Notes from Tommy Sheridan’s speech at the National Shop Stewards Network Conference, Saturday 29th June 2013.
Tommy had been to 73 meetings all over Scotland, where 80 local anti-bedroom tax capaigns have been set up. Affiliations from union branches and trades councils had been built – it was necessary to put demands on the official movement. The Scottish Trades Council is hosting a conference against the bedroom tax. The anti-bedroom tax movement is growing.
Tommy said he was not personally affected, but he was personally offended by the bedroom tax. “You stand with me, I’ll stand with you” – is the motto of the movement.
He gave the example of a couple in Inverness – one was suffering from multiple sclerosis, and had to be confined to a wheelchair as a result. Her husband gave up his job to be a full-time carer, saving the state £10,000s a year. She has a special bed, which she needs for pain relief, so they have to sleep in separate rooms. They are now being asked to pay £60 a month from their benefits in bedroom tax. 2,000 families affected in Inverness – the number of council homes available is 164.
Likewise, an amputee has an elderly mother who is 78 and suffers from Alzheimers, so had to move to a care home. They are now deemed to be under-occupying, and are being asked for £60 a month. 5,300 families affected in South Lanarkshir. Number of homes available – 40.
Housing benefit is means tested, therefore it is the poor who are suffering the most from this tax. 660,000 people affected across the UK; 2/3 of these families have a disabled person in the household.
The penalty for non-payment is not prison, but is eviction. We need civil disobedience, we need to form human walls to stop people being evicted. It is scandalous that 500,000 people in the UK, the 7th richest country in the world, rely on food banks, while the income of the top 1,000 people is £400 billion – a rise of £35bn. This is obscene. In the words of the great Irish socialist Jim Larkin, “The powerful appear powerful because we are on our knees. Let us rise up.”
I would just add that we also need to campaign for massive investment in affordable council housing to meet our needs. This would also provide jobs for the thousands of building workers who have been made unemployed by the property crash. Otherwise, more and more families will find themselves on the streets in breadline Britain. It is no use just blaming the Tories and waiting for a Labour government. Labour have made it clear that they will not reverse the cuts made by the ConDem coalition. We need to build an alternative party, to stand up for ordinary people and not the rich. I support TUSC in its attempt to do just that.