As Shadow Communities Secretary Hilary Benn called for an “urgent” investigation into the illegal and discriminatory rental policies of certain London letting agencies by writing to the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission yesterday, the residents of Brent took more immediate direct action against the racists in their community. They paraded their anger down Willesden High Road and picketed both of the local businesses exposed by the BBC’s “Inside Out” programme on Monday.
A local resident who saw the march commented: “This is amazing. It makes me feel so good to know people are still prepared to fight over these issues. I’ve lived just around the corner for twelve years and have never seen a protest march go down the High Road.”
After meeting outside National Estate Agents at 75 High Road – regrettably, but unsurprisingly closed for the day without any notification – and making their feeling heard loud enough to attract inquisitive business owners and pedestrians – the fifty or so protesters planted themselves in the road and, buoyed up by anti-racist chants and commentary, marched to A-Z (A-Z Property Services, 274 High Road the other agency exposed by the BBC). This parade was a classic example of how cynical people have become; it was so much more than just marching from A to Z and being ignored. Cars tooted their horns in support from both lanes, and called out for one of the informational leaflets. Buses slowed to allow the drivers and passengers to find out what was going on. Protesters were delayed at bus stops as residents clamoured to express their opinions; these were always positive, insightful and frequently referenced to the “Inside Out” bulletin. Shopkeepers came out to thank us for “bringing the community together” or to congratulate “the good work”. Older residents told of their disappointments that such behaviour still existed in Brent after the many years they, their neighbours and local activist groups had spent opposing racism in the borough. Younger locals were more forthright; a smartcar driven by a fashionable young Asian man caused a degree of confusion when it slowed down to deliver a torrent of abuse from the passenger window – until it was realised that it was directed at the Estate Agent, not the demonstrators. Passers-by happily engaged with the procession, joining it. The last of the 400-plus leaflets that had been printed for the demonstration went within a short while of reaching the second venue.
It goes without saying that the second of the racist lettings agencies was also closed for the day. No notice, just shutters down until they feel secure enough to continue “business as usual”.
If they have friends reading this – a big “if” now – they need to be told there is no business for racists or those who pander to racists here in Brent. The message from the community is clear: racism is not tolerated in Brent.
This demonstration was originally called by Brent Housing Action (BHA). It received prompt support from Housing4All (formerly the Brent Private Tenants’ Rights Group), Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group, Brent Renters Campaign, Unite Community, and Cllr Margaret McLennan, Brent’s current Housing lead. BHA also want to thank local residents, the Southwark tenant who travelled up to offer solidarity and express the opinion that this is far more widespread that the BBC revealed, Brent Fightback, the Counihan-Sanchez Family Housing Campaign, Brent Trades Council, local Labour Party, Green Party and SWP activists and anyone else who reads this and supports the idea that prejudice is just plain WRONG and supports the on-going campaign.
Brent Housing Action would also ask you to consider the following thought: how is it we believe everyone has the right to decent accommodation and the security of tenure that allows a place to be regarded as a home – yet letting agencies can still put cards in their windows saying “No DSS”?
Leaving aside the ignorance of such notes (the DWP replaced that government agency a decade or so ago) there is still prejudice in the Housing market. Prejudice against claimants, even those who are in part-time work, prejudice against large families from local Housing Associations, prejudice against the disabled and single parents who require a spare room for their carers or children to stay overnight – from the so-called “Bedroom Tax” – and prejudice against those who wish to live in the communities in which they settled or were born into due to the Benefits Cap.
We don’t claim to have all the answers – who could when Iain Duncan Smith and his mates make stuff up as they go along on a daily basis – but if you want to come along to our meetings and have a say we might find some of the answers sooner.
The demonstration attracted a high-level of media attention; the best commentary, pictures and interviews are listed below:
Also: http://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Executive-Summary.pdf (page 4 onwards – if you think the next four pages are bad, remember you’re reading a briefing note…)