Another interesting post from Birmingham Against the Cuts. In the city this week one of the big stories has been the prospect of savage cuts in council tax benefit, money that right now the Labour council is discussing how to save. None of the solutions appear very good, and all will end up hurting those with the least the hardest, with possible £200 rises for people quite possibly simply unable to afford such an increase. No change there then from a government happy to introduce tax cuts for the rich but cut services for the most desperate to the bone.
It’s a worrying story, and it’s worthy of note examining the way that the local paper (which has a track record of being pretty right-wing) has spun it. Whilst the story details the actual facts of the situation, the headline and presentation is a little misleading: COUNCIL TAX BOMBSHELL FOR CITY POOR. Now at first glance at this would suggest that the council was of their own accord planning a huge council tax hike. That isn’t the case and I think it’s a poor way to present it, and I worry that the decision was a deliberate one.
The local Labour Party, that has introduced a few tentatively progressive policies like the Living Wage, is clearly in a bind. I’m guessing that they are deeply uncomfortable having to do this as they know the effect this policy will have. It’s a cynical, cowardly move by the government to pass responsibility for the implementation of this cruel, vindictive and unnecessary policy on to local authorities, and as luck would have it in Birmingham we have a newly elected Labour Council that will get the blame instead.
But Labour still plan to implement it one way or another and in the final analysis that is all that really matters. They will say they have no choice but I disagree. This must be opposed and my one criticism of the article I’m re-blogging is that a strategy isn’t laid out to try and stop this. Complaining loudly and waiting for an incoming Labour government to reverse this isn’t good enough (in the first instance there is no guarantee they would anyway…..)
It appears that councils up and down the country are all going to be in the same position. So the (Labour, but I suppose anyone else willing to join them…..) councils should stand together, organise a mass grassroots campaign against this and defy the government. Labour councillors have a democratic mandate and I’m sure none of them were voted in to introduce these types of policies. We have seen previously that the government does buckle under pressure. If the Labour councillors are good little boys and girls and dutifully rubberstamp this then one can guarantee that nothing will change. But if they take a stand, then who knows?
Now of course I’m not seriously expecting this to happen, but I simply don’t accept that the willingness of many Labour councils and councillors to implement the cuts and privatizations demanded of them by the centre is the way forward. It means changing generations of thinking and considering again the importance of bottom-up campaigning of extremely dubious legality. So be it.
Originally posted on Birmingham Against The Cuts:
This means that anyone who is unemployed or in low paid work will have to find £224 / year on an average property from April 2013. This will raise the £12m necessary to cover the shortfall. Unfortunately, the cuts are being implemented (and hidden) as part of a change to council tax benefit, localising the handling of payments. This new system will cost Birmingham City Council an additional £15m to administer, which wipes out any savings made from cutting the amount paid out.
Albert Bore (Labour Group leader), speaking to the Birmingham Mail, said the move to charging everyone council tax regardless of their ability to pay had “shades of the poll tax” about it, and blamed central government for the cuts.
The Government is making this cut through the back door by asking us to deliver it. They could have changed the system themselves but instead have left it up to councils. It is a pretty awful thing to do. They have passed the buck.
There will be a consultation about how the council saves this money, and we should look to see if there are other policy options – such as increasing council tax only at the top end – which could be considered to stop this government taking even more from low earners and benefit claimants.
The cut to council tax benefit will save £480m/year nationally – a drop in the water compared to the £25bn that is avoided in tax every year by rich individuals and large corporations finding and exploiting loopholes in the system. If this government wants to bring in more tax, it would be better to focus on the wealthiest people who can afford to pay it, rather than on the poorest.
This is only the latest attack on our welfare system which supports the unemployed, disabled and low paid as well as pensioners, carers and children. Cuts to housing benefit could see 11,500 families in Birmingham unable to afford their home, whilst reforms to disability benefits find ATOS assessing people as being fit for work, who die of their condition just weeks later. Workfare forces the unemployed to work for free and creates an unpaid pool of labour for companies to exploit, making it even more difficult for families who had been claiming tax credits whilst working 16 hours a week to get the extra 8 hours they now need to qualify.
The move with council tax is reminiscent of the Poll Tax, which said everyone should pay whether they can afford it or not. Campaigning on the street and civil disobedience defeated that measure, and we can defeat this coalition and end their destruction of our welfare system through the same means.
Our next meeting on Monday 10th September has Linda Burnip from Disabled People Against the Cuts talking about this government’s attack on disabled people. Join us for a discussion about this and continued work to protect claimants and low paid workers.
UPDATE: Consultation has now begun on these cuts – click here for details about how you can take part