What have your successes been?
Jim Cranshaw: I think our success, which I wouldn’t ascribe just to us but to the movement in Oxfordshire, has been first of all mobilising a really large amount of people in a way that Oxfordshire just hasn’t seen for probably thirty years. There have been a lot of protests and occupations and people getting mobilised.
We suspect there will be a U-turn on the closure of 20 libraries in Oxfordshire, but we don’t know to what extent yet. The money for making that U-turn came from central government; they just happened to find it as Cameron was put under a lot of public pressure in the national newspapers. I think it’s instructive that you shouldn’t get tricked into just focusing on the council because it’s making the cuts, [you have to put pressure] on the people who have put the council in such a position that they have to make the cuts.
We also have I think been very good at using the media. We’ve tried to be very creative and open in the way that we organise so we try and get people to contribute in creative and interesting ways and I think that’s attracted the media with lots of stunts and direct actions and things like that. We’ve also been campaigning hard on the NHS, I don’t know if there is going to be any policy remission there but we’ve made our small contribution there.
Linda Burnip: I think one of the important things for me is that we are pan-impairment and judging from the groups involved that seems to be working really well. I think it’s really important that people with different impairments are not competing against each other like the charities do for resources and that we are all fighting together.
Jane Laporte: Our successes are that we’ve managed to keep going, we’ve all got quite a lot of other commitments. There are probably about twelve or fifteen kids between just a few of the members, so it’s actually quite difficult trying to plan things in school holidays or at weekends. We’ve had actions inside the housing office; one was trying to get a woman housed before the bailiffs were due to come round. We came inside with a banner and refused to leave until we got to speak to the person who could make the decision to get her housed. She got housed that day, even though we had been told categorically that wasn’t going to happen. Often what we do is accompany people to interviews and help them feel empowered to stick to their guns and say “I am not going to accept this as a decision and this is what I want”.
David Milner: In terms of successes, we managed to get someone’s adviser changed: this is a person who is at a private company that has a contract for running the Flexible New Deal and the company were very opposed to acceding to their wishes to change the adviser. But we managed to get two other people to support him in the interview. We’ve also organised a couple of protests against Atos Healthcare, a private company who do medical assessments for claimants on incapacity benefit.
Ellie Schling: Hackney Housing Group offer each other advice from our own experiences and go down to the housing office in small groups and stick up for each other which is really effective. Many members joined our group when they were homeless and now have permanent council housing. We have a lot of success, but the people who are housed do tend to be owed a statutory duty from the council. We’ve also got members who have been involved for a few years who don’t have children, who are still struggling in very bad quality housing.
Pragna Patel: Some of our most successful campaigns have led to changes in criminal justice law and practice in relation to women and experiences of domestic violence. So we’ve had changes and reforms in criminal law, family law and immigration law which is the hardest to achieve given the current climate in respect of immigration and asylum seekers. Under the New Labour government the whole social cohesion agenda started to unravel. This kind of Big Society, Localism agenda I think was begun by Blair, and this privatisation and the way in which power is being devolved to local organisations who already have a lot of power and who will protect their own privileged interests was begun under Labour. We experienced it first hand when our local authority tried to shut us down and one of our biggest successes recently was to try and survive given the really aggressive local cohesion and post-equality agenda that the New Labour government was implementing.