Category Archives: gender

Why I am A Focus E15 Campaigner: celebrating International Women’s Day

Rebecca Morris from Focus E15 Campaign gives a personal reflection on International Women’s Day.

On March 8 Focus E15 Campaign will be marking International Women’s Day by joining the International Women’s Strike, and singing with Rebel Choir in Russell Square from 1pm. The Rebel Choir is an activist-community choir. Together we will be singing songs in solidarity with victims of abuse, UCU strikers, mothers in Colchester who are protesting at the introduction of Universal Credit, and with women and non-binary people the world over. Then at 5pm, we are going to make a din at the mayoral proceedings in Newham, in solidarity with a single mother of two who is about to be evicted by the council for refusing to be relocated to Birmingham:

I want to talk about why I think it is still important to participate in the Women’s Strike and why I am a Focus E15 campaigner.  I am not a Focus E15 Campaigner because I am a mother. I am not a Focus E15 Campaigner because I identify as a woman. I am part of Focus E15 Campaign because we campaign for a society where all, regardless of gender, background, race or familial attachments have an adequate home – a place to feel safe and comfortable. This is not the reality for many people. Every week on the Focus E15 stall horror stories are heard: evictions from rogue landlords, the awful, cramped conditions of temporary accommodation, where some families share just one room for lengthy periods of time, making it seem as if we really have gone back in time.

A hundred years ago, Sylvia Pankhurst’s campaigned for decent housing in the East End and her writings discuss the inadequacies of housing for the working class. The following outlines what she considered to be essential for every family home:

“A moment’s thought conjures up many requirements which should be considered essential to every home, but which in almost every working-class home are lacking. Each adult member is surely entitled to at least one room of his or her own (and whoever works or studies all day at home should have two rooms). There should be a place, to sit in, a place to meet friends in, a place to read and be quiet in, a place out of doors where the children can play in fine warm weather, and a place indoors for wet, cold weather, furnished with toys and childish things. These are essential, but the problem of cleaning and tidying must be taken into account, for the housewife must not be an overworked slave.”

It is depressing that nowadays this vision seems impossible for so many. Yet we must not give in for our struggle for decent secure homes for all.

Focus E15 campaign was started by 29 young mothers who were about to be evicted from their hostel by Newham council, they stood together and refused to leave their communities. Over 4 years on, Focus E15 continues the weekly street stall on the Stratford Broadway. It is a multi-gendered campaign that would not have been able to win countless victories without the support of so many from the community.

In Paul Watt’s recent article, Gendering the right to housing in the city: Homeless female lone parents in post-Olympics, austerity East London, he breaks down how Newham council and our neighbouring council of Waltham Forest used the greater powers councils received to allocate council houses after the 2011 Localism act. Waltham Forest slashed 11,925 applicants off its waiting list, the largest reduction in England, while Newham sliced 5000 off its list, the eighth largest reduction. They began prioritising applicants in paid employment and ex-members of the armed forces. As Watt argues, “this prioritisation has had considerable, albeit under-appreciated, gendered effects. Newham and Waltham Forests’ housing allocations’ policies effectively discriminate against women who have a small presence in the armed forces and are also less likely than men to be in paid employment, not least because of caring responsibilities.”

Watt uses personal case studies with single mothers to further outline the disadvantages women and children experience in temporary accommodation. These mothers have the right to be in safe public housing yet their “safety was jeopardised by their experiences of living in temporary accommodation where they had to share communal areas with strangers, including men who could be intimidating and even violent.” Moreover, Watt argues the huge disadvantages to mothers being re-housed out of borough, and the fact that particularly in the time of austerity they rely heavily on support and services of the city. The campaign believes it is vital that we support and give solidarity to the most vulnerable. If lone parents struggle to find a safe home for their children, then our society has failed.

Yet herein lies another issue that Focus E15 have had to contend with: the dichotomy of mothers and women who consider themselves activists being labelled as ‘victims’. It sometimes feels as if no matter how clued up and radical we are as campaigners, the mainstream media and those in power will only listen, or lend us a voice if we are presented as victims, or fragile women who only went the radical route when all other options failed. When the campaign started, the mothers did not give in, and who knows what might have happened to them if they had. They fought back and responded quickly. They did this simply by knocking on each other’s doors; by organising together with other political groups; keeping each other’s spirits up; supporting each other; going out onto the streets and talking to people and asking them to sign a petition.

I truly believe that Focus E15 Campaign is challenging traditional power structures through collective organising. Involved in the campaign are a fantastic and creative collective of people; pooling resources to create dynamic publicity stunts; generating memes; sourcing local news about the council; sharing inspiring quotes, videos and raising political awareness. There is so much power in this style of organising. We look out for each other. And we are not victims.

We want to inspire other people, women, mothers, children to start a campaign. You are never too young or too old – there is a diversity of ages represented in our campaign, and children have always played a huge part, always present at the weekly street stall in Stratford.

