The Castlemilk Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaign
© Castlemilk Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaign
In the March of 2013, I think it was Socialist Party Scotland, organised a public meeting in this very room [Main Hall, Castlemilk Community Centre] and I think there was over 100 people turned up to that. So a sense of injustice and fury was already building because the Bedroom Tax was imminent. This thing was coming in the next week to ten days and people didn’t feel they had enough information about how this was going to affect them. ‘The Bedroom Tax - what does it mean for me?’ There were figures bandied around. ‘It’s going to cost me 14% extra or 25% of my rent, what is actually going on here?’
This was unfair because no matter how many spare rooms you had, people’s rents were different depending on what area you lived in, even within Castlemilk. The rents down the valley in Drakemire were actually different from that in Ardencraig even though the house sizes were the same, so even though it was 14% or 25% the figures were going to work out differently for people living in the same type of accommodation. [...] What we need to remember is when they built the scheme they built all the houses the same size, they were all family units. The majority of houses are three apartment houses. There are a few four apartment houses and I don’t think there is many single apartment houses. So the whole idea that the government were going to shift people freely into smaller accommodation was just never going to happen. There was absolutely no way that this could happen in this area and in similar areas in the city, and that could be seen throughout the country. It wasn’t just here in Glasgow, it was the same throughout Scotland.
So the public meeting in the March of 2013 was basically the birth of the Castlemilk Anti-Bedroom Tax campaign. We started having meetings regularly. There are people in this room that belonged to that group and we continued to have these meetings but we also stood in the shopping centre on a Friday afternoon talking to folk. We got a petition organised and one of the things we focused on in the petition was evictions. There are a lot of similarities here with the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign […]. It is no accident that the banners are similar, because we learnt a lot from the Poll Tax campaign. That campaign was ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay’, and you can see from this [Jean points to the Anti-Bedroom Tax banner] that its a ‘Can’t Pay, Won’t Leave’ scenario because the main concern – and this is the difference between us and the Poll Tax – is that we were at risk of people losing their homes. It wasn’t just about losing independence and losing furniture, which was bad enough, but being evicted and ending up on the street. It was a really scary, scary thing for folk, so the decision was made – because there had been Anti-Bedroom Tax groups springing up across the country – to get them all together, much as the Anti-Poll Tax Unions did, so that we could share resources and come to a decision about what route we should take. It was decided at that point that it was a bit too risky to put out a ‘Don’t Pay’ scenario because it might put people at risk of them losing their homes and becoming homeless. That was a difficult decision but that is the decision people eventually came to.
Some of the similarities [with the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign] are actually quite incredible and I think it is fair to say that the Bedroom Tax really used a lot of their techniques, like the phone tree scenario but by that point we did have Facebook and we did have text messaging. We fortunately didn’t ever have to do anything as drastic as the Anti- Poll Tax campaigners had to do [i.e. physically obstruct bailiffs]. There were about three different times where someone received text messaging or there was an alert on Facebook – ‘Oh we think there is an eviction’. There was one in Pollok. I think it was the first in Glasgow. People arrived on the scene and that was really quite quickly quelled by having a meeting with the local housing association and Govan Law Centre – we made use of the free legal advice out there to make sure people had legal representation and back up. It was quelled by people just turning up, having a meeting and realising that this really isn’t the best scenario - people being turned out on to the street. There was another one in Greenock, a girl in Greenock who was threatened with eviction. She had her say in court. We arrived at court, we stood outside the court, lobbied outside the court, marched round to the housing association, lobbied outside the housing association where eventually the manager spoke to the tenant and a representative from the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation and that again was quelled so we never found ourselves in the drastic stage the people from the Anti-Poll Tax movement found themselves in.
For me I really need to end by saying this is still happening, this is still very real for people. Particularly with folk in England and Wales who are still suffering greatly, they are still arguing for no evictions. We have had a wee bit of respite right now [in Scotland] but the thing still exists; it’s not been abolished. I don’t want to end on a bad note but that’s the reality for us in Scotland. The campaigning has worked in terms of mitigation, but I think to keep it real, we need to keep in mind that for us, for me certainly anyway, the campaigning has to continue considering the situation we are still in. Do your best to help to actually get the thing abolished and a lot of the other welfare reform agenda to be abolished as well.
Jean Devlin, Community Activist
The image directly above and Jean's words are from the Banner Tales of Glasgow workshop, Castlemilk Community Centre, 01/05/2015. The YouTube clip below shows Anti-Bedroom Tax Campaigners singing The Anti-Bedroom Tax Song by Citizen Smart at a demo in George Square. Presumably the words to the song are written on the back of the placard! The song is sung to to the tune of Adam McNaughton's Jeely Piece Song.