Single mothers hit by the Benefits Cap and their supporters once more descended on Edinburgh Council on 3rd October. Demonstrators protested outside the City Chambers on the Royal Mile and then moved into the public gallery to support the deputation addressing the Council committee meeting.
“Scrap the Benefits Cap” and “Stop the Evictions” demand the campaigners. The Westminster government’s benefits cap is drastically cutting the Housing Benefit paid to many families, especially – but not only – lone parents. This inevitably causes rent arrears and several families in Edinburgh have been evicted by private landlords. The problem is Britain-wide and the Edinburgh campaigners have received solidarity from London – Winvisible and Single Mothers Self Defence – Dundee and Glasgow.
“The Benefits Cap is imposed by Westminster, but the Council could – and must – act now to stop the evictions“, explained the demonstrators. “The Council must pay full Discretionary Housing Payment to cover the benefits shortfall – and the Scottish Government must pay the Councils sufficient funds so that DHP can automatically cover the Benefits Cap. The anti bedroom tax movement won this over so-called under-occupancy, we need the same for the Benefits Cap.
The campaigners also demand more social housing – e.g. the demolition and rebuilding in Muirhouse is resulting in a 70% reduction in council tenancies. The movement insists on an end to the bad conditions in temporary housing, regulation of private sector rents, and for the Council to do repairs promptly and eradicate dampness. There must be an end to the inhuman practices of refusing to allocate homeless people temporary accommodation and telling them to come back next day, and of telling homeless people to report to the council office on eviction date and wait indefinitely for temporary accommodation.
More Action Needed
The protests have forced the Council to make some concessions. They promise to pay more tenants DHP, admitting they are on course for a DHP underspend, and offering meetings with managers and councillors to resolve cases. They are taking steps to apply to the Scottish Government for rent regulation powers. They say they will stop turning away homeless people from the homeless office. They promise to give homeless people appointments in advance of the eviction date to find accommodation, recognising people become legally homeless within 56 days of their eviction date.
The Council have started a pilot scheme to waive charges for the first withdrawal of possessions from storage (homeless people are being charged 60 pounds each time they take possessions out of storage!). Councillor Burgess told the Corporate Policy and Strategy Committee that the Greens would propose the Council approach the Scottish Government for funds to totally cover DHP for the Benefits Cap.
But the main demands are still unmet – more action is needed to stop the evictions and insist that a safe secure good home is a right for all. The campaigners, from North Edinburgh Action Group, Power to the People and All About Me, plan more initiatives, recognising that the struggle is not only against the unjust benefit cap but against all cuts to social security and social housing. A public meeting at Royston Wardieburn Community Centre on the morning of 2nd November will aim to encourage those affected to get involved in resisting the Benefits Cap, the cuts and the threat of homelessness.