On Monday 22 March sheltered housing residents from around the country, many elderly and disabled, stood opposite Parliament to shout “Save our wardens!”
They were protesting against the removal of residential wardens from sheltered housing schemes. Since the government removed the ring fence from the Supporting People budget, councils, mainly Tory and Lib Dem, have been raiding this pot to fund other services.
A motorcade of chauffeur-driven cars bearing dignitaries in wigs, with their families, left the Palace of Westminster. We hadn’t a clue who they were, but perhaps we were able to make an impression by waving our placards at them through the bullet-proof glass. This certainly wasn’t access to ministers.
We stood there with Brian Haw, he of the nine-year-long Iraq protest. We were photographed by the local press and the Times, who might cover the issue depending on whether it is a quiet news day.
Then the less able pensioners climbed into their hired minibus, while the rest of us set off on foot. We headed to 30 Millbank to deliver a letter to Tory Party HQ. The campaign is asking the main party leaders to say where they stand on the issue. We called at Lib Dem HQ and, finally, 10 Downing Street, to deliver a letter to the PM. We didn’t see a single politician all day.
In the past year we have organised several protests, largely paid for by residents themselves. Many of the wardens losing their jobs and sometimes homes through these cuts are members of the GMB and Unison, but, apart from some local government branches, the unions have given little help. A ragtag army of bloody-minded residents, Christian lawyer Yvonne Hossacks, and the odd left-wing well-wisher has fought a rearguard action.
Under SOCPA, our small protest on Whitehall was, strictly speaking, illegal, but we held it anyway. That evening I watched the Channel 4 Dispatches programme “Politicians for hire”, exposing politicians, prominent among them Blairites Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon, selling themselves to lobby on behalf of business. The contrast with this and how I had spent my day was stark.
Where cuts are concerned, but there is no organised — or bribed — interest lobbying for its victims, government doesn't want to know. (Even when there are votes in it — around half a million people live in sheltered housing.)
We will join the Defend Public Services march in London on 10 April. Perhaps we will finally get noticed!