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Archive for the ‘Party meetings’ Category

by Natalie Bennett

Two excellent speakers yesterday at the Camden Green Party members’ meeting, Grace Livingstone, tenant activist at Holly Lodge, and Robert Taylor of the Camden Federation of Private Tenants.

One foci of the discussion was the coming changes in housing benefit. Grace said that we were facing homelessness and insecurity on a scale not seen in our lifetimes, with the poorest and most isolated most vulnerable. A campaign of vilification that sought to brand all benefit recipients as “scroungers” was making people even more reluctant to come forward and make their case, yet more than 90% of recipients in Camden are in work, being in private rental housing with high rents. “The obvious solutions are either to put a cap on rent, or to provide more social housing.” (The facts behind a celebrated case of demonisation were highlighted by Camden member Alan Wheatley.)

In a report dated September 2010, Camden Council stated that out of 29,485 Housing Benefit claimants, 3,135 people claimed Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and the changes will affect 2,241 of these who live in private rented homes.

The housing benefit will be reduced to the 30th percentile of average local rents (from the 50th). There will be a cap on total benefits that would, Robert said, hit households south of the Euston Road particularly hard. (The limits will be 1 bed £250, 2 bed £290, 3 bed £340, 4 bed £400 = maximum for any size of property.) Also the single home rate (rather than payment for a room in a shared house) will start at age 35, not 25, as it does now. Additionally, while rental inflation is now 8-10%, housing benefit will only raise by the CPI rate, usually 2-3%.

The reductions have begun now for new claimants, and will start to effect existing claimants from January 2012 (hitting people on the anniversary of their claim). Then from October 2017 the benefit is planned to be rolled into the new “universal credit” – and will be determined centrally, rather than by council.

Another key issue in the discussion were planned changes to council housing that would make council tenancies almost as insecure and uncertain as private rentals, allowing rental terms of just two years, and allowing only people most in need to even join the waiting list.

Grace said: “This is further stigmatising council tenants. The coalition – and Labour also did it too – like to talk about tenants as ‘the underclass’. One MP likes to say that 70% of council tenants are unemployed, but in fact more than half of those are pensioners, about 35% of the total. Of the remainder, one third are unemployed, but a lot of those are disabled people and carers; only 6% are on Job Seekers’ Allowance.”

The current Localism Bill, before parliament, allows councils to only have two-year tenancies for their housing, but it will be up to councils to decide if they want to use the provision. Cambridge and Islington councils have already pledged not to, and Grace said she very much hoped Camden would do the same. “One urgent task is to let the public know what impact these changes will have.”
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by Natalie Bennett

Green Party member of the London Assembly Darren Johnson kindly attended our March members’ meeting, tackling the mammoth task of discussing the deficit and alternative Green Party approaches to it. (And he gathered with some members present for the obligatory photo…)
darren johnson with camden green party members

Darren explained that the Green Party accepted the deficit needed to be tackled, having gone into the last election with a fully funded manifesto that provided for cutting it in half by 2014 (incidentally the same as the Labour Party planned then, although not by the same methods!)

One key fact is that taxes need to be both fair in their levels, and need to be actually collected! He was able to give us a sneak preview of the campaign Caroline Lucas was to launch the next day against tax evasion – one important area of action.

The second plank of the Green Party’s plan is to ensure the rich, those most able to afford it, contribute more tax. Darren was able to explain how the London Assembly had that day passed a motion opposing the mayor’s call for an end to the 50p tax rate for people earning over £150,000. (The Green Party would bring that level down to £100,000.)

Then there’s the widely supported Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions.

The third plank is to cut spending – of the bad sort. The easy one of these is Trident nuclear submarines – £6-8bn per year, adding up to a total of around £100bn, and saving several billion through energy savings in government activities (with of course added environmental benefits).

There’ll be a lot more about this tomorrow at the joint north London Green Parties Alternatives to the Cuts meeting.

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I’m very pleased that the first day of the Green Party conference in Finchley today adopted a new policy supporting the availability of civil partnership and marriage to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation.

