In Lambeth for the last four years Labour’s Council of quietism has done little to resist, if not explicitly aid, both Tory austerity and the desire of landlords to see poor tenants swapped for the young and upwardly mobile.
In fact it would be too simple to say that the Council are passive administrators of austerity. Their keenness to restructure Lambeth to mirror it’s neighbour Southwark, with shiny unaffordable developments sweeping from the South Bank to the Heygate, is worth reflecting on. Lambeth has heartly engaged in evictions on Rushcroft Road last year. The Council leader Lib Pek, joined by Chuka Umunna and Tessa Jowell have appealed for further criminalisation of squatting, a scapegoating of the most vulnerable for the causes of homelessness akin to UKIP’s scapegoating of migrants for an economic crisis caused by elites. The pursuit of evictions of short-life tenants, many residents in Lambeth for forty years, some old and vulnerable, is a display of a Council that shares the hunger of private landlords for fresh assets while the former local residents join the long queues at the Housing Office.
However if anything has illustrated this Council’s apathy as to the concerns of its poorer residents it is the handling of the bedroom tax in Lambeth. This petty Tory policy is once more a demonisation of the poor during a crisis caused explicitly by the wealthy, a policy with which Lambeth Council has dutifully carried out.
Two weeks ago HASL occupied Lambeth Town Hall’s Lobby to support a local resident facing the bedroom tax being applied carelessly to her front room. When finally we were greated by a Council worker we we’re told that Lambeth’s hands are tied – the landlord decides how many bedrooms a property has and it’s not up to the Council to intervene.
Not so, legal representation from Lambeth Law Centre and the resident have argued while appealing the decision in a tribunal last week. We claim it is the Council’s authority to determine to what rooms the tax applies, as Councils in the North of England have done – councils taking a stand against Tory policy. If the Council and the tenant don’t determine the use of a house via a simple visit (limiting the stress and the resources required of a tribunal) then a landlord might as well say a tent in the yard is a bedroom and a hole in the roof is a shower.
The representative of Lambeth in the tribunal made the case “our hands are tied.” In fact his aim was to remove the council from our protest entirely suggesting we “knock at the right door, not the council but the landlord.”
After this display of apathy we’re left wondering if a vote for Labour tomorrow is simply a vote for handmaidens of both austerity from central government and gentrification from private landlords. If we are going to vote our direction to the council should be one of activism.
A decision on the tribunal is yet to be heard.