This action comes against a backdrop of housing benefit cuts, a lack of social housing which the Labour group say means needing to build 70,000 new homes in the next 14 years (we are currently building less than 1,000 homes/year) and the criminilisation of squatting unused/empty residential properties.
The new squatting law comes into effect on 1st September, and the activists are having a meal and sleepover party on Thursday 31st August to commemorate the date where they, and many other homeless people, become criminals for utilising an unused space in order to have a roof over their heads.
The activists are appalled at the crackdown on homeless beggars and the council’s lack of action to create badly needed new homes and have seized one of Birmingham’s 11,000 empty properties. They condemn the City Council for failing to take action to help the growing homeless population of Birmingham, which has risen by 25% since 2009. Meanwhile, the budget for dealing with homelessness has been slashed by 29%.
This will be compounded by cuts to housing benefit that will see 11,500 too few affordable homes, and leave families struggling to pay the rent. Birmingham City Council has said that they have already seen a 51% rise in their caseload concerning people who are at risk of being made homeless.
Claire Lister, an activist involved with Birmingham homeless and tenant’s action group, said,
Homelessness is on the rise and the council is effectively doing nothing, worse – homeless charities have been cut by 29%. Birmingham already has the highest rate of homelessness in the UK and with the incoming housing benefit cuts even more people are going to be at risk of becoming homeless.
Birmingham Against the Cuts supports this initiative, and we have already called for the national government to embark on a massive investment in new, zero-carbon council housing as an alternative to cuts, to reduce the housing benefit bill, to ensure everyone has a decent home and to help tackle climate change.
At our meeting about housing in Birmingham in July, we discussed the issue of empty homes and how we can put pressure on Birmingham City Council to bring these back into use.
We offer our solidarity to people taking this action, and note that the council have said they will use any legal means to remove the protesters and homeless people from the squat – we call on the council to spend the money on repairing homes for people to live in, and not on lawyers and court time to make people homeless.