Much of the focus is bound to be on the provision for gay marriage, but I’m also pleased about the other side of this – the provision for civil partnership to be available to heterosexual couples.

Marriage is something that many women (and men) have objections to: they feel that they don’t want to be involved in an institution that historically has been so implicated in the oppression of women. Yet I know a significant number of women who have reluctantly married for practical reasons – relating to the status of their partner with regard to their children, to inheritance tax, to pension rights… the list goes on.

A civil partnership deals with these issues, without being a “marriage”. There are two possible structures here, and sexuality shouldn’t be the discriminating factor in who can access each.

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Had an interesting time yesterday on Women’s Hour, tackling the rather odd notion that the Green Party is anti-women. Odd – for the party that wants to significantly increase the minimum wage (two-thirds of its earners are female), to legislate to force 40% on boards of major companies, that has the best policies on access to maternity care and on provision of services for victims of domestic violence and funding rape crisis centres.

Actually, the focus turned out to be more on lower-income women, with the rather old, tired claim that the Greens were asking them to make impossible sacrifices for organic chicken or unrealistic recycling plans.

As I pointed out, at the very core of being involved in the Green Party as part of the green movement is the focus on political action to change the way society works to make sustainable living easier and practical for all: individual action is fine and to be encouraged, but can’t possibly be the answer to the critical environmental and social issues we face.

We want to introduce free school meals for all pupils (organic whenever possible), to insulate for free every home that needs it, saving an average of £150/year, and to vastly improve public transport and pedestrian routes. Green politics is about making life easier, not about moralising.

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Camden Green Party

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Thanks to Dee and Claire from Winvisible for their informed, detailed, and horrifying account of the Welfare Reform Bill 2009 at the September Camden Green Party meeting.

Among the worst aspects they highlighted were:

    Clause 1 – the requirements that claimants who have been unemployed for more than two years “work for their benefit” – that is, for £1.73/hour – thus undercutting the minimum wage, which would drive all wages down.

    Clause 2 – Parents of disabled children under seven are exempt from being forced into “work-related activity” – yet for many with children older than that, caring for the children may well be a fulltime activity, and one that is very valuable to the community. More broadly, they noted that while carers unwaged work saves the government £87bn annually, they have not been exempted from job seeking under the bill, although there are vague promises that some softening of the rules will be made for them in the rules used to apply it.

    The fact that women fleeing domestic violence will not have access to Income Support (which is being abolished), but will be treated as job seekers after only three months away from the violent home. The fear is that if traumatised women are unable to meet requirements for “work-focused meetings”, they could lose benefits and be forced back into the violent home.

Dee and Claire noted that the bill would be coming back for the report stage in the Lords from October 22, and lobbying work between now and then would be valuable. They also supported Early Day Motion 1609, which opposes the abolition of Income Support.

Dee and Claire also spoke the charging of people living on basic benefits for social care. They spoke about the work Winvisible has done with the Campaign Against Care Charges to help people living on benefits who were being left with a choice between essential services and food.

It was a powerful, disturbing session, and thanks very much to Dee and Claire for their time – and for all of their campaigning efforts.

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The Camden Green Party enjoyed hearing this week from two speakers Camp for Climate Action.

They outlined the four purposes of the informal grouping:

    * Movement Building
    * Education
    * Sustainable living – primarily through setting an example with the camp structures
    * Direct Action

This year, they explained, rather than one large camps, there would be a number scattered around England, Scotland and Wales, to enable more people to get involved. In both Wales and Scotland open cut coal mining will be targeted.

The main camp, which would be situated with a view of London, would choose by vote the chief “climate criminal” to be targeted. This location would draw links between the current economic problems and the environmental – the fundamentally unsustainable structure of our economy.

They explained that the organisation runs entirely on voluntary effort, no one is paid, and all decisions are made by consensus. At the actual camps, neighbourhoods each have a daily meeting and then send a representative for a full camp meeting.

“We believe that we can’t leave tackling climate change to governments or corporations; what is needed is a social movement.”

There are now camps in 17 organisations worldwide, and a big presence is planned in Copenhagen.

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