1209117_636632099704226_1983482848_nIt was with some trepidation that we awoke this morning to the knowledge that the hard work was about to start again, but it was mixed with the buzz and excitement that we were back doing the actions that brought us together in the first place, fighting the bedroom tax. The camaraderie had returned as well as the smiles.

Running late and being a team member down we packed our bags, and armed with all manner of leaflets we walked the short journey to Walton Road One Stop Shop and pitched up directly outside. First task, blagging a Non Resident Overnight Carer Form whilst we prepared the table for the day.

This event was an indication of the changing relationships in the timeline of the bedroom tax as the One Stop Shop staff were polite and nonplussed when we informed them of the planned action outside. We talked of the recent Fife tribunals and of the damning statement of Raquel Rolnik, the UN Rapporteur and the staff at the OSS did not recognise the significance of the verdict or the statement that we as activists seemed to embrace. Perhaps they have family concerns and important issues happening in their lives and this is only a job and a means of keeping a roof over their heads and food in the bellies of their children.

From quite a slow start we were then approached by two ladies in different stages of the Discretionary Housing Payment process. Both had received it but one lady had been told her entitlement had now ceased and she would no longer be entitled to the DHP to help pay for her bedroom – less than 70sq feet – and she would have to explore other ways in which to pay for her spare bedroom. Her income had remained unchanged so how she was expected to pay this is unclear. Maybe the national lottery, William Hill or Cash Converters are the other insidious avenues central government deem she should explore.

The next half a dozen people who stopped at the stall before going into the OSS hadn’t appealed. They knew they could in some cases, but did not know how to go about it. We took them through the process from initial appeal through to DHPs with advice on what to pay, as well as general information on the BT and what constitutes a bedroom according to councils and housing associations.

When we formed together as a group around the stall to discuss the BT we found people empathised and related to each other in many ways and opened up to each other offering personal support, help and exchange of information, relevant to illness, disability and housing issues. Some offered to help out as they felt empowered and wanted to aid others in the same plight. Kinship and bonds, no matter how short, took place and it may or may not be a scouse thing but it was fascinating to witness. Some people we encountered had been refused DHPs so work will be needed to press for reconsideration in their cases. The Fife tribunal judgements from QC Collins will help favourably.

This may all seem routine but then we are confronted with two examples of the inhumanity and the worst scenarios of this diabolical TAX on the poorest, most vulnerable members of our community. Woman A, who is recovering from cancer, had left her sick bed to come to OSS and query her BT whilst accompanied by her elderly mum. She is still under the care of district nurses and had a bag attached. She was unable to undergo chemotherapy as her surgical wound had not healed. With advice and kindly assistance from the group and the staff at the OSS, she went home reassured and with the outcome of her DHP hopefully guaranteed and more able to carry on with her recuperation. Woman B was a mother of two young children having to share a room. The problem was that one child had Asperger’s Syndrome and needs to have his own room as he keeps his brother awake when bedtime comes, or at other times a brother needs to do schoolwork or is suffering illness.

This is a flavour of the experiences of the impact of the bedroom tax, as could be witnessed most days in any community. multiply that by 660,000 affected households and we see the absurdity and the cruelty of this ill-conceived policy. There is a grace and dignity in all of this as I have never witnessed before in my life, and I’m sure it is shared by all activists in the grassroots movement, the group of people affected go away after sharing their stories a lot cheerier for a short time, but they go home to their BT-impacted dwelling to fret and worry and hopefully take up the offer of help that we are only to happy to provide.

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