Monday, 25 February 2013

Exposing the lie of Labour's Council Tax 'freeze'

Labour-run Lambeth Council has made much of freezing council tax “for everyone” since 2008.   This despite the fact that it has simultaneously been slashing public services, hitting the poor and most vulnerable hardest. The authority claims that the freeze is all about helping such people and was a relentless theme in the recent Brixton Hill by-election. The Labour candidate’s mantra was “I’ll always put people first…by voting to FREEZE council tax for the next TWO years.”

BUT Lambeth Council’s refusal to cover a 12 per cent funding shortfall in the new arrangements for paying council tax benefit – despite its discretion to do so (and 25 per cent of other council’s making up the difference) – exposes the lie. The cut in central government funding has been long flagged and the council effectively made its decision not to protect those it claims to at Cabinet on July 9 last year.

As the council helpfully explains on its website “the council is not currently minded to provide top-up funding from its own resources.” Is this the kind of help Cllr. Ed Davie – chair of the health and adult social care scrutiny committee - had in mind when he tried to justify a second-round of taxpayer-funded “don’t blame the council” political advertising in a recent article in The Guardian?

To be clear: Labour councillors are freezing Council Tax for themselves while effectively hiking it for the poor and most vulnerable. Putting people first? Are you having a laugh?

It is plain that the council thinks there are better ways of spending its money than protecting those most in need. Like heating the Town Hall to over 27ºC for instance.

It has in fact received a 'bung' from central government to freeze council tax - a freeze grant of £2.46 million. This is almost exactly the amount which Lambeth need to cover the council tax benefit/ allowance shortfall. The money however, has not been used to protect the vulnerable, despite Labour's insistence that this is why it was freezing council tax.  

The Resolution Foundation in its report “No Clear Benefit” sets out the nationwide impact of the cut for Council Tax benefit funding. Some 3.2 million working households will be affected, with pensioners the only group exempted. The numbers are horrific: some will see an increase in what they pay of 336 per cent; in monetary terms the funding cut will see some pay up to £600 more a year in Council Tax.  The worst hit? Nationwide, according to Resolution, it is that now all too familiar acronym of BME (black minority ethnic).

Approximately 1 in 3 households in this deprived borough are in receipt of the current benefit, according to Lambeth Council. And the council’s own impact assessment makes clear that worst hit by the way it is introducing the cut will be women and ethnic minorities.

If there was one council that really did need to protect its residents from the cut to Council Tax Benefit, it was Lambeth. Instead, the council will meet on Wednesday to outline a programme of cuts which will make those seen so far, look tame.

Ted Knight, a former Labour leader of Lambeth Council in the 1980s has implored current Labour councils to form a coalition of resistance against the cuts. To do otherwise he says is “absolutely indefensible”. To say the current Labour leadership of Lambeth Council is thumbing its nose at the likes of Knight would be an understatement. This Labour council is complicit in these brutal, ideological cuts.

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