Just for the record, on Saturday we held a good leaflet and petitioning session outside the old Central Library, informing people about Birmingham Labour’s plans to privatise the running of this £188 million public asset. To say that there was surprise and concern about this would be an understatement. Not one person we met supported what Labour intends to do. Hundreds of people have already signed up to our petition opposing their plans, but the campaign must go on. The public halting of the tendering process, the day after we publicised what was happening, is temporary; the overall plans have not yet been shelved. If you have not signed yet, go to the online petition below (see the post on 26th April), or print off a hard copy. Get it filled in and return it to us.
And on Sunday, there was a protest at ASDA’s in Kings Heath. This was about the Labour Council’s decision to abolish the emergency crisis social security fund to people in temporary need, to be replaced by vouchers to be used in ASDA stores. What happens if you do not live anywhere near an ASDA store? What happens if it is cash that is required for a domestic emergency breakdown, for example? Once again, we have the spin-off of the decision earlier this year to accept ConDem austerity for Birmingham without any serious fight for a budget to meet the needs of Birmingham citizens.
A dozen Communities against the Cuts activists turned up today to protest ASDA’s, the city council’s & the DWP’S decision to abolish crisis social security funds and replace it with a dehumanising food voucher system. A protester stood up inside the store and gave a speech while others leafleted and talked to shoppers. We were eventually removed by security but staff seemed friendly and supportive.
We hope this will be first of several ASDA protests. We have a chance to nip this scheme in the bud. ASDA is the only supermarket so far who has agreed to cooperate with the scheme, and if we can shame them into backing out, there is a chance the City Council will reverse their decision.
It is important we take time fight this as this will have disastrous consequences for the 50,000 people in Birmingham who require emergency help each year! Previously, those who found themselves urgently requiring money were able to apply for crisis loans from the government to cover the cost of those most basic needs: food, warmth, and shelter.
Birmingham has opted to allot its £6.1 million share of this safety-net-below-the safety-net in the form of pre-paid cash cards usable only on a select range of products at branches of ASDA.
Why this is bad:
1. It forces them to spend their much-needed emergency money on a select range of basic food products, and prevents them from buying a whole range of items that may be necessary for survival, such as emergency hostel accommodation, missed rent repayments, mobile phone credit, and fuel.
2. There are only seven ASDAs within the boundaries of the city – at Perry Barr, Bordesley Green, Small Heath, Sheldon, Quinton, and Kings Heath. A resident of Longbridge will now have to travel five miles to the nearest ASDA simply to buy provisions – presumably by foot, as fuel is one of the items which cannot be bought on the new cards. And woe betide any recipient in Sutton Coldfield, who must now mount a six-mile expedition to the Perry Barr store.
3. In a city which never really came out of recession, local government has ripped business from the hands of struggling local shops and chosen instead to give £6.1 million worth of custom to Britain’s second largest supermarket: a supermarket which sells bottled tap water at a 2,800% mark-up (3) ; which last year posted profits of £857 million (4) , and which has now teamed up with our craven council in order to cash in on the misfortune of tens of thousands of people.
By failing to stand up for some of its most vulnerable inhabitants, the men and women who run our city have once again shown their cowardice, their complacency, and their complicity. They have wholeheartedly bought into Whitehall’s message that the poorest must be demonised, castigated, and stripped of their dignity and autonomy. Never mind that the United States’ experience of food stamps shows that such policies do nothing to reduce dependency. Never mind that pre-paid welfare cards are a boon for the organised criminals and gangs who launder them into hard cash. So long as Birmingham City Council can be seen to be tough on ‘scroungers’ whilst lining the pockets of big business, what does it matter?
Here is the flyer that was handed out. Feel free to use it.