Published: 21 January 2013
By RICHARD OSLEY
LABOUR councillors have this evening (Monday) been urged to stand up to the government over benefit cuts which protesters say is leading to evictions and extreme hardship.
They were urged to order a moratorium on forced evictions for those falling into arrears due to benefit cuts and to join up with other local authorities facing slashed budgets to be more dynamic in their response to the cuts.
An umbrella group called Camden United for Benefit Justice led a deputation in front of the full council meeting, warning that cuts to council tax benefit and housing benefit caps were not being properly challenged by the Town Hall.
The council insists it is being forced into cuts by central government orders.
Meurig Horton, from the Camden Federation of Tenants and Residents Associations, said: "We are united in the belief that there is not no choice. There is a choice for Camden about how they approach this and implement this."
He added: "We don't expect you to delay possession proceedings forever but you could order a morotorium on evictions caused by benefit cuts until you know what the results of the cuts are. The courts are likely to start evictions of whole new categories of people, including parents with children."
Claire Glasman, from Winvisible disability rights group, said the disabled were in a "benefit crisis", warning that people were "dying or committing suicide" as a result of the cuts. She said she knew of one case study where a disabled had lost her benefits and been evicted. "She is now destitute," said Ms Glasman.
Camden United campaigner Petra Dando told the meeting: "When the full effect of the cuts are known in April and beyond, councllors in this chamber, when they see the devastation that's going to be out there, will ask themselves: 'Did I stand up and do enough? Did I do enough?' If you vote for this, the answer to that will be no for most people sitting here"
She added: "None of us underestimates the position you are in but these very difficult decisions are on your heads. Will you stand up when up when you are faced with examples of people being forcible evicted from their homes, which we know is happening in other boroughs as well?"
She said a boroughwide meeting on February 14 had been called to discusss the problems faced by those losing their benefit. It will be held at the Town Hall.
"There should be a call for councils across the country to come together to discuss what's going on rather than agreeing to these changes without really a second thought about the impact they are going to have. The fact we are not hearing anything being suggested like this does not fill us with confidence."
Conservative councllor Jonny Bucknell said he was "happy to lobby the government" if campaigners came forward with examples of extreme hardship caused by welfare reform.
Labour councillor Sally Gimson said: "As Labour councillors we very much have our hands tied. One fo the things we should do is try and organise a meeting to see how different parts of community can help each other. We have some of the richest people in Camden but some inequality. I think we need to be working together as a borough."
Finance chief Councillor Theo Blackwell said the suggested moratorium was difficult to organise because it was hard to"disaggregate" eviction cases.
"We do have a protocols concerning rents being escalated, but evictions are only ever used as a last resort," he said. "We believe in the welfare state. We believe it's a safety net, not least in place in Camden. Without it, the place would have emptied years ago with rising rents. We've lobbied very hard to try and change the impact of what the government is doing. We've taken writte and oral evidence based on what people in Camden are telling us. The lobbying has resulted in change but it hasn't changed David Cameron's mind."
Cllr Blackwell said: "We have provided support and advice to people who have been affected. Not only have we run advice sessions with community groups, we have gone door to door. All tenants likely to lose benefits are being visited and being offered appropriate advice. On February 27, we will put forward a range of mitigations which we can provide. We can't leave people out in the cold. Cuts designed for the rest of the country are felt brutally here. We will be unduly impacted."