by Robyn Banks
The Focus E15 campaign began suddenly in August 2013 when 29 young or expectant mothers, who had been residing in the Focus E15 hostel for homeless young people, were served eviction notices by East Thames Housing Association after Newham council severed its funding. Appealing to the council for help, the E15 mums were told that due to cuts to housing benefit and a lack of social housing, they would have to be relocated as far away as Manchester or Birmingham and suffer the consequences of being plucked suddenly from their homes, families and support networks.
The move, which many consider to be one of many changes taking place involving the relocation of people on low incomes to outside of London — a form of social cleansing — prompted one of the most fiery and successful grassroots anti-cuts campaigns under the conservative government. The Focus E15 mums got organised, protested and held marches and occupations for ‘social housing, not social cleansing’ to pressure Newham Council. Although the campaign was born from individual need and the right to have a roof over your head, when the E15 mums act women everywhere benefit.
Two independent reports of the government’s 2010 spending reviews have found the cuts will disproportionately affect women. Analysis by economists from the WBG found that the most affected were single parents and single pensioners, who lose more than 10% of their disposable income. Single mothers could have lost up to 15%. Single women in every demographic are faring badly, with 63 of every 100 new jobs in the private sector going to men, while cuts to benefits and public services make it increasingly difficult to balance earning money and taking care of children and family, a job which predominantly falls on the shoulders of women. With cuts to state care for the elderly and disabled, women have increasingly found themselves taking on the role of unpaid carers.
Although the campaign was born from individual need and the right to have a roof over your head, when the E15 mums act women everywhere benefit
A 2014 Unison report also found that women’s wellbeing is undermined by cuts to council budgets, with more than a third of women surveyed reporting they felt unsafe at night after street lights are switched off and streets and parks deteriorate. More than a quarter said that the cuts had hampered them from finding a job and 70 council funded children’s centres have closed each year since 2010. Struggling to balance looking after their families and working enough to be able to afford private rented accommodation, it has been women who have found themselves at the forefront of the housing crisis. With too few houses being built for social housing, and the government threatening to bring back right-to-buy, we have reached the stage as a society where we are unable, or unwilling, to protect young single mothers from homelessness or upheaval — something that should infuriate anybody with a conscience.
However, while women’s rights activists have railed against the gendered skew to the cuts, and lobbied for change, the Focus E15 Mums have been driven to immediate direct action through necessity and have shown themselves to be sophisticated and successful in their protest tactics, putting other activists to shame — and feminism should be giving them far more support. In my opinion, these women are on the front lines of today’s battle for women’s liberation and right to economic parity.
Feminism should be giving them more support
The campaign has gone from strength to strength but they still need support and funding — you can donate on their website at focuse15.org. So spread the word, hold a bake sale, because, in the words of E15 residents Jasmin and Sam, “This is the beginning of the end of the housing crisis”.