Edinburgh Mothers Fight the Benefits Cap!

This Anarchist Federation report looks at resistance against the impact of benefits capping.

The recent introduction of an upper limit on the amount of money someone can receive in benefits has been a direct attack on people up and down the country. This benefits cap limits families to a maximum £384 per week. At the same time it places a two-child limit on Child Tax Credits. These cuts have led to families losing hundreds of pounds from their already tight monthly living allowance. This is causing starvation and homelessness — literally putting babies onto the street!

Social Cleansing

At the same time as this is happening, house prices in Edinburgh have been purposefully inflated by the
SNP and Labour coalition in the council. This has been undertaken through a combination of massgentrification and social cleansing projects. Housing schemes are sold to private developers for
“regeneration”. The area is demolished, fewer houses are built than were originally in the space,
and only a third to a half of those are given over to social housing.

In 1994, Edinburgh had 62,500 council tenancies. Today it’s only 19,842. Getting a new build council
home is made difficult and often requires an interview. Only people deemed “suitable” are given a new home – a sly way of moving poor people out of an area while only giving new houses to those with stable jobs. At the same time, older properties stand empty for months or even years, because ‘they require repair before being suitable for habitation’.

Despite this claim, locals say that most of these empty properties require only minor repairs and decoration. The real reason they stand empty is to help prepare the area for the next big council selloff to private developers.

“Go sleep in the park”

Pilton is a housing scheme in the North of Edinburgh. In this one area alone the benefits cap has caused an uproar as it hit 11 families, who between them have 42 children. These families face imminent eviction if they cannot find hundreds of pounds per month to make up for shortfalls in housing benefit. One mother of three, Melissa Gaynor, was receiving housing benefit of £785 to cover the costs of a suitable family home.

When the benefits cap caused her to lose almost £400/month she went into arrears on her rent. As
the problem grew she spoke with the council, looking for help. They gave her the option of going into a B&B. These B&Bs are terrible doss houses, with reports already in circulation of a family of four being forced into a single chronically damp room with no kitchen or laundry facilities, only a kettle. One young girl suffered huge trauma and fear to the point of wetting themselves regularly.

On top of this are all the other problems of extreme poverty, including people those with acute mental health needs and or addiction problems receiving no support, antisocial behaviour, and frequent police
violence at all times of the day and night. Placing families in these B&Bs used to be banned, only used in the direst of circumstances. Last year there were 10 families in total placed in B&B accommodation.

Now, with arrears finally catching up to people since the cap was introduced, a single area of Edinburgh is going to top that figure in a single month.

Understandably, Melissa refused the B&B, fearing for her families’ safety. The council showed no compassion and said that she could take what was offered or she would have to take her family and go
sleep in the park. This was widely seen as unacceptable by people throughout the city.

Mothers Fights Back!

When Melissa had to go back to fight the council, people across Edinburgh turned up to demonstrate at the council offices. At the same time practical help was given in calling the emergency housing unit and helping advocate for the situation. No suitable options were given at this time and Melissa was forced to move in with her mum, overcrowding the home.

That said, this was not the end of the matter, only the beginning. The next day we went in solidarity with a delegation of the Pilton mothers to the City Chambers, to press the issue to the councillors and demonstrate the level of support those facing eviction had. While some of the mothers were able to get into the public galleries, much of the space ended up being taken up by men from the various socialist parties keen to put their banners where the local press would see them. Anarchist Federation members and other local anarchists waited directly outside the chamber, trying to help the rest of the delegation get into the public gallery.

Inside, the council opened their new session with a gold sceptre, a gold bejewelled sword, and a bloke in a fancy suit being given a huge golden necklace. While those of us in the corridor used our bodies and prams to block the way, the mothers and families in the gallery section made sure their concerns were raised — asking that the council use the powers at their disposal to make discretionary payments to cover the shortfall.

Having hit the point home the precession continued, followed out by councillors of all the different parties. Those from Labour and the Conservative Parties were callously indifferent and refused to discuss the option of covering the cost for housing. The Greens made well-meaning sounds yet were still willing to take part in a charade that is leaving people homeless, mothers and children on the street.

The SNP tried to blame Westminster while withholding discretionary payments, turning to leave when their
tricks were exposed. Lefty men carried on taking up space that should have been prioritised for the mothers, claiming their opportunism was solidarity.

However, through all this, the mothers themselves stood up and cried shame on the council and showed that they are ready to fight. This struggle isn’t over and it won’t be until everyone has a decent place to call home. The mothers themselves have drawn up a list of demands that over the coming weeks:

Edinburgh Council must

  • Pay full discretionary housing payment (DHP) to completely cover rent
  • House homeless families in decent flats in suitable areas – not in substandard hostels/B&B’s
  • Build more social housing
  • Ensure temporary accommodation meets acceptable standards
  • Immediately repair empty houses — temporary accommodation flats are lying empty

The Scottish government must

  • Allocate sufficient funds to councils to cover full discretionary housing payment for the benefit cap — just as campaigners won for the Bedroom Tax.

The Westminster government must

  • Scrap the benefit cap

Updates

One of the Pilton mothers have been given a temporary home that will lead to a council home. This is directly thanks to the protests, the struggle to ensure everyone gets suitable housing continues.

Mr Justice Collins ruled that the benefit cap was: “causing real misery for no good purpose” and
unlawfully discriminates against single parents with children under two years old who do not have easy access to childcare that would allow them to work.


This article first appeared in Resistance [pdf] Autumn 2017, the bulletin of the Anarchist Federation