To conclude, I would like to recall a moment that stood out to me at an open meeting we recently had on children and homelessness. A member of Focus E15, the housing activist and single mother of three who has been re-located to Basildon, stood up, and brushing angry tears away from her eyes, told a silent room how as a result of her displacement she had suffered racism in her local area, as well as mental health issues, yet maintained that no matter how she is treated by the council and her neighbours, she will stay determined to fight until she sees victory, and that she has been able to do this with the support of Focus E15. This put me in mind of a quote by Sylvia Pankhurst, one that we have had stitched onto a banner by activist and artist, Andrew Cooper: “I am going to fight capitalism even if it kills me. It is wrong that people like you should be comfortable and well fed while all around you people are starving”.


Positive community housing meeting held in East London

Don’t make our babies homeless… Children in the housing crisis

People filled the hall in the Carpenters and Dockland Centre on the Carpenters Estate on Saturday 3 February at a public meeting, hosted by Focus E15 Campaign and with invited speakers from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, the Housing and Mental Health Network and Kate Belgrave, journalist and housing blogger. The meeting was held in the grounds of the Carpenters Estate, where over four hundred homes lie empty in a Labour-run borough which has a rising homeless population and many people sleeping out on the streets.

The meeting was proposed after hearing  issues affecting parents in housing need, who are being labelled intentionally homeless and then finding out that the council  no longer has a duty of care towards them, but has for their children  – meaning that social services may be called to intervene – a frightening prospect for any family in housing need.

This is well documented in the recent post that Kate Belgrave has on her site and was well illustrated by speakers at the meeting, which included a retired social worker who spoke of  her battles decades ago to challenge similar situations. Clearly our society is going backwards and we have to take a stand again and challenge  any human rights violations, including the right to family life and stand up for the rights of children. Read what Kate Belgrave has to say about this on her excellent blog:

The chair of the meeting set the scene well by describing the 100s of thousands of children in B&B and hostel accommodation in Britain, which is the six richest nation on the planet. Over two million people, including children are living in privately rented homes in England that are so squalid their health is affected and over half of all children in Britain’s poorest areas are now growing up in poverty.

While almost eight months on from the Grenfell Tower fire, in the richest borough in London, 100 households (including hundreds of children) of the 208 made homeless are still in emergency accommodation/hotel rooms.


The speakers from the Housing and Mental Health Network spoke very clearly about the link between housing instability and mental health problems and how people are being asked to parent in situations that are fundamentally not suitable. The end of short term rental tenancies are the biggest reason for people being evicted and forced into temporary accommodation.

From the floor, we heard from and about Newham residents fighting intentional homelessness and fighting to stay in the borough and Libby Liburd, actor and writer, spoke about her play Muvvahood and her next play about temporary accommodation… keep up with her work at

The speaker from Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! put the current housing situation in the context of austerity and the crisis of capitalism. While Britain wages war abroad, plunders and occupies and destroys, at home it uses racism and attacks on the working class to pursue its policies in the interest of a minority, enriching themselves from the exploitation of working class people. In the words of Sylvia Pankhurst, revolutionary, communist, anti-imperialist fighter in the East End in 1918: ‘One of the election cries of the Lloyd George Coalition was Housing Reform, but with what unsurmountable obstacles are those tinkering reformers faced who are unprepared to abolish the Capitalist system.’   

A Newham resident speaks out.

A brave woman spoke to the campaign at the end of the meeting, having been inspired to tell her story to help reach out to others and work collectively to raise the issues and find solutions and support. This illustrates everything and more that was raised in our meeting. She told us:

I am a single mother of three who was in private accommodation for seven years and was evicted when the landlord wanted to sell. The landlord became aggressive, and has currently kept the deposit and tried to sue me for contacting environmental health about the mould. My daughter was born extremely premature and has chronic lung disease. I can’t afford another place in the private sector and the landlord still has my deposit.

I suffer with Anxiety and OCD and both my children have medical problems.

My children are not currently staying with me and are staying with their father and grandparents.

I have chosen to do this because I don’t want them to be in the horrible temporary accommodation I have been given. I can’t cook adequately there.

I am staying at the property in the evening and leave early in the morning to get the children ready for school and to take them to school. I stay with the children until they go to bed and then I go back to the property. The house the children is in is overcrowded.

Newham Council is fully aware of my difficulties and have letters from my psychiatrist detailing how I am currently suffering a significant deterioration in my mental illness due to recent changes in my housing circumstances and made particularly difficult and unbearable due to my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Depressive illness. 

The housing officer said that Newham Council has carried out their duty by giving me a house and that no one can say how long the temporary accommodation will be for.

I am very ashamed of being in this situation and more so having to put my children through it.

We demand housing justice for Newham’s residents. 

