I’ve written here time and again that I think that the Labour Party is still the only show in town. Getting a Labour government elected nationally and Labour councils elected locally is still the lesser of all the evils on offer. I don’t expect much from them to be honest, but in the absence of an alternative I’m not sure what else lefties can do or hope for.
Here in Birmingham however we are seeing the limitations of that strategy. The new Labour council has introduced some positive measures like the Living Wage for council employees, which must be welcomed, but on other issues things are a lot less positive.
A couple of months I wrote a short piece on the proposals around council tax benefit cuts that local authorities are expected to implement. In Birmingham Labour appears committed to introducing the changes (which could cost some of the city’s most vulnerable residents several hundred pounds a year. A great example demonstrating the savagery of the sadistic shites running the country right now, I’m sure you’ll agree) but with the added bonus of a ‘consultation’ on how exactly it is to be done.
An exercise of limited utility if the main decision, to make the savings come what may, has already been made.
Now of course many in the Labour Party will argue (and probably quite honestly think) they have no choice but to do so. A perfectly reasonable assessment considering the current political climate, and one that fits in with the train of Labour thought since time immemorial.
But the wrong one, in my view. A letter has appeared on the excellent Birmingham Against The Cuts website that has posed some of the issues in stark terms, and I’ve pasted it below:
Re Consultation On Replacement of Council Tax Benefit
I am responding to your letter dated 8 September 2012 concerning Council Tax Benefit. I write as a person with a disability and I am surely far from being the only one who is very worried by proposals to scrap Council Tax Benefit and replace it with a system (to be named Council Tax Support) which clearly aims to force some of the most vulnerable people in this city to pay an extra £10.9 million from the meagre benefits they try to survive on.
Council leader Albert Bore recently said central government was responsible for this change (i.e. a cut central government funding for local authorities). This may be true up to a point. However, in its panicky obsession with reducing the nation’s debt this government protects the very bankers whose greed is largely responsible for the financial mess we are in and then, with breath-taking hypocrisy, calmly expects the poorest and most vulnerable people in society to foot the bill.
The 8 September letter, which makes no mention of what will become of the current “A” to “H” council tax banding system, claims BCC will protect pensioners, claimants or their partner in receipt of war disablement and war widows/widowers pension, claimants with children under 6 in their household and claimants, or their partners or children who have “certain disabilities”. I’m sorry but this is a frankly cynical attempt to be claiming to protect all of the most vulnerable people in the city and is surely rendered somewhat hollow when you admit in your four point plan that only people with “certain disabilities” will be protected.
So which disabilities will be ignored and what of the many unemployed people in this city (where joblessness is already above the national average and rising) who are already on or close to the breadline? Your letter admits people in these categories will be expected to fork out money they can ill afford. Despite your department’s attempts to phrase the 8 September letter in sympathetic wording, your proposals amount to divide and rule of the worst sort and it has to be said that that is utterly shameful. It also means that, whatever Councillor Bore may say, the proposed actions of this council mean it is going along with central government policy.
There must be tens of thousands in this city who do not have extra money to pay to clear up a financial mess which was not of their making. I am just one of many.
Your proposals are not acceptable and, if you really claim to protect the most vulnerable people in town, I appeal to you to throw these plans out, protect all vulnerable people and tell this government you will not do its dirty work.
I don’t know who G Smith is but he has hit the nail on the head in the last paragraph. I appreciate that the Labour council is operating under very difficult constraints but this is attack on the most vulnerable must be challenged and not just grudgingly accepted. We saw during the Olympics how unpopular the government’s cuts in support for the disabled are. They are unnecessary and immoral. There is no justification whatsoever for taking money off people who have the least in the name of austerity. It is a political choice.
Labour councils up and down the country are in this position. Maybe it’s time they joined hands and said a big fat no to this and told the Tories to piss off. We saw during the anti-Poll Tax campaign that radical action and defiance can have an effect.
I’m well aware that most Labour councillors in the city aren’t radical socialists but surely there must be a reason why they are in the party and there must be a line in the sand they draw, somewhere, beyond which they will not go. And if an issue like this isn’t crossing that line, I’m struggling to see what is.