass arrest since the riots last August as they kettled hundreds of cyclists just over the Bow flyover. The police made 182 arrests for breaching section 12 of the Public Order Act (under which police had set conditions that cyclists must not cycle north of the river) and causing a ‘public nuisance’. Only three of those arrested have been charged suggesting that the police themselves are uncertain as to the legality of arresting people for cycling. Lawyers are looking to use the previous lords ruling to argue that these arrests were unlawful. All arrestees have strict bail conditions not allowing them near any Olympic venues and banning them from entering the borough of Newham on a bike. These punitive bail conditions may be seen as a form of extrajudicial punishment. Those who were arrested included a 13 year old boy and Aedewan Adnan, a tourist who had cycled to the Olympics from Kolkata for charity and who often joined the Critical Mass in his hometown of Kuala Lumpar. Adnan was later realised by police without charge after they realised that he was a tourist, demonstrating the police’s flexibility with their interpretations of the law.

Not only do arrests for the mere act of cycling raise deep concerns for our civil liberties, but the treatment of those who were detained by police also paint a picture of British democracy conveniently overlooked in the opening ceremony. One woman who was arrested described the experience as ‘punishment by process’. Arrestees were denied their rights as the Police and Criminal Evidence Act didn’t apply to them as they had not yet been processed. They found themselves being transported across London on double-decker buses for hours on end, denied access to the toilet, food and water (one youtube video shows a young man pleading for water to break his Ramadan fast having been denied water by the police), and with some eventually dumped in a windowless garage.

The irony of a grassroots cycling event being criminalised and clamped down, violently and possibly illegally, during this supposed worldwide celebration of sport could not be greater. To further rub salt in the wound, the opening ceremony featured fluorescent ‘dove’ cyclists circling the stage with one taking to the air as the 182 cyclists around the corner watched their bikes being thrown carelessly onto a bus by the police. This smug and complacent opening ceremony is a distraction from the real issues that our society faces, the parallel events that occurred on that night remind us that the few civil liberties we have are under constant threat to the point where riding on a bicycle can see you arrested.