Families from North Edinburgh facing eviction due to the Benefits Cap are taking action to insist on their right to a home. On 18 May dozens of people took over the Edinburgh Council City Chambers building as the Council held its first post-election meeting.
People occupied the Council North Office in Pilton on both 16 and 17 May to demand the Council grant decent accommodation to Melissa and her children, evicted by her private landlord. She had only been offered totally unacceptable homeless hostel accommodation. Local groups Power to the People and All About Me were joined by activists from round the city, and members of North Edinburgh Housing Action were also involved.
Inside the City Chambers on 18th May
The latest news as at late May is that the pressure and demos have resulted in Melissa and family being housed in a Council temporary accommodation flat, in Muirhouse. They can stay there till they are offered permanent accommodation. This is a huge improvement on the substandard homeless hostel accommodation previously offered, and is a victory for people taking action.
However two more families are facing eviction in mid June, and it’s possible more action will soon be needed.
Due to the benefits cap setting a maximum limit on benefits received, many families’ Housing Benefit has been drastically cut, meaning families have the impossible task of finding up to £200 extra per week for rent. In Greater Pilton alone at least 11 families and 42 children are facing eviction by their private landlords. Some families, already evicted, have been split up, and housed in dirty and unhygienic temporary hostels, lacking cooking and clothes washing facilities, sometimes outside Edinburgh, eg Bathgate.
The women have applied to Edinburgh Council for Discretionary Housing Payment but the Council has not come near to covering the amount needed, and has recently reduced payments. Private landlords are profiting from extortionate rents, then brutally evicting tenants who cannot afford to pay.
“WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED”
Protestors flooded into the City Chambers on the Royal Mile on 18 May, packing the public gallery and then taking over a corridor immediately next to the Council meeting. “We shall not be moved”, “The John Maclean March” and “You cannae chuck our bairns oot the hoose” rang out from the choir among the women’s supporters. Councillors refused to hear a deputation from the women – angry protesters denounced the politicians as they filed out of the city chambers.
Confronted by the women and supporters in the Council on 18 May, local councillor and Labour Group leader Cammy Day promised Melissa and family would be granted a suitable flat in north Edinburgh.
The women and the groups fighting the evictions are making these demands:
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 – only 30% of the new Pennywell/ Muirhouse homes in north Edinburgh are regular council tenancies. 1n 1994, Edinburgh had 62,500 council tenancies. Today it’s only 19,842, with 18,827 Housing Association ‘social properties’.
• ensure temporary accommodation meets acceptable standards
• immediately repair empty houses – temporary accommodation flats are lying empty
Scottish government must
• allocate sufficient funds to councils to cover full discretionary housing payment for the benefit cap – as campaigners won for the Bedroom Tax
Westminster government must
• scrap the benefit cap
Private sector rents must be regulated
And vitally – No more evictions due to the benefits cap!
To win, more grass-roots direct action will almost certainly be needed, and campaigners are likely to soon issue a public statement on the next steps in the struggle.
Dundee Against Austerity – who joined the demo on 18 May – Castlemilk Against Austerity, Hands Off Our Homes Leeds, and Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, are among groups sending messages of solidarity to the women. The benefits cap hits families Britain-wide, especially in cities like Edinburgh where greedy private landlords are charging £800 – £1,300 per month in Greater Pilton. We hope the courage of the north Edinburgh women will encourage resistance round Edinburgh, round Scotland and indeed round Britain. We need to make such brutal austerity policies unworkable!