June 1, 2013 Leave a comment
Just returned from the protest today at College Green, well actually off of college green, hidden under the trees outside the Bristol Royal Marriott where local people had gathered in protest against the heinous ‘Bedroom Tax’ which recently came into existence.
As many know this is the tax which is actually not a tax at all but a cut in housing benefit which affects only those with local or housing authority landlords with cuts of 14% per single spare room and 25% for two or more spare rooms. A tax by any other name, and one on poverty to boot.
Plenty of column inches have been given to this ‘tax’ which when pared to the bone and stripped of all evasive government rhetoric is at its core a highly illogical, divisive, unacceptable pure and simple attack on social housing tenants by a government that claimed to be ‘Caring and compassionate’ pre election (any party that has to realign itself in the public eye with such slogans is, never was and never will be either). There are also many questions that it simply fails to even consider, for example how many people are affected where they are deemed to have a spare room yet through no fault of their own have may had no choice in the property offered when they were allocated a home by the local authority or housing association?
No my main issue today is the sheer lack of turnout or support that this protest attracted. Now the weather was nice in Bristol today, glorious in fact, and continues to be while I write this. There were also many other organised events on including the Feed the 5000 festival taking up the bulk of college green yards from the protest, something involving the NHS, and a threatened EDL rally somewhere in town which hopefully never got off of the ground, but which may understandably have made people wary of visiting the city centre today as well as spurring an anti EDL protest at the cenotaph.
Nonetheless the fact is that there are according to the Bristol post more than 4700 households in Bristol that will be adversely affected by this government sanctioned theft and eviction tax. 4700 households of people would more than fill College green admirably and make a good show of the protest in front of the Mayor’s mansion. However…. today’s protest attracted maybe a hundred at best, give or take, all huddled together in a few square metres hidden under and almost within the branches of the trees outside the Marriott as pictured above. I can also bet that not everyone there was actually affected, which is no bad thing because protests like this need to garner support from wider society. But, only about 100 people out of 4700 households?
100 PEOPLE OUT OF OVER 4700 HOUSEHOLDS?!? That was all who were able to attend?
Where is everyone?
On Wednesday night we attended the Bristol Rally for the Peoples Assembly against Austerity at Malcolm X Centre in St Pauls. Now there there were several hundred attendees giving a packed house to hear talks by speakers including the permanently texting and uninterested looking Owen Jones, the comedian Mark Steel (who was really good), Vicki Baars, Paulette North and Joanne Kaye on various issues from the downward spiralling plight of disabled people under the current government, to the impact of bankers bonuses, the continuing privatisation of the NHS, and the need for people to have hope in desperate times.
Some aspects of the night I didn’t agree with, particularly use of the term ‘Comrades’ during one of the talks which always brings to mind negative images of hammers, sickles, oppression and Stalin for me (and the ‘Comrade Stalin Salutes You’ skit in Little Britain). I am also wary of such events for their tendency to be hijacked by political groups desperate to ensnare unwary punters, such as the Socialist Workers Party who always exploit such events. I am not socialist, communist, capitalist or any other ‘ist’, I simply believe in doing the right thing and supporting those in need against political vote driven actions which are clearly wrong, such as bedroom tax. I am also not a fan of ‘Applause lines’ which are those slogans, sound bytes or other forced sentences that public speakers inject to get a round of applause from the audience, I would rather they just got to the point and were clapped at the end, not every few seconds.
Anyway, in amongst much of the political rhetoric of the night there were many positive and impressive things at the Malcolm X centre, particularly the packed turnout. I would like to think that people there didn’t turn out just to see the celebrity campaigners on display. Yet after an impassioned plea from the speakers on Wednesday night that all attend the protest against the bedroom tax on College Green, today’s protest ended up with a total damp squib turnout of probably less than a quarter of Wednesday’s audience, becoming something that could easily be dismissed by those who should be influenced and compelled by it.
Where was everyone who made it to the Malcolm X Centre? Where are those of the 4700 affected Households?
