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The Untold Tragedy of the Bermondsey Bomb - Guest Post

This week's unexploded bomb was probably the scariest thing to have happened in Bermondsey since 1983. For lots of reasons.


Once the dust had settled over the safe detonation site by Wednesday night, with Simon Hughes still desperately seeking to gain much-needed political capital out of events, Southwark Council Assembly had moved on to debating welfare reform.

What could the UXB (UneXploded Bomb, my favourite new acronym and not to be confused with the computer cables you can never find when you want one) teach us about welfare reform?

Here's what: quite a lot.

In case you missed the details, here's the background. The WW2 bomb was found on Monday morning, two metres below the surface and weighing 250lb (not 1000lb as initially thought). The emergency services were called, knowing that a clang from a JCB had made it unstable. Emergency procedures were swiftly enacted and a safety cordon imposed. Twitter went crazy, traffic chaos ensued and many people were inconvenienced - but everyone knew it was better to be safe than sorry.

As darkness fell, the Army quite sensibly announced that moving the bomb would have to resume on Tuesday morning in full daylight. The safety cordon was reduced to allow as many people back home as possible.

For local residents, that's when the novelty value ran out. A radius of 100 metres from the bomb itself was to be evacuated overnight. That meant anyone who lived within 100 metres of the UXB would have to spend a night away from home.

Let's put this into context. Usain Bolt runs 100 metres in 9.58 seconds. The bomb itself was in the middle of a large construction site, so the first 50 metres was mostly rubble anyway. So it wasn't a very big area. In fact, it was a pretty tiny area.

Yet this is where we start to learn about welfare reform. That tiny area yielded spectacular results.

Despite having had the whole day to find alternative arrangements, by 11.30pm that night, the Refuge Centre set up by Southwark Council to accommodate evacuees was still packed with 35 families who had absolutely nowhere else to go. They had no friends or family able to put them up for the night. They had no money to jump on a train to stay with relatives. They simply couldn't afford the price of a hotel room, not even for one night in the most unusual of circumstances.

One single mum Diana, who I ended up driving to a B&B in Brockley, had a two-month old baby but no friends to rely on in her hour of need. Even the taxi firms wouldn't take her anywhere, because she didn't think to pack a child seat when she thought her home was about to blow up.

I researched hotels that evening and the Rest Up Hotel (a very respectable hostel used by foreign school exchange groups) less than half a mile away had 22 twin rooms available for £15 per person per night. Yet 35 families couldn't afford to put £15 on their credit card. If they even had one.

Luckily, Southwark Council worked into the night to find everyone a bed. Yet this put into sharp focus just how many people are living absolutely on the limit. If we take away the roof over their heads, they have nothing. The UXB showed why Britain needs a safety net. Not documentaries vilifying people on benefits or a Chancellor who wants to cut another £12 billion from the welfare budget (handy comparative: the entire annual spending on Jobseeker's Allowance is £4.7bn).

Meanwhile our local MP, Captain Mainwaring, pretends that everything is fine, votes with the government (including 8 times for the bedroom tax) and yells 'don't panic!'

We need a government that behaves like Southwark Council and protects the poorest and most vulnerable people in society. But if David Cameron, Simon Hughes and their cronies think that Labour's policies of scrapping the bedroom tax, freezing energy bills, reducing tuition fees and building 200,000 new council homes are the end, then they'd better think again.

This is not the end.

This is not the beginning of the end.

This is the end of the beginning.


This post was originally written for Councillor Lucas Green's blog and can be found here.

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