Occasionally, when I’m not ruminating and writing over trivial matters, I like to devote my attention to matters of local interest, i.e. my fair city of Birmingham. At the Mambo I’ve tried to discuss fairly frequently the issue of the cuts in council tax benefit that are about to hit some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
Now, the cut is being implemented by a Labour council, sadly, who it appears are unwilling to even countenance active resistance to this spiteful, cowardly policy that has come from the Tory government, who in a pretty crass but crudely logical move passed the responsibility for the cut, and the political shit storm that would follow, onto local authorities.
Labour have decided to make residents pay part of their council tax bills (creating the disgraceful situation that the most vulnerable in some areas won’t be affected but those in others will-ahh-the benefits of ‘localism’……..) as they say they have no choice financially:
The government offered us £2.1 million towards the cost, but only if we created a scheme that imposed an average 8.5% council tax payment (about £95 on 2012’s figures) across all groups apart from pensioners. To get to that level would take the government money AND £1.3 million from the council, which could only be found by making cuts somewhere else. Don’t forget that we’ve still got to make cuts of £110 million in 2013 – a figure that is likely to rise as the final settlement figures are still being developed. It looks like most councils are following this route, with only a third of councils so far deciding to run a scheme that takes advantage of the government money – all have to decide by the end of this month or will be stuck with funding the current scheme.
Some local councils have decided to continue with the current scheme, but they face much smaller shortfalls that they feel they can accommodate within their budgets this year. I would be very surprised if they maintain that position for the start of the 2014 budget year, especially with the additional cuts coming. Councils with smaller numbers of claimants may find it easier to absorb the relatively smaller costs, as might councils who have not suffered the same level of cuts – remember that Birmingham is hit by cuts at twice the national average.
So, while I don’t think that Labour should just be blithely be going along with the cuts opposed on them from the centre, it’s also clear that if the one accepts the budget settlement as it is they probably don’t have a whole lot of options. The central issue is that of the budget settlement and the choice that the Tory government have made to cut council tax benefit. They didn’t have to do it and passing the responsibility onto local councils is chillingly cynical.
Lest we forget, the Lib Dems are part of this government, so have to take responsibility for this policy and its consequences, whether they like it or not.
So what do we have here? Local Lib Dem MP, locally renowned ladies man,
shameless attention seeker and all-round Mambo favourite John Hemming is threatening to take the council to court over their decision to make people who were previously exempt pay.
So, just to reiterate: this policy is being de facto forced on the council by the very government that Hemming is a supporting MP of, and he is attacking the council for it. The opportunism is breathtaking. Why isn’t he opposing the original cuts in government support that have caused this problem in the first place? And would he be making this attack if the previous Lib Dem/Tory administration was in power and probably making exactly the same decision? Hmm.
In an act bordering on the satirical, Hemming has penned a House of Commons motion stating the following:
“The Labour administration appears intent on punishing the poor by charging 20 per cent council tax to people on Jobseeker’s Allowance.”
Again, no mention of the original cut by his government, oddly enough. It’s his government punishing the poor. Does he really think that it isn’t obvious what the real issue is here?
Hemming of course has plenty of previous when it comes to draping himself in the red flag and pretending he is a defender of the poor with hollow rhetoric. His actions would suggest otherwise.
The hypocrisy is nauseating. And doubly nauseating considering that he is happy to play cheap games over an issue of such significance for so many people at the bottom of the pile.
You should be ashamed of yourself Mr Hemming.
(And the Labour group should be ashamed of itself for doing so little to fight the cuts in the first place…….)