The truth is that unless protests like this receive the support they deserve, then those 4700 households will simply become a footnote on the road to continually worsening poverty UK wide. Homelessness is on the rise. Foodbanks are on the rise. Extreme poverty is on the rise. Society is riven by government and media driven rhetoric about masses of non existent ‘scroungers’ which is fuelling a rise in hate crime against disabled people and others. In addition the political process itself IS broken; Parliament is stuffed with career politicians on all sides, many of whom have no concept of life beyond private schools, Oxford, Cambridge or the square mile. Corruption continues to be in weekly evidence as seen in recent days with the return of traditional Tory Sleaze and another ‘cash for questions’ scandal, this time with revelations regarding Patrick Mercer. It also no longer seems to matter who you vote for, you always end up in the same situation rendering the electoral process not just a stick with shit at one end, not just a stick with shit at both ends, but a stick that has been rattled around in the stank pail so much over the decades that it now permanently exists with shit all over it. People are unhappy, you need only look at ever decreasing turnout to realise that many simply see no point in voting, they have no trust in politicians, and they have no faith or hope that things can ever change for the better. Bristol for example now has a Mayor and a Police and Crime Commissioner for whom only about 10% of the relevant electorate voted, which is quite honestly scandalous. Major decisions are being taken and significant positions of power filled by individuals who have no popular mandate. In many ways however, those who are disillusioned have every reason to be so, and I completely identify with them.
In my mind therefore, the only way to combat such a situation is for people to get out onto the streets and to stand against it, to support positive causes such as today’s, look past the placards with Socialist Workers Party splattered unnecessarily over them, look past the so called democratic process which no longer delivers, see the issue of an unfair bedroom tax on the poor for what it is, and decide for yourself what you believe is right. Sign petitions, vote with your feet, kick up a stink and make those in power take notice!
At the end of the day there is plenty of evidence out there that the bedroom tax will save the government nothing and will actually cost more, including reports from within parliament itself. Local authorities have already said (and been ignored by central government and Iain Duncan Smith) that they don’t have the properties available to downsize many of those affected. Some local authorities have called for the bedroom tax to be scrapped recognising that it is going to cause sever damage, including Fife Council. Many housing authority housing tenants could however be left with the unsavoury choice of possible homelessness or moving into the private rental sector where the cost to the public purse through housing benefit will only skyrocket. It is also not as simple as IDS suggests of going out and working; many affected DO work, and for many others there are quite simply not the jobs out there for them to do so because Iain Duncan Smith and his government have quite simply failed to pull the requisite jobs from their collective backsides which they claim are out there (while they scandalously continue to hire unpaid interns) and comprehensively failed to deal with their pals in the banks who refuse to stimulate employment by not releasing liquidity to small companies (though many of the cash strapped banks somehow have the money to keep ALL of the lights burning through the dead of night in their properties down on Canary Wharf.)
The bedroom tax policy is therefore rendered little more than a stunt and ideologically driven attack against what the government sees as an easy target; a minority of society who are seen, largely thanks to media and government rhetoric, as an ocean of scroungers simply not worth caring about. That is of course utterly wrong. The bedroom tax brings no benefits to anyone; none to the so called lower, middle or upper classes and therefore has no justifiable reason for its existence. What it does bring however is hardship and human cost aimed at those least able to combat it. What this also means however, is that many in society whether affected by it or not have no reason not to get out and protest against it on such terms. If anything the often touted and put upon ‘Taxpayer’ has every reason to protest against it because it will simply cost them more tax in the long run.
So the next time there is something that desperately needs support and is a wholly worthwhile cause such as today’s protest, please get out and show your support. There are many who don’t support this tax, many many more than attended today, but you all need to stand up and be counted, get out and make a difference.
Anyway, in a lighter mood (but only slightly), here’s a funny photo that someone out there on the Internets mocked up a few months back, and in terms of the sentiment, I agree with it wholeheartedly.
IDS is a man who shows absolutely not a drip of compassion for anyone anywhere as his disgusting, divisive and ideologically motivated policies whether directed at social housing or the disabled literally destroy lives and society while he enjoys the rent free multi millionaire existence that has only come to be expected from members of parliament, whichever side of the political divide they sit on.
Amazingly this man once visited Easterhouse in Glasgow and claimed to have been moved to tears at the levels of poverty he witnessed there. Its truly fascinating what people like him will say to win power, particularly where his policies since gaining power seem to be those of a man that rather than help those in extreme poverty would rather just wipe them off the map by any means necessary. Perhaps he is still sore that we never elected him as Prime Minister (Thank god we didn’t!)
Even more amazing is the fact that he claimed recently that he could live on £53.00 per week if he had to, yet just this week it is being reported in various outlets that he can’t even eat breakfast for less than £39.00, and when he does he tries to claim it back on expenses! Who the hell spends £39.00 on breakfast in the first place, and then tries to claim it back from the public purse? Iain Duncan Smith, that’s who. Its not good enough for the tax payer to be charged to help keep those less fortunate off of the breadline, but its A-Ok to pay for Duncan Smith’s breakfast. Toss me a pot.
Anyway, until next time, Adios!