On Friday night I attended a meeting held in South Shields Town Hall, jointly held by local Public Services Alliance and Hardest Hit North East Group. I would say approx 100-120 people attended. They consisted of local councillors, residents, representatives from various unions.
Chairing the meeting was Tina Roche (Unison), with speeches from Iain Malcom, Leader of the Council, David Miliband MP and Peter Bennetts, spokesperson for HH North East. All outlined the huge problems ahead. Tina ensured that more time was given for questions and statements from the floor.
Mr. Malcolm covered many issues that would affect our local area. Cuts to services, impact of welfare reform. He also spoke of proposed bedroom tax and abolition of council tax. Huge concerns re social care.
Mr. Miliband spoke about 3 warnings – Awareness, Protest and Preparation.
More work needs doing raising awareness of welfare benefit changes, as so many people are still unaware of what is in the pipeline ahead.
Protest – protest voices need to be heard and more grassroots groups, charities, unions need to work together. Protests, petitions, write to MPs outlining how changes are impacting on families.
Preparation – How we need prepare for the Tsunami of change, not just locally but nationally. People will need advice, support and information.
He spoke of the impact of welfare reform on families and the fear of them using loansharks. A place for credit unions. Impact on local services. Of Alf Morris. Local housing issues.
Comment was made from the floor by Stuart Bracking (DPAC North East) that there should be a 4th point made, and that is Reflection. Labour need look back on their policies; amend mistakes made, especially with the work capability assessment. I hope to have a statement from Stuart soon to add here.
Lady from floor said that Labour need to be a stronger opposition party, as this is not visible to people.
Peter was excellent. He outlined many of the changes ahead re welfare benefits and held nothing back, describing the fear among disabled people regarding losing their independence. He spoke of the Hardest Hit rallies already held and informed us of the next event to be held in Newcastle October 27th. Also there will be HH members attending the A Future that Works protest Oct 20th
Participating in the meeting meant I have only managed to note down some of the topics discussed, not all, but will hopefully give you an idea of the issues raised.
Bedroom tax was raised time and time again.
Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment
Loss of DLA could mean a double whammy for families if Carers Allowance is lost too.
Employment Support Allowance and Work capability Assessment not fit for purpose
Cuts to care services will bring added pressure on carers, many of whom are struggling now.
Those in low paid jobs and effect if lose their council tax benefit and need to find money to pay an increased charge.
Loss of Independent Living Fund
Loss of local jobs as council makes cuts
Impact of welfare reform on social care – NHS and social services departments will not be able to cope
Overall the meeting went very well. It was a great opportunity for local people to come together and realise they are not alone.
As a campaigner the biggest issue for me was Awareness. It was mentioned from the front table about how councils, and other bodies/organisations do not want to alarm people too soon about the changes. This was disputed from the floor. Marion, local resident, stood up and said people need informed now. It was waiting too long re welfare reform that meant too little time to fight.
Friday was the start of our local fight and arrangements already in place for further meetings.
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