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Cumbernauld and Kilsyth anti-cuts campaigners host 'No 2 Bedroom Tax' meeting

Written by Scott Campbell.
Published at 23:58 GMT on Thursday, May 23rd, 2013.

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Picture is copyright of Scott Campbell/ Cumbernauld Media.

CUMBERNAULD activists, campaigners and residents – all devoted to scrapping the under-occupancy charge, dubbed as the bedroom tax, grouped together yesterday evening for a public meeting.

The meeting got underway at 7.30pm, in Cumbernauld’s Link Centre, with the bedroom tax firmly on the agenda, with three speakers due to address the meeting.

John Miller of the Cumbernauld & Kilsyth Defend Public Sector Jobs and Services Campaign, Cumbernauld & Kilsyth Trades Council’s Secretary, and the Public & Commercial Services Union Office Secretary addressed the meeting first. 

He said: “The Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Defend Public Sector Jobs and Services Campaign was set up three years ago to dissect what would happen to our communities, the welfare system and public services at large, as all parties were determined to make us ordinary working folks pay for the economic crisis, at the last General Election. 

“Since then, when big national issues and small local matters arise, the campaign organise public meetings, like this, to discuss the issues facing people; which has been the national cuts, in recent times.

“The bedroom tax is just yet another strand of the national cuts programme, and that’s what this meeting is about, and follows a previous meeting, earlier in May; the main aim of these meetings being to find a positive position and protect people and services from the bedroom tax.”

Under the current rules, a tenant assessed as having 1 extra bedroom they will be liable to pay 14% of their eligible rent – a 14% reduction in their housing benefit or local housing allowance, in other words. Otherwise, a tenant who is assessed as having 2 or more extra bedrooms will be liable to pay 25% of their eligible rent – a 25% reduction in their housing benefit or local housing allowance, in other words. Regardless, in both cases, the tenant will be expected to make up the difference themselves.

The new rules have since prompted the launch of the official NO2BEDROOMTAX campaign, in Scotland, which plans to protest outside the Scottish Conservative Party’s conference, in June.

Jaki Calanthe, a spokesperson of the NO2BEDROOMTAX Scotland campaign was next to address the meeting. Jaki spoke of how beneficial local groups are in the campaign against the bedroom tax.

She said: “North Lanarkshire Council are definitely putting out eviction notices and so this meeting is very well timed and much needed.

“I would suggest that everyone lobbies their local councillors, to get answers and certainties, with the more pressure which people apply on the local authority, the better, as no council wants a demonstration outside their headquarters. 

“The national NO2BEDROOMTAX campaign is planning a demonstration outside the Conservative Party conference, in Scotland, on 8th June, and it is looking like it will be a good day, with a massive turnout; with a number of local groups planning to do their own activities on this day, and I would appeal that Cumbernauld and Kilsyth do exactly the same, with people throughout Scotland already planning on coming to the demonstration.

“However, with regards to local groups, it should be hoped that local groups can offer help to people, like people did when the Poll Tax came into force. In short, it’s time to stop the bedroom tax being faceless, and this group should look at ways to get out into the community and offer support to people, whether it be through door-to-door advice, online activities or days of action, as people need to understand the situation and they need to understand the jargon of the letters which may come through their doors. “

Jack Ferguson, Unite Scotland Community Coordinator was the final speaker of the evening. Mr Ferguson told the meeting what Unite could do to help the anti-bedroom tax campaign, in Cumbernauld and Kilsyth; telling the assembled audience that the bedroom tax was the “biggest issue” Unite was dealing with.

He said: “Unite is the biggest UK trade union, and we’re all over Britain, in all different sectors of the UK economy, even starting a community membership for those who wouldn’t be able to join Unite in a work capacity, but who do wish to be pro-active. The membership will allow people to earn advice, education and training, with the membership cheaper than a normal membership, and open to people such as students or the unemployed. 

“As I cover Scotland, and have been helping to set up the community membership scheme I know that the biggest issue we have been dealing with is the bedroom tax – which is complete scandal, in my opinion.

“It needs to be said, however, that what the UK Government are doing is a complete bluff; they are cutting the overall budget for social housing, although they have managed to spin things so well that everyone is concerned about one thing – the bedroom tax, which shows that scaremongering really does work.

