Newcastle: Save Elswick Pool!

FRFI supporters and members of Parents Against Cuts in Newcastle have been working with other local people to defend Elswick swimming pool, the latest victim of savage cuts being implemented by the Labour Council.

In the last five years £151m has been cut from Newcastle council’s budget. Public services in the city have been slashed including libraries, play and youth services, rubbish collection, leisure facilities and Sure Start. Another £40m is to be cut this year and an expected £90m over the following two years. Not a single Labour councillor has voted against any of the cuts budgets, not even David Stockdale, cabinet member for leisure facilities, who recently led the North East campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party

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Queen's speech: Trouble ahead - Fight austerity

‘My government will legislate in the interests of everyone in our country. It will adopt a one-nation approach, helping working people get on, supporting aspiration, giving new opportunities to the most disadvantaged and bringing different parts of our country together.’ The Queen’s speech, 27 May 2015

Like a ventriloquist’s dummy and in the fashion now familiar – describing everything as the opposite of what it actually is – the Queen announced the Conservatives’ plans for the next Parliament. With an absolute but small majority of 12, Prime Minister Cameron took the opportunity to outline what the Financial Times referred to as ‘a blue collar agenda’ ‘inspired by Margaret Thatcher and aimed at working class voters’, explicitly ‘Red Tories, Blue Collar Conservatives or White Van Man’. CAROL BRICKLEY reports.

Cameron’s ‘one nation’, however, should be strictly understood to include only his, mainly English, Tory voters, a welter of UKIP supporters who hate Europe and immigrants and could be won back to voting Conservative, and the majority of the Labour Party and their supporters who have moved rightwards at breathtaking speed following the election result. Harriet Harman, now temporary leader of the Labour Party, was quick to announce Labour’s ‘sympathetic’ support for much of the Tory programme. As the Financial Times reported: ‘“We got lucky,” said one well-connected Conservative MP. “But by the time we’ve finished, there won’t be any ground left for Labour to occupy”.’

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Public sector cuts and health inequality

In March 2015 the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) published a report which details how between 2010 and 2015 the poorest communities in England shouldered the biggest burden of the public sector austerity cuts.

Overall, local authorities have seen their spending power reduced by 27% in real terms. Planning and ‘supporting people’ services have seen cuts of 45%. Behind these figures lies inequality between the most and least deprived areas.  On the one hand social care spending (this combines children and adult services) has risen in real terms in the least deprived areas to the tune of £28 per head.  Conversely, social care spending has fallen by £65 per head in the more deprived areas.   Respectively, these figures represent an 8% rise and a 14% fall.  The most deprived all-purpose authorities – those authorities which provide the full set of local authority services - saw cuts of £220 per head.    In contrast, the least deprived all-purpose authorities saw cuts of £40 per head.  Newcastle, with 37% of its population within the most deprived 10% of areas in England, experienced a 22% cut in funding.  On the other hand, Milton Keynes, with 11% of its population within the most deprived 20% of areas, experienced a 13% cut.  The result of the faster rate of cuts for the more deprived authorities has been a convergence in the overall spending per head between the most and least deprived authorities.  The differential was 45% in 2010/11.  It was 17% in 2014/15.

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Five years of capitulation

Five years of austerity since the 2010 general election have been met with little resistance. The devastating cuts to housing, benefits and services have for the most part gone unanswered. Where resistance has emerged, it has been outside the established trade unions and those sections of the left that are allied to the Labour Party. Calls by Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of the Unite union, in September 2011 for a ‘campaign of resistance’ including ‘civil disobedience’ to protect jobs and pensions have proved to be hot air. There has been no real resistance to job losses in local authorities or elsewhere. Tom Vincent reports.

