Diane Abbott attacks ‘social cleansing’ and admits she’s unsure if she’ll stand for mayor at Brixton anti-cuts event

Diane Abbott MP attacked government policy ‘seeking to shift the poor out of central London’ at a South London People’s Assembly (SLPA) conference at Lambeth Town Hall on Saturday.

The South London People’s Assembly is an umbrella organisation for grassroots activist and trade union groups who oppose the government’s austerity programme.

The day, organised by the SLPA, included speeches on London’s housing shortage, benefit cuts and workers’ pay and conditions.

Open-mic workshops offered a platform for people to speak on the issues being discussed.

Ms Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, described austerity as ‘a scheme in its totality to make the poor pay the price for the financial crash’.

She said: “These are not random cuts which a Labour government can come back and possibly reverse.”

She also attacked the ‘process of social cleansing’ that was taking place in central London due to the effect of housing benefit cuts.

“They are seeking to shift the poor out of central London so we become like Paris and only the very rich live in the very centre,” she said.

“If we can take a stand against the politics of austerity we will be going back to the earliest and best traditions of the Labour movement in London,” she concluded.

Ms Abbott admitted afterwards she had ‘yet to make a decision’ as to whether she would stand as a Labour mayoral candidate next year, but she highlighted areas that she felt were affecting Londoners.

“I think there are issues around housing, around rent regulation, making sure that rents generally are affordable,” she said.

“I’d bring back the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and also I would defend diversity and multiculturalism. I think it’s very important to do that. To fight UKIP.”

Sharing the stage with Ms Abbot was Paula Peters, co-chair of the Bromley and Croydon branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), which she said was set up to oppose ‘the vicious and brutal attacks by the coalition government on disabled people’.

Ms Peters, 43, said: “I’m currently in the backlog of ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) claims and I’m on my 43rd week of waiting to know what’s going on with my decision.

“It’s hanging over me like a black cloud.”

The sanctioning of disabled benefits claimants in the work-related activity group of ESA has soared recently.

“Around 64% of claimants with mental health problems have been sanctioned to date. Between 2012 and 2013 sanctions have rocketed by over 500%,” she said.

Addressing the assembly earlier in the day was Roger Hutt, a care worker and Unison representative in Doncaster, where he has been part of a lengthy strike.

Care UK cut the former NHS workers’ terms and conditions after securing the tender to the service, 90% of members voted for strike action.

“For me what that meant was my mortgage every month has gone,” said Mr Hutt.

“By the back end of next week it will be 81 days, which will be the longest dispute in social health history,” he said.

“It’s not just about us, it’s about the people we care for as well,” he said.

“We feel that if we all have to walk away because we can’t afford to stay, we have grave concerns for their wellbeing.

“We believe there will be incidents of neglect, malpractice and, God forbid, even deaths.”

Sarah Hatch, the secretary of the SLPA, underlined one of their main aims.

“We hope it will show people there are other activists out there doing these things,” said the 30-year-old.

“We’re trying to look into getting lots of housing activists together with the possibility of a demo in the first quarter of next year. We need to start building with all these campaigns.”

Picture courtesy of South London People’s Assembly, with thanks

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