The Government claims it has no money. It has decided to abolish Council Tax Benefit. From 2013 local councils will take over responsibility with 10% less funding.
Barnet Trade Union Council and the Barnet Alliance For Public Services regard this as yet another attack on the poorest of the poor.
There is plenty of money. The richest 1000 people in the UK are worth £414,000,000,000 [£414 billion] between them – and rising. Every day they collectively wake up £50 million richer! [- and that's not counting the cash they've got in the bank].
Day and night city speculators are electronically shifting £4,000,000,000,000 [£4 trillion] between them. Every week their friends in government pay them an extra £1 billion of our money in interest repayments.
Meanwhile 'localisation' of 'crisis loans' means that families facing emergencies from floods, fires, domestic violence or other disasters now get 300% less. Their community care grants are also being 'localised' out.
At present, 5.8 million households get £4.8 billion in council tax benefit. This is being cut by £480,000
By this sadistic gesture, the government stands to save under £ half a million: a tiny statistic at the top but a matter of life and death for a poor household. Here is a typical report:
Holding up her shoes with numerous holes in them, one woman at the Nottingham council tax benefit consultation started crying: "I can barely afford to eat or to feed my son. I can't afford to put money in the electricity meter and these are my only pair of shoes; what else do you want from me?"
Everyone who gets council tax or similar benefits gets a statement: “this is how much the law says you need to live on". So what do they expect the poor to do? Drop down dead? Those who are suffering the worst are already subsidising the tax authorities. They are saving them £1.7 billion! Fully 1/3rd of those entitled to the benefit do not claim it – and these people are mostly from among the very old and the very poor
The government says that councils may devise their own schemes so long as pensioners' benefits remain unchanged and protection is given to “the vulnerable”. The cuts are aimed primarily at the low paid and unemployed of working age. But within these constraints it is for each council to devise its own rules on just how to divide up the cuts: a bureaucratic rat-maze which sets council against council, those in work against those without, better paid against low paid, young against old.
Since the new reduced funding is not 'ring-fenced' and can be used as a council sees fit, councils will each have a material interest in attracting the better off and shunting the poor and the elderly off - to another borough – or to another planet. Better not start off in Barnet, the infamous council with the extraterrestrial leader who has already uttered those timeless words: "Barnet is not a place for people on benefits".
However the government does make it clear that councils have no absolute obligation to discriminate in this way against people of working age. They can chose, as the Scottish Parliament did, to make the 10% savings elsewhere. If they do not take the Scottish path, the burden on people of working age will be more than 10% of course – the more old there are around, the heavier the burden on those of working age. Overall the cuts will come to around 19%, but in areas with above average old people it has been estimated that the cuts to those of working age could be 33%. And as council tax rises as it inevitably will, so will the cuts. Because these cuts are worked out on a percentage basis, those local authorities with most claimants will suffer the worst cuts. In the City of London it has been estimated that the cut for working-age claimants will average about £5 a week: in Harringey £38!
Barnet has started consulting on its version. They have decided to take the cruellest, meanest path. In their original on-line statement they had suggested:
Councils must design the scheme so that it helps people move into work or if already working increase their income from working.
Does “helping people into work” mean they would train and employ teams care workers, park keepers and environmentalists, create a new direct labour force to give work to builders and homes to the thousands who have none of their own? “Increase income from working” - does this mean they would ban forced unpaid labour? That they would set up teams to look into wages and conditions of local employees and make sure they were paid at least the London Living Wage? Would they encourage strong fighting unions?
They soon put a stop to any such fantasies. Their consultation questionnaire quietly drops their earlier undertaking. It is phrased in terms of making sure that people on benefit are even worse off than those on starvation wages. [But there is a text box, though, where you can make your own comments]. They have phrased their multiple choice questions to make sure you have no opportunity to opt to keep council tax benefits for all. But it must be emphasised: even under this savage and corrupt government, there is no statutory compulsion for a local authority to cut council tax benefits.
There must be something severely malfunctioning in a system that allows so much wealth and so much talent and industry to lie unused: where £trillions clog up the works and a quarter of young people are jobless, the old are losing their pensions, 7.4 million homes are classified as “unfit to live in”, 62,000 households “homeless” and hundreds are literally sleeping in the street.
The fact remains. As of now, the government is passing on more responsibilities to local authorities and cutting their funding. Our council is committed to ceasing to operate as a council. It is preparing to sell off our public services to a financial operator for private profit. With unintentional irony, the questionnaire asks us for our suggestions on where to make savings!
Here are just a few:
Cease to hand out contracts to involved in known frauds against councils [Wilmott Dixon, Kier group, Halliford Try, Connaught etc.]
Cut salaries of top council executives
Stop paying out for PFI scams
No more procurement to known profiteers: better scrutiny and control of costs imposed by contractors
More direct [not-for-profit] labour
Use the coming localisation/flexibility in business rates to raise more money from big multinationals and discourage e.g. huge supermarket chains from drowning local enterprise
Abandon the ONE BARNET programme
Julian Silverman on behalf of
Barnet Trade Union Council and the Barnet Alliance For Public Service
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