In my speech at this year’s Council budget meeting I focused on the issue of fairness – or lack of it – in the Barnet Conservative budget.
In the run-up to the local elections last May, the Barnet Conservatives pledged to keep council tax low. They didn’t say exactly what they meant by this, but no resident would have imagined this would mean increasing it by the legal maximum for nearly everyone. Yet this is exactly what the Conservative councillors did this year.
This is the first example of unfairness in the Conservative budget – they made a key election pledge, and having won the election they have now broken that pledge in their very first budget since the election.
At the same time, they forced through an even more unfair council tax policy for the poorest residents in the Borough – those on the Council Tax Support Scheme.
Under this scheme and the general council tax proposals mentioned before, a family with an annual £9,840 household income will get a 231 per cent council tax increase in April (including GLA precept), while a family with an annual £100,000 household income will only have a 3.4 per cent council tax increase in April (including GLA precept).
For the family with an income of only £9,840 their annual council tax payment will be more than their monthly income.
For Band D council tax properties:
The working age family with monthly income between £880.01 – £1,100 will pay £684.911 more council tax annually than they do now.
While the working age family with ten times more income will pay £70.21 more council tax than they do now.
The low-income family earns ten times less but gets a ten times higher council tax increase.
Before the local election we warned that the Tories’ proposals on the council tax support scheme were punitive and unfair, but this is way, way worse than the increases we warned about back then.
The Council’s modelling report even admits that the chosen scheme “does not support families” and “does not support the most vulnerable households.”
It is disproportionately worse for families with children and worst of all for couples with children on Universal Credit.
The unfairness between these increases for the poor versus increases for the wealthy is completely indefensible.
It will drive 19,146 working age households deeper into poverty, including 9,400 families with children.
This Tory policy of massive tax increases on low income families means about 20,000 of the poorest children in Barnet will grow up poorer, hungrier and colder while the richest households in the borough have a council tax increase of £1.30 a week.
If ever there was a reason to oppose and vote against this rotten Tory council it has to be this.
That is why in this year’s Labour budget amendment we proposed reducing the impact of the council tax support scheme increases by 80 per cent.
The Barnet Conservatives have made poor local choices about the allocation of resources, but this is partly down to the last ten years of austerity forced on public services and local councils by their own Conservative Government.
The impact of austerity on fairness in this country is far reaching.
It now takes a teacher on average 160 years to earn the same as a Chief Exec on one of the top 100 quoted companies. Do you think this is fair?
The Trussell Trust, the biggest provider of food banks, has reported that food-bank use in areas where universal credit has been introduced was up by an average of 30%.
It is disgraceful that in a first world country like the UK, we need food banks at all to ensure that people have something to eat. And it’s the inequality that is so galling.
Adam Corlett, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation think tank said: “Low-income households have borne the brunt of a renewed living standards squeeze, driven by the freeze in the value of working-age benefits”.
The Resolution Foundation maintain that planned benefit cuts will result in child poverty rising to record levels by the end of this parliament.
And the ONS said in 2018 the average incomes for the poorest fifth of the population fell by 1.6%, after adjusting for inflation, but rose by 4.7% for the richest fifth. Is this fair?
It really is a case of a tale of two countries and a tale of two Barnets.
And it cuts across policy areas. Council tax in Barnet is just one example of unfairness.
And, if the Conservatives expect residents to pay more council tax then they need to provide at least a basic level of service to those residents. That would be approaching fair.
But in Barnet the Tories can’t even collect the bins or sweep the streets.
Some residents are still having to wait weeks for their bins to be collected – despite the Barnet Conservatives promising to keep weekly bin collections.
And across the Borough people are quite rightly complaining about litter and fly-tipping.
The Jewish Chronicle has named Barnet ‘London’s dirty borough’.
In their recent article one resident stated: ‘I’ve lived in Finchley for over 16 years and have witnessed the slow but unmistakable visual decline of its public realm.’
‘Now, bins often overflow with rubbish, roads, gullies, footpaths, parks and hedgerows are pockmarked with plastic bags, bottles, cans, fast food detritus, paper, cardboard — you name it.’
‘Sure, Finchley is still green — green with the weeds that sprout from paving stones, kerb stones, and traffic islands, an embryonic urban jungle that’s been abandoned since last summer.’
The Council have now moved to an entirely reactive street sweeping regime for most residential streets.
In other words – you won’t get your street swept at all unless you report a problem to the Council who will then inspect the road and decide if it needs sweeping. Then, and only then, are you likely to get your road swept.
The Barnet Conservatives are expecting some of the poorest residents in the borough to pay 231 per cent more council tax this year – but they won’t sweep their streets or collect their bins.
This is the Tories’ idea of fairness – pay more money, but get fewer, worse services.
The Labour budget amendment at least guaranteed that every residential street is deep cleaned four times a year.
And to help more of those on low incomes actually afford somewhere to live, we proposed reducing rents on over 1,000 new council homes from 65% of market rates to 50% of market rates.
65% of market rent is not an affordable rent to those in the social housing sector. A family would need take home pay of £2931 per month or £35,100 a year to be able to afford a Barnet Council social rent property when the average wage in Barnet is £19,300 a year. That’s not affordable for most, and it’s therefore not a fair social rent.
We’ve had a decade of austerity – this can no longer go on.
At some point – maybe when the millionaires in Totteridge and Garden Suburb have had enough of missed bin collections and un-swept streets – perhaps the Barnet Tories will wake up and say something about the swingeing cuts to local government.
Until then, the Labour budget amendment can’t undo the devastation caused by the unfairness of a decade of austerity, but it does go some way to mitigate the impact of one of this year’s most unfair budget changes for the poorest people in Barnet.
The Tory budget is an attack on the working-age poor, many in poorly paid or part-time jobs, and mainly in the poorer areas of the Borough.
Which leads to one simple question that I asked every councillor at the council budget meeting – to examine their consciences:
Is it fair that the residents in places like Burnt Oak and Colindale suffer a higher percentage increase in Council Tax than the residents of Totteridge and Garden Suburb. Do you really think that is fair?
Sadly the Barnet Tories voted to force through their massive council tax increases for the poor and we are already seeing the impact this is having on families across the Borough in our advice surgeries.