Sunday, 26 December 2010

Do these charges protect the most vulnerable?

An excellent habitat for rats behind Neasden shops
Just before Christmas Brent Council announced increased charges for its services generally averaging around 10%.  However this average concealed some much sharper increases that raise doubts about whether Labour is keeping its promise to protect the most vulnerable in  the face of Coalition cuts in funding. The charges are operative from January 1st 2011, giving no time for those affected to organise opposition.

Charges for allotment rental are to rise by a massive 127% but in addition groups previously exempted from fees will now pay 50%. The concessionary rate for people in receipt of a state pension now only applies to those who get Pension Credit and that for the unemployed now applies only to those on Income Support or Jobseekers' Allowance.

As a long-time allotment holder, first in Bridge Road, Harlesden and now at Birch Grove, Kingsbury, I know how important having an allotment is to those groups. The elderly, those on benefit or disability allowance  not only keep fit through working the allotment and healthy through eating its produce, but become part of a supportive and sociable community of gardeners, enhancing their quality of life. It is shameful that the council is increasing charges for these groups who are already the hardest hit by the Conservative-led Coalition cuts.

It is even more perplexing that the Council is introducing for the first time a charge for the control of rats. This is now going to cost £95 for one course of treatment. Sharp-eyed Brent residents will be familiar with the dark green bait tunnels to be seen around many of our estates, school playground and shopping centres. The rat population of the borough is on the increase and already resistant to many of the usual treatments.

Again the increased charges will hit those least likely to be able to pay, particularly those who live in poorly maintained, multi-occupied, private rented accommodation. The problem is likely to be exacerbated by the introduction of fortnightly rubbish collections and the possibility of sacks of rubbish being left by over-flowing bins.  Rather cynically the Council predicts that demand for rat pest control will fall by 75% to 90% as a result of the introduction of charges - will we see an equivalent increase in the number of rats running around the borough and the consequent danger of disease?

The full list of increases can be found HERE

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