Friday, February 01, 2013

Revolt over benefit cuts taking off

If there was ever a government intent on getting blood out of a stone, then it is the ConDem coalition. Yet a revolt is growing over the plans to impose a “bedroom tax” and cuts to council tax benefits from April 1. Some are even suggesting it could be Cameron’s poll tax moment.

Even some Tory councils are disturbed at the implications of the so-called “welfare reforms” which are the exact opposite in their effect. Whereas “reform” means to improve things, these changes actually worsen the plight for hundreds of thousands of people.

In North Yorkshire, it’s dawned on eight Tory councils – including one that covers foreign secretary William Hague’s constituency of Richmond – that council tax benefits will hit the low-paid disproportionately hard. Pensioners are exempt so all the savings will have to come from other groups and these councils have a high proportion of older people.

Resistance is not universal by any means. Manchester, a Labour-controlled council, is working on plans to cut council tax benefit by 15%.

The present means-tested benefit provides assistance to nearly 6 million low income families in the UK, of whom 3.2 million are of working age. From April 1, a new benefits scheme administered by local councils is accompanied by a 10% cut in funding from central government. Councils have the option of absorbing this cut or passing it on. You’ve no doubt guessed which way most have gone.

A report from the Resolution Foundation says: “Almost three quarters of English local authorities, faced with these constraints, are set to respond to localisation by introducing less generous systems of support.” In other words, people who have never had to pay the tax before will find themselves hundreds of pounds worse off over a year.

Unemployed people who pay no council tax at present could find themselves having to find between £96 and £255 a year, presumably out of their pathetic dole money.

A typical single parent with children in childcare and working part-time on minimum wage will face increases in their annual council tax bill ranging from £96 (an increase of 55% on their current payment) to £577 (an increase of 333% on their current payment) depending on the severity of the local scheme introduced, says the Resolution Foundation report.

A typical couple with children where only one partner is in full-time work on the minimum wage will face increases in their annual council tax bill ranging from £96 (an increase of 12% on their current payment) to £304 (an increase of 37%on their current payment).

Then there is the “bedroom tax”, which is also due to start on April 1. Residents deemed receive housing benefit could find that significantly reduced if their social landlord deems that their accommodation is too large for their needs. They are being advised that they should move to a smaller home, take in a lodger or find a better-paid job! A family of seven in Hull could lose £80 a month under the proposals.

Resistance is building amongst tenants to the bedroom tax and other cuts. Tenants in Liverpool have organised a Defend Your Home Against the Bedroom Tax campaign while both Shelter Scotland and the STUC are backing a No Eviction for Bedroom Tax campaign organised by Govan Law Centre. 

In Liverpool, tenants are fighting back against Liverpool Mutual Homes (LMH) who manage 15,000 homes in the city. They have attacked chief executive Steve Coffey for proposing that tenants do odd jobs like litter picking on the association’s estates to help make up the shortfall. Tenants have called a “ruckus” outside LMH for February 7, declaring “We Can’t Pay and We Won’t Pay”.

Writer and artist Penny Anderson believes that the bedroom tax could become the poll tax around the Coalition’s neck. We’ll find out soon enough.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor

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