By Naomi O’Leary, AFP
LONDON–Balancing buggies with protest banners, a group of young London mothers is at the frontline of a struggle for homes in a city gripped by the problem of rising rents for lower-income households. The ��Focus E15 Mothers,�� all aged under 25, have waged a campaign of occupations and anti-eviction protests that has shaken up the debate as housing becomes a major issue ahead of Britain’s May 2015 general election. The group formed when they were given notice to leave the Focus E15 hostel for homeless people, close to the Olympic stadium in Newham, east London, one of London’s poorest boroughs which has been transformed by recent development. ��I was actually pregnant and my due date was a day before the eviction,�� said 21-year-old Sam Middleton. Living in the hostel since leaving a violent partner, she said she was offered alternative housing in other cities but nothing in London, where she grew up. ��They’re going to move poor people out into the slums. It’s social cleansing,�� Middleton told AFP at a protest demanding secure, affordable homes, which was dominated by mothers and toddlers. She and her one-year-old son were eventually moved into private rented accommodation that costs 249 pounds a week (US$393), paid by state welfare payments. But their contract ends in March, meaning they face an uncertain future. In September the group temporarily occupied empty flats in a council-owned housing estate, draping banners out the windows reading ��Social Housing Not Cleansing�� and ��These People Need Homes.�� Britain won the right to host the 2012 Olympics partly on a promise to re-develop swaths of east London. but campaigners and local residents say that is being done without taking into account the needs of the less well-off in the local community. Shortage of Social Housing
Newham Council says it is doing its best despite deep spending cuts imposed by Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-led government. ��We have to make difficult decisions. The Focus E15 Mothers are not the only families in the borough to face these issues,�� said Robin Wales, the mayor of Newham, from the main opposition Labour Party. The council said the government’s support for the ��Right to Buy�� policy that sells social housing to tenants at a discount has depleted stock, when 16,000 applications are on the waiting list for homes in the area. Between 35 and 45 percent of homes sold to tenants under Right to Buy are sold on to private landlords, who give short-term contracts and continually raise rents, it said.