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Newcastle Labour leader attacks RCG for fighting to save Sure Start

In Newcastle Parents Against Cuts continues to campaign against planned cuts of £4.67 million to the city’s Sure Start children’s centres, including the loss of 28 full-time jobs. The RCG has been part of the campaign since the beginning. The council repeatedly delayed releasing details of the proposed cuts, but the information available suggests a reduction from universal provision to services targeted by postcode at those amongst the ‘30% most deprived children in the country’. The council claims that the poorest families living outside these areas will still be able to access Sure Start, but beyond referrals by Sure Start staff of parents who already use the service it is not clear how this will be implemented. In the longer term, the shift to a ‘targeted’ service paves the way for further cuts, by which time there will be fewer people directly affected and therefore less chance of opposition. There are already reports of a two-tier system operating in the Newbiggin Hall area of the city.

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Benefit sanctions mean starvation

(Banner produced by Andrew Cooper https://andrewcooper-unseen.org)

At the close of 2014 a number of reports on the extent of malnutrition and the staggering rise in the use of food banks were released showing the brutal reality of 21st-century Britain. Already by April 2014 the numbers using Trussell Trust food banks had risen by 163% since April 2013. Ruling class parties – Tory, Liberal and Labour alike – pass sentences of starvation and death on the poor and vulnerable through benefit and service cuts and low wages. Charity is encouraged as eligibility for state welfare is reduced and levels cut. Prime Minister Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ is no more than a return to Victorian values. Dominic Mulgrew reports.

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Focus E15 campaign: Social housing not social cleansing

The Focus E15 campaign, which with the support of the RCG and other organisations fought a successful campaign to prevent young mothers being forced out of Newham last year, continues to play a leading role against social cleansing in London. Whether it is the increasing numbers of individuals approaching the campaign for help with housing issues, or acting in solidarity with the growing number of campaigns for social housing and against gentrification springing up across the capital, Focus E15 has shown that it is possible to fight back – and win.

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Atos ditches the WCA: Maximus is the new target

From March, US multinational Maximus will take over the running of the hated Work Capability Assessment (WCA), in a contract worth around £500m over three and a half years. The WCA is a punitive measure used to strip disabled people of their benefits by declaring them 'fit to work'. Atos, the French multinational that has delivered the WCA since it was introduced by Labour in 2007, announced in March 2014 that it was buying itself out of its contract early. Atos’s withdrawal follows years of determined campaigning by activists across Britain and is an important demonstration that uncompromising direct action gets results. However, the WCA itself remains unchanged, and the track record of Atos’s successor shows that the struggle is far from over.

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Newcastle Labour council slashes Sure Start

Newcastle has been the focus of recent media attention due to the extent of council cuts. After decimating the Play and Youth Service in 2012, the Labour-led council now wants to slash the budget for Sure Start early years services by £4.7m, roughly equivalent to a 65% cut.

Parents Against Cuts

On 25 October Parents Against Cuts, in which FRFI supporters are centrally involved, gathered outside the councillor surgery of Labour Council Leader Nick Forbes for a protest against cuts to Sure Start and family services. That week the campaign had received significant national and local media attention and had forced limited concessions from the council in the form of a Cabinet proposal to reduce the planned cuts by £385,000. The campaign is clear that this is not good enough. So in the week before Halloween, protesters – decked-out in spooky fancy-dress and led by ‘Ghosts of Labour’s Past’ – arrived armed with sound-system, banners and placards; to send a very clear message to ‘Slasher Forbes’ and his Labour ‘Council-of-Cuts’: ‘No cuts to Sure Start – no cuts at all! Early years provision for everyone!’

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General election - Westminster parties gear up for more of the same austerity and lies

In just over six months’ time there will be a general election. Whatever the party politicians say, there will not be any real choice on offer for the working class. We will instead be treated to a circus as hundreds of greedy parliamentary candidates fight each other to get on the Westminster gravy train. Behind the scenes, the ruling class must decide which of the Conservative, Labour or LibDem parties will best serve British imperialism’s interests for the next five years.

The last four years of the ConDem Coalition have proved devastating for the working-class. A ruthless austerity regime has seen attacks on state welfare comparable to the attacks on the unemployed in the 1920s and 1930s, and a return to the punitive principles of the Poor Laws of the nineteenth century. So far the ruling class have faced little resistance, but the crisis conditions that produced the crash in 2008 have not been resolved. Restoring profitability will require further attacks on the working class to drive down wages and standards of living. The challenge the ruling class faces is how to do this without provoking massive opposition.