Join us on our weekly street stalls, Saturdays 12-2pm on the Broadway in Stratford outside Wilko’s and come to the next campaign meeting, Saturday 3 March 2.30-4.30pm at Sylvia’s Corner, 97 Aldworth Road, E15 4DN. Robin Wales must go! The Carpenters must be saved! 

Don’t make our babies homeless!

Public meeting happening  on Saturday 3rd February

Carpenters and Docklands Centre, 98 Gibbins Rd, E15, Stratford, 2.30pm

The number of children living in temporary accommodation in Britain has been steadily increasing since 2011, from 80,000, to an estimated 128,000 by December 2017. In England alone, at the end of 2017, 85,000 children, of which about 26,000 were under-fives, were stuck in temporary accommodation. Tower Hamlets had the highest number of under-fives in temporary accommodation last year, followed by Newham. This instability is damaging our children’s physical and mental health.

Come to our public meeting to have your say, discuss and debate these issues, educate ourselves, agitate in our communities, schools, workplaces, and organise to hold our local councils to account. Homeless children? NO WAY!
Speakers: Focus E15 campaign, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, Kate Belgrave (journalist and blogger), The Magpie Project, the Housing and Mental Health Network.


 Sara and her children must stay in Newham!

No eviction on  Monday 11 December

Sara is the mother of two children, forced to move out of where she was living when her second child was born, due to overcrowding. She was given emergency accommodation by Newham Labour council, in Brimstone House in Stratford. That was six months ago.

In the last two weeks, Newham council offered Sara and her children a property to consider in Birmingham…. She was scared and she was brave …. all her family, support networks, and her oldest child’s education, is in Newham… so she said no. She explains to Focus E15 campaign that she is facing eviction from Brimstone House on Monday 11 December. Sara says that Newham council is:

 ‘asking me to leave the property because I rejected what they call a suitable offer and they are discharging their duty of care to me. I have lived in this borough for 12 years and all my local connections are in Newham as my family is the only support system I have.’

Followers of Focus E15 campaign will see an irony here…. Brimstone House is what was formerly Focus E15 hostel for young people and where the Mother and Baby Unit was based and it was the young single mothers living there in 2013 who stood together to say no to Newham council who told them to pack their bags and move to  Manchester, Hastings and yes… Birmingham. That is what launched the campaign against social cleansing and exposed Newham’s rotten record of sending people out of borough and out of London. 

Four years on, the council behaviour hasn’t changed and we will stand with Sara and her children to prevent their social cleansing, to prevent their eviction and to demand that they be housed in Newham, in accommodation suitable for them as a family.

20 years ago, in 1997, Labour Mayor Robin Wales made his priorities clear when he was leader of the council and said:

‘There are too many people, those currently living in Newham and those attracted from other London boroughs, who survive on low incomes or who present themselves as homeless. Whilst we will offer support and carry out our legislative duties, our aim will be to increase Newham’s property values, and raise the income profile of all our residents’.

Within Newham Labour Council, 46 councillors own or control almost 100 properties and one has 19 properties with combined estimated value of over £4.5m and collective monthly rent of over £20,000.  When the young mothers from Focus E15 hostel challenged Robin Wales in 2013, he had the arrogance to say: ‘If you can’t afford to live in Newham, you can’t afford to live in Newham’. How can such people represent our interests?

Recent vital research by Debt Resistance UK  has shown that Newham now has 12,000 homeless people, one in every 25 residents,  the highest number in England. Newham also has the highest number of residents in temporary accommodation in London, and is among the councils moving the highest number of people out-of-borough and indeed out of London altogether. 

Despite housing being a top priority for Newham residents, the council is spending significantly less money on housing than it is on debt repayments to banks for dodgy loans, known as Lender Option Borrower Option loans (LOBO). These are short-term, variable rate loans taken out by councils from the banks (when they should have secured safer fixed-rate 50-year loans from central government). Between 2001 and 2010, Newham took out £563m worth of loans from Barclays Bank and RBS. The teaser interest rates started low but continue to escalate and Newham is now paying  back 7.5% interest on these loans.  Interest repayments increased from £54m (2010) to £83m 2017. The upshot of this scandalous financial wrongdoing is that in 2015, Newham paid the equivalent of 70% of its council tax as debt servicing and in 2016/17, this has risen to 125% – the highest in England – meaning that more than all of what comes in as council tax payments, goes straight out to the banks. 

Whilst cutting services to residents and pleading ‘Tory austerity’, Newham Labour council has sat on an ever-growing pot of money: ‘usable reserves’ increased from £77m in 2010 to £434m currently, a staggering rise of 560%. 

If you sickened by any of this, come to our campaign stall and meeting on Saturday 9 December. Join us in our demand that Sara and her children must stay in Newham!

No more evictions! No social cleansing! 

The campaign stall runs from 12-2pm on the Broadway in Stratford, outside Wilkos.

The campaign meeting is at Sylvia’s Corner on Aldworth Road, Stratford, E15 4DN at 2.30pm