Wednesday 1st May saw the second protest march organised by Stand Up In Bootle, the grassroots campaign group which emerged in opposition to the Bedroom Tax.
The group gathered at Bootle Town Hall, where their “battle bus” played music loudly through speakers mounted on top of it. About 150 strong, the assembled group was diverse – community campaigners and local people, trade unionists, socialists and anarchists. All were in high spirits, buoyed by the good weather for the march.
Alongside protest marches such as this, the campaign against the Bedroom Tax is entering a new phase and much energy is being focused on appeals and legal advice. Those on the march voiced different opinions about this, with some arguing for the necessity of such appeals as a first step whilst others point to the government’s record of changing the law when it doesn’t suit them and argue that direct action on the lines seen against the Poll Tax is what’s needed.
Either way, it’s clear that the fight against the Bedroom Tax has far wider support than the numbers on the march. From the passing cars and trucks honking their approval to shoppers in the Strand and workers in office buildings looking on, cheering and applauding, it was hard to find a voice saying this is a fight which shouldn’t be waged.
The Bedroom Tax will see social housing tenants penalised for “under-occupation” of their homes with reductions in housing benefit. Officially, this is to encourage them to move to smaller premises and free up more social housing stock. The reality is that the numbers affected far outweigh the amount of smaller residences available.
Parents with disabled children who need their own rooms, serving armed forces personnel and those who have suffered a death in the family will all be affected by the tax. Private landlords and collection agencies are already discussing how best they can profit from the situation and their role in making people’s lives more miserable. It is also occurring in the context of wider attacks on the most vulnerable, from the introduction of Universal Credit and other welfare reform to the closing of Enquiry Centres in HMRC and robbing communities of a vital service.
The anger that this issue has provoked was visible on the march and could be heard in some of the speeches where it ended outside the One Stop Shop. The question for campaigners now is what direction they will take that anger, and whether their efforts can make the government change course.