STROUD District Council has rejected calls for it to adopt a no-evictions policy in response to the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ and has refused to write off arrears for the 120 tenants who have already fallen into debt as a result of the change to housing benefit.
A petition containing some 1,200 signatures was submitted by anti-austerity group Stroud Against The Cuts to councillors during a meeting at Ebley Mill last night (Thursday, November 28) urging them to commit to no evictions.
Earlier, a dozen or so members of the group had gathered outside the council offices with placards to protest against the controversial welfare reform, which has been dubbed the bedroom tax by its opponents, but is referred to as the spare-room subsidy by supporters and officially known as the under-occupancy penalty.
Presenting the petition to members in the council chamber, political activist Chris Moore, of SATC, described the cut to housing benefit, which impacts on council tenants with spare rooms, as a ‘disgrace’ and said it was about ‘blaming the poor and disabled for the housing crisis’.
Mr Moore, who was heckled by councillors and branded a ‘Trotskyist’ (a reference to the Russian Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky), pointed out that two-thirds of those affected by the policy are disabled and said increasing numbers of tenants were being faced with a choice of ‘heat or eat’.
After he had finished speaking, a motion tabled by the Green Party calling on SDC to ‘publicly state its opposition to the bedroom tax as unfair and contrary to the wellbeing of children and adults in the district’ was brought forward by the chairman Dennis Andrewartha for debate.
The motion, which also demanded that SDC pledge not to carry out evictions, sparked a fierce row between Labour and Green Party councillors, who together, along with the Lib Dems, form part of the rainbow coalition which runs the authority.
Cllr Molly-Scott Cato (Valley) who leads the Green group, said that district councillors needed to oppose evictions so they could be seen to be standing by their communities.
However, Labour councillors insisted it was wrong to adopt a policy of no evictions for one specific set of tenants affected by the bedroom tax when there were so many others who were struggling to pay their rent for different reasons.
Labour members, who were joined by the Conservatives and all but one Lib Dem councillor in voting against the motion, also stressed that no evictions had taken place so far and that officers were doing everything in their power to avoid them.
Cllr David Drew (Lab, Farmhill and Paganhill) said whilst he strongly opposed the bedroom tax, SDC already had a no evictions policy ‘in all but name’.
A number of his party colleagues accused the Greens of ‘grandstanding’ and ‘gesture politics’, adding that the only way to get rid of the bedroom tax was by voting Labour in 2015 as Ed Miliband had promised to repeal it.
Conservative leader Keith Pearson said the motion was unnecessary because SDC had already agreed policies at the committee stage to help tenants who were suffering financial difficulties.
“There have been no evictions and the intent is that there will be no evictions,” he said.
His Tory colleague Debbie Young defended the housing benefit reforms, saying they were all about 'fairness'.
Families living in houses with spare rooms “should not receive council taxpayer’s subsidy to keep them in houses which are too big for them,” she said.