“Let’s bury it for good!”
"The bedroom tax is now a dead tax walking" commented Tommy Sheridan, the chair of the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation in opening last Saturday’s conference.
Over 120 delegates from 25 local campaigns and trade unions attended the second Fed conference of 2013.
A series of legal victories, concessions from the Scottish government, pledges of ’no eviction’ policies by councils and growing evidence that the majority of tenants are not paying have all helped to leave the bedroom tax hanging by thread.
The Labour Party in Scotland has even tabled a bill to legislate for no evictions and is demanding that the Scottish government provides the £50 million that has been stolen from tenants in Scotland by the Con-Dem coalition.
The overwhelming feeling at the conference was one of confidence that the bedroom tax could be defeated.
Activists who have been at the forefront of fighting the threat of evictions in North Lanarkshire spoke movingly of their campaign.
Lorraine Fraser from Viewpark was told she faced court proceedings for rent arrears of just £248. Lorraine, who suffers from a spinal disability, explained that had it not been for the work of the federation she would not have been here today.
She would, she told the conference, have taken her own life. Instead the work of the Fed in mobilising the local community at a huge public meeting and a campaign run by the Daily Record newspaper, forced the Labour leader of the council to declare a ’no eviction’ policy.
Campaigners from Fife, Renfrewshire, Stranraer, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Stirling, Motherwell, East Kilbride and Irvine all gave excellent contributions about the campaigns in their areas.
Trade unionists, including Ian Leech from Glasgow City Unison, who are affiliated to the Fed, spoke about the need to bring the campaigns against cuts together with the anti-bedroom tax work.
Ian referred to the recent strike of social work staff in Glasgow, which was unofficial action but reflected the growing anger at cuts and ever increasing workloads.
Kim McLaughlin, secretary of the Glasgow Unison Housing Association branch declared to great applause that her union branch of 1,000 members was affiliating to the federation.
Mike Dailly from the Govan Law Centre gave an account of the progress of the bill he has drafted that would change the legislation to rule out evictions for bedroom tax arrears.
The bill has support from MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) from Labour, the Greens and Independents in the Scottish parliament, but so far no SNP MSP has signed the bill.
Under the rules of the Scottish parliament, in order to be debated MSPs from at least three parties must sign.
It was agreed that local campaigns should be lobbying SNP MSPs to demand support for the bill.
Philip Stott from Dundee highlighted the importance of continuing to build the anti-eviction armies in every area.
While many councils have a one-year ’no eviction’ policy, as rent arrears begin to build, the likelihood of Housing Associations and even councils moving to evict tenants will grow.
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations is opposing the bill to outlaw evictions. Like the SNP government, it believes that threat of eviction is an important stick to threaten tenants with to force them to pay.
The conference unanimously agreed a statement highlighting the main priorities of the federation in the next few months.
The first is to build for a major lobby of the SNP conference on Saturday 19th October to demand the Scottish government acts now to legislate against evictions.
And to demand the full £50 million needed be provided this year and every year until the bedroom tax is abolished to lift the burden from the 105,000 households affected.
It was noted at the conference by Willie Scobie, a councillor from Stranraer, that the Northern Ireland assembly had just agreed to pay £17 million to ensure the tax would not impact on current tenants in Northern Ireland, possibly for up to four years. This will increase the pressure on the Scottish government to take similar action.
The Fed conference also agreed that all debt due to the bedroom tax must be written off and that anyone who has paid the tax through fear and duress must be reimbursed.
A new 23-strong expanded Executive Committee was elected, reflecting the rapid growth of the Fed since the first conference in June this year.
Office bearers elected included Tommy Sheridan as chair and Gail Morrow as secretary. Gail is also a member of Socialist Party Scotland.
SPS members play a leading role in the local campaigns and in the federation as office bearers and on the wider EC.
It was clear from the conference that there is a growing confidence to fight on until the tax is killed off and all debt is written off.
The pressure on the Scottish government to use its powers and to provide the resources to protect all those affected by this brutal attack on the poorest will increase. We won’t stop until the tax is buried for good.