This Saturday Birmingham Women’s Campaign joined over 300 bedroom tax protestors in Birmingham city centre demonstration in memory of Stephanie Bottrill, the local grandmother who jumped on to the M6, specifically identifying the government squeeze on benefits as the reason behind her suicide. People from the local community were joined by delegates from bedroom tax campaign groups around the UK in laying wreaths in memory of Stephanie, followed by a strongly supported march and speakers from various local community members, including religious leaders, union activists, a representative of DPAC, local MP Richard Burden, Dave Nellist from the Socialist Party, Eileen Short from the national benefits justice campaign, and campaigners who had come from Manchester to add their tribute to Stephanie and talk about their successes in campaigning locally.
As Richard Burden identified, whilst the government were quick to use narratives of dependency to whip up class hatred in the high profile murder case surrounding Mick Philpot recently, after being specifically identified by Stephanie as the cause of her despair in her suicide note, it was stated that they do not comment on individual cases.
At this year’s congress UCU voted to affiliate to the Benefits Justice Campaign and to support campaigns for scrapping bedroom tax. At the demonstration I spoke about the impact bedroom tax will have for FE students. For the adults I work with (predominantly working class women), benefits cuts come on top of the introduction of fees and loans. For younger students, benefits cuts will be hitting households which have already lost the EMA many relied on to keep kids in education. Along with the hiking up of university fees, working class students today face the biggest attempt to shut them out of the education system in decades, and the consequences will last a lifetime. Loss of benefits income and potential eviction can only act to further reinforce the barriers.
Feminists have for a long time pointed towards the feminisation of private space and “the home”. Whilst I wouldn’t want to accept as unproblematic the classification of home as “female” and the political consequences of this for women in terms of how they are automatically prepared as primary unpaid domestic labourers (as well as treated as alien or foreign to the public world of work), for many who do labour providing care or other domestic work in the home evictions represent a huge attack in the working environment.
Along with the disabled, single mothers are being hit disproportionately hard by bedroom tax. Its introduction forms part of an onslaught of female-centred cuts which have hit public services, public sector jobs, children’s care services, and domestic violence support amongst many other things. This government has declared war on women, the disabled and the working class. They have blood all over their hands. We need to organise effectively as a community and nationally to fight this spiteful attack on the homes and lives of working class people and get them out.