Anthony Counihan and Isabel Counihan-Sanchez moved with their five children from Kilburn to Ireland in 2007, to look after Anthony’s dad who was sick. They signed away a council tenancy without the council advising them they could sublet for a year. In Ireland, Anthony couldn’t find work and Anthony’s Dad died. The family moved back to Brent in 2008 and the Council eventually found them private housing in Kilburn with an extortionate rent. Anthony, a bus driver based in Cricklewood, inherited near-worthless land in Ireland from his dad and declared it to various agencies, resulting in complete cuts to their benefits over a period of 18 months, far exceeding the paltry £18 per week income the land brought in. The Council landed them with a Housing Benefit overpayment bill of £46,000!
Unable to afford the rent on Anthony’s £400 a week wage, evicted from their flat – Brent council found them temporary housing in Ealing; despite all the children attending school in Brent, despite Isabel’s mum being seriously ill with cancer in Kilburn and despite the fact the Council knew they couldn’t afford this flat either! They were threatened with eviction mid-August, which was only just overturned by the Courts. The Council have ruled that the family had made themselves intentionally homeless and are waiting on the outcome of the family’s housing benefit tribunal before undertaking their duty to house them, despite months of growing protests in the community.
Supporters of the family have described the actions of Brent Labour council as social cleansing, with Glenda Jackson MP’s outrageous response being for them to “go to Wales”!
The Socialist Party and Brent TUSC are supporting the Counihan campaign, alongside the Revolutionary Communist Group and other Marxist/activist groups, calling on Brent Council to immediately house the family and their 5 children in Kilburn, and to write off all debts they owe to the Council. However, this is just one example of working class people being on the receiving end of the austerity agenda. The family and campaign supporters instinctively see this as part of the wider austerity agenda by the main parties, and are keen to point out that Brent Labour Party are hypocritically backing the campaign to stop Central Middlesex Hospital’s A&E department closure, yet are happy to carry out cuts of £41.7 million elsewhere!
On Wednesday 29th August, the Counihan Campaign lobbied a local public meeting held in Kingsgate Community Centre on the regeneration of Kilburn High Road, with speakers Glenda Jackson MP and Muhammed Butt, leader of the Brent Labour-led Council. Both Butt and Jackson had previously refused to meet with the family or take phone calls, so collectively we agreed that we had no choice but to confront them in the public meeting and get them to commit to help re-house the family.
During the meeting, supposedly open to all members of the public, Glenda Jackson MP completely ignored the many hands raised by Counihan supporters, instead choosing people who were clearly either Labour Party supporters or known allies. Even when we did finally get to speak, we were told that what we were raising “wasn’t about the regeneration of Kilburn High Road”! The priorities of the Labour council were made clear: they had set aside money to fund local businesses and superficial vanity projects, but not to house the homeless residents of Kilburn. Glenda Jackson showed her callous and uncaring attitude, saying that the family were subject to means-tested housing benefit, and since they had “capital assets” in Ireland, were not entitled to any benefit. As this was the law, she said, she was unable to do anything, and she also refused to table an Early Day Motion on the issue. Whilst it is true that the Con-Dem government imposed these cuts in Brent and across the country, this is no excuse for councils to simply wring their hands and carry them out.
Contrast this to the heroic role of Liverpool Council in the 1980’s, led by Militant (forerunners of the Socialist Party and then the Marxist wing of the Labour Party) who put the needs of the working class people of Liverpool before any bureaucratic red tape and unjust laws, and even their own wellbeing. They set a deficit budget based on the funds required to enact the programme they were elected on. By mobilising the working class and Trade Union movement in Liverpool under the banner “Better to break the law than to break the poor”, the Council fought a campaign and initially were victorious, with the Tory government conceding an extra £60 million in funding. However, the following year Neil Kinnock and the right-wing Labour Leadership sided with the Tories and Murdoch press by attacking the Councillors, eventually leading to the sacking of the councillors and the expulsion of Militant members from Labour. The end result of Kinnock’s witch-hunt is now realised in today’s Labour Party, an anti-working class party that supports the same policies of cuts and privatisation as the Tories and Lib Dems. It does not offer any alternative to the logic of free-market capitalism.
Brent TUSC believe that working people shouldn’t pay for the crisis caused by the banks and big business. We campaign on the basis of opposing all cuts and seek to link up all local grass-roots issues for a unified anti-cuts movement with political representation. As socialists we raise the idea of public ownership and democratic economic planning as the way to create jobs and decent housing for all, rather than the mass unemployment and homelessness caused by blind-alley capitalism.
The Counihan campaign is out every Saturday down Kilburn High Road between 3pm and 5pm outside WH Smiths, and this Saturday 1st September are starting on the Peel Precinct, Kilburn NW6 5RY from 3pm.
Sign the online petition at http://www.petitiononline.co.uk/petition/house-the-counihan-sanchez-family-in-brent/4660