“This situation is absolutely not right, and is a complete crisis; only being the tip of the iceberg – compared to the reforms which are coming, such as the universal credit. Nonetheless, people are focussing on the bedroom tax, and I know people who are so scared about the bedroom tax and welfare reforms that they are planning to move, simply because they fear rent arrears and evictions.

“I have little optimism that the bedroom tax will work – simply because it’s too complicated and could be considered as going against peoples’ human rights. In the short term, however, I don’t foresee a large number of evictions related to the bedroom tax, although I feel that the only evictions in the coming months – and the most vulnerable evictions – would be people who have rent arrears, from before the bedroom tax’s implementation. 

“Unite has a lot of resources which it can bring to this campaign, as long as we consider the views of our membership – who pay for our union’s continued life, and I feel that local groups are important in this case, so that people can seek help locally, and be reassured, particularly where people feel that they are going to lose their home.”

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Commenting after the meeting, John Miller, a Cumbernauld & Kilsyth Defend Public Sector Jobs and Services Campaign spokesperson said that the meeting was a “platform” which the Cumbernauld & Kilsyth Defend Public Sector Jobs and Services Campaign “can build upon”.

Mr Miller said: “The anti-bedroom tax meeting held in Cumbernauld last night (Wednesday 22nd May) was a platform upon which the Cumbernauld & Kilsyth Defend Public Sector Jobs & Services Campaign can build upon.
“Firstly we want to reassure those affected by these benefit cuts that they are not alone and that members of their community are willing to assist and help them over this monstrous attack on some of the most vulnerable in our society. We believe that we would all be better served by investing in permanent jobs for tax collection workers to pursue the multi-national businesses that avoid & evade paying their dues rather than pick on the disables and unemployed. It is estimated that 80% of those affected in our community are disabled.
“Over the next few weeks with the assistance of the UNITE union we will be leafleting and displaying posters for where people can seek help. Similarly we will be building for the national demonstration against the bedroom tax at the Scottish Tory Party conference in Stirling on Saturday 8th June.
“We would like to thank the grassroots campaign group no2bedroomtax & UNITE in the Community Union that provided speakers at last night’s meeting; Jaki Calenthe & Jack Ferguson provided inspiration and concrete information and support in the efforts to defeat this reactionary piece of legislation.
“Further meetings will be called in the future and any interested parties should contact myself via”

Jaki Calanthe added: "I came to speak at the Cumbernauld meeting as it's my home town. I know many people the bedroom tax will affect here."

"The bedroom tax is a cut in benefits to the most vulnerable in society - whether that be the disabled or the working poor. Whilst millionaires get tax cuts the poor pay for the mistakes of bankers, politicians and regulators. I don't want to live in a society that will evict people for having a room deemed to be under occupied."

"The public reaction to the No2BedroomTax campaign has been very positive. We started this hoping for a few hundred like-minded people to join us in a demo. It was wonderful to see 8,000 people turn up to the demo on the 30th of March. And the help we've received from such a wide of variety of people has been astounding. I'd like to thank everyone who's helped us so far, it's been hugely appreciated."

Jack Ferguson, Unite Scotland Community Coordinator also talked to Cumbernauld Media after the meeting. He told us why he was in Cumbernauld and what people should do if they are affected by the bedroom tax.

He said: “I’m in Cumbernauld because the local anti-cuts campaign invited me along to a meeting which they are having about the bedroom tax, because just like any other community in Scotland, thousands of people in Cumbernauld will be losing out; won’t be able to pay their rent; and might be afraid our losing their home. 

“It seems as if the government doesn’t care about them, and so it really is up to local campaigners, trade unionists and whoever else cares to stand up for them. 

Advice – how Cumbernauld residents can help themselves.

“Anyone who cannot afford to pay their increased rent, as a result of the bedroom tax, should contact their landlord and get some welfare advice.

“We’re {Unite] saying that anyone who is directly affected by the bedroom tax should put in an appeal of the benefit decision, and ask for a full, written explanation of their benefit has been cut, explain the reasons why they need a spare room; what they use it for, and if they go onto the Govan Law Centre website, they will find an advice pack, which informs people on how to appeal a bedroom tax decision. 

“We don’t hold out a lot of hope that many people will be made exempt from the bedroom tax. However, what comes through appeals and advice is that we will hopefully be able to identify people who could then maybe take the ruling onto legal action, to challenge it, and say ‘this is discrimination against people’.”

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