Video: Anger as councillors and protesters clash over ‘bedroom tax’ evictions
- Credit: Bill Smith - Archant
Impassioned councillors clashed at a heated meeting over proposals to prevent any tenant being evicted because of controversial bedroom tax arrears.
Members of anti-austerity groups and disability rights organisations packed into the Norwich City Council chamber for the debate, after a noisy protest outside City Hall.
But they witnessed a motion from Green Party councillor Ash Haynes, calling for the council to ignore bedroom tax debts for one year when considering evictions, thwarted by the majority Labour group, whose deputy leader insisted no one would be evicted because of the tax.
In a meeting that was frequently disrupted by angry heckling from the public gallery, a secondary motion calling for the coalition government to withdraw the bedroom tax was unanimously approved.
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Rallying a 40-strong crowd outside City Hall before the meeting, Mark Harrison, chief executive of Equal Lives, said the coalition government's 'perfect storm' of welfare cuts had asked a 'life and death question' of disabled and vulnerable people.
Labour's Alan Waters condemned the welfare reforms as 'a tidal wave, designed to spread misery and dismantle social security and the welfare state', but insisted the council had a legal duty to collect money owed to it and that offering money advice to tenants could help to stop debts escalating.
'Nobody will be evicted because of the bedroom tax, and nobody has been evicted because of the welfare changes,' said Mr Waters.
'We are doing everything we can, to the greatest extent we can, to mitigate the effects of the bedroom tax.'
He also extended a hand to protesters at the meeting, telling them it was important to stand that the government's opponents stood united and offering to form a 'popular front' against the bedroom tax.
Proposing the motion, Ms Haynes said that waiting 18 months for a Labour government to reverse the measure was too long.
'Eighteen months is more than some people have when you are being hit by multiple benefits being cut,' she said, to applause, and urged councillors to widen the debate to other government welfare reforms.
'Why are we prepared to defend something we all believe isn't right but are prepared to enact it anyway?' she asked.
There have been 15 evictions for rent arrears since the welfare changes in April, and of the three involving a bedroom tax element, eviction action had been started before April, said Bert Bremner, the cabinet member for housing.
But Labour's Patrick Manning said evictions were always the last resort, and added: 'A no evictions policy can only be fair if it applies to all tenants across the board regardless of the cause of the arrears.'
A question from Paul Kendrick about the shortfall from uncollected debts being made up by other council tenants was drowned out by shouts from the public gallery, before the Labout member for Catton Grove bit back at the 'Marxist, Leninist' hecklers.
Speaking after the meeting, David Peel of the Norfolk People's Assembly said: 'The vote was only lost by three, and it's very clear to us that this pernicious tax is starting to draw people together in opposition.
'Councillor Alan Waters' idea of a popular front between the people's assembly and the council against the bedroom tax is something we will consider carefully at our next forum.'