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Newham council attacks Focus E15 Campaign with lies and deception

On 7 October, Focus E15 campaigners will leave the Open House they had established on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, East London. Since 21 September the campaign has occupied a block of four flats, which had been boarded up for six years, to broadcast its demands for an end to social cleansing in Newham.

The protest drew widespread national attention, sparking a public debate about the housing crisis. It was covered by the BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian, The Independent and the Financial Times and others. Following an unsuccessful attempt on 26 September, Newham Council were able to secure a possession order on 2 October. However, with the campaign deciding to leave the property anyway on 7 October, the Council decided not to serve it.

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Homeless people under attack

The screw is tightening on homeless people; the Salvation Army is reporting beggar claimants to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and councils are using police and the courts to remove them from city centres. The Salvation Army is one of the few charities that participates in the government’s workfare scheme, and has been subject to praise by the DWP for ‘holding the line’ as other charities have distanced themselves from it.

The latest figures published by The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) show that homelessness has risen since last year. 58,440 households were in temporary accommodation on 31 March 2014, 6% more than at the same date in 2013. The most recent DCLG statistics for rough sleeping showed a5% riseon last year, with 2,414 people reported by local councils across the country as sleeping rough on any one night in 2013, up from 2,309 in 2012 and from 1,768 in 2010. However, the number of people sleeping rough is impossible to collate accurately, and these figures will be a conservative estimate at best. The Shaw Trust reports that ‘In the most extreme cases, the Work Capability Assessment had led to homelessness and the use of food banks, with one customer reporting that after their assessment ‘they ended up homeless as it took three months to get income again”.

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Focus E15 campaign declares ‘Open House’

‘For real politics, don’t look to parliament but to an empty London housing estate’.

Aditya Chakraborrty, The Guardian

On 21 September, RCG members joined other supporters of the Focus E15 campaign as it marked one year of fighting for social housing and against social cleansing with a birthday party on a largely-boarded up council housing estate in Newham, east London. The party culminated with the opening up of four empty properties on the Carpenters Estate as a social centre, open to all those fighting for social justice and against Newham Labour council’s shameful housing policies. Hannah Caller reports.

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Victimising claimants with disabilities

On 28 June 2014, campaigners with disabilities organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) occupied Westminster Abbey in protest at the closure of the Independent Living Fund, which provides support for some 18,000 severely disabled people. This is not the only attack on state welfare for disabled people. In FRFI 236 we pointed out that the government’s drive to force 640,000 disabled people off Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and onto Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) would result in benefit sanctions for thousands of claimants. Now the government is considering the possibility of introducing sanctions for claimants who refuse mental health treatment – despite the fact that such services are next to non-existent.

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Focus E15 campaign social housing, not social cleansing

Focus E15 supporter on the march through Newham on 5 July © 2014 Peter Marshall

On Saturday 5 July 2014, the Focus E15 campaign held its first march through the east London borough of Newham, in protest against social cleansing and in defence of decent affordable housing for all. 200 people, among them members of over 25 organisations, including FRFI, ensured the campaign’s message was heard loud and clear all along the route – social housing, not social cleansing! Local support was overwhelming as passers-by took leaflets and drivers sounded their horns. At East Ham town hall, campaigners stopped to express their anger at the Labour mayor, RobinWales. Individual messages about the borough’s housing crisis were tied to the railings. And, despite harassment from the police ahead of the march about confining it to the pavement, on the day of the event itself there was not a uniformed officer in sight, and we marched proudly in the road – banners and placards held high.

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Cuts bite deep in poverty Britain

In the United Kingdom, the seventh richest country in the world, 3.5 million children – nearly a third of all children – live in poverty,1 a figure expected to rise by another million over the next six years. Up to a million people have needed emergency handouts from food banks in the last year, while 28% of all adults say they regularly skimp on food so that others in their households can eat. These stark facts, highlighted in a recent Oxfam report,2 reflect the growing destitution imposed on the working class by the Coalition government. Like the four horsemen of a capitalist apocalypse, hunger, poverty, debt and insecurity stalk the land. Cat Wiener reports

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