Monday 10 December 2012

Butt: The working poor, disabled and young families will be hit by 'Coalition Poll Tax' passed tonight

Brent Council tonight approved the Council Tax Support scheme that Council leader, Muhammed Butt, described as a Coalition Poll Tax that had been forced on the Council by the Government.

Butt, confessing that the scheme was the most unsettling thing that he'd had to do in his political life, said that the Council had been faced with 'equally nasty' choices over which vulnerable groups would be hit. The working poor, the disabled and families with young children would all suffer.  By definition, anyone entitled to Council Tax Support was vulnerable but 'some are more vulnerable than others.'  Pensioners and war pensioners had been protected and most now having to contribute would pay no more than £4.99 a week. He went on however to admit that was still  'a significant amount of money from people who, frankly, just don't have it.'

'Painful and difficult' changes had to be made with the better off claimants having to pay more and the amount of savings allowed reduced from £16,000 to £6,000.

Cllr Butt called for councillors to support the scheme that was 'as fair as it can be'.  Rounding on the Opposition benches  he declared, 'It is your government, your  Coalition, your actions that have brought this about, You are taking money from the strivers and strugglers, the vulnerable and the disabled and giving it to the rich. You should stand up and say sorry to the people of Brent.'

In the questions that followed Butt was asked why the scheme assumed a collection rate of 80% rather than 85%. He responded that  the Council had to make a realistic assumption when collecting tax from 24,000 people who had never paid it before. Lib Dem councillor Barry Cheese asked Butt to look again at the levy on young job seekers who were already under pressure with parents who themselves would be hard up. 

Lib Dem leader Paul Lorber asked why an £800,000 buffer had been set aside in a scheme of £5.1m and why reserves weren't used instead. A cushion of 20% was excessive. Butt responded that the buffer was normal prudential action. Lorber said that the reduction of savings allowance to £6,000 from £16,000 was too much and that this was often money put aside for a funeral.

Lorber went on to say that in the briefing that preceded the council meeting they had been told that they had to accept the scheme - there was no alternative.   He put forward amendments that would protect young job seekers for the first 12 months after their first claim, retain the £16,000 savings allowance and  reduce the minimum contribution to Council Tax from 20% to 15%.  Conservative leader Cllr Kansagra repeated his usual 'blame the Labour government' line and suggested that Labour was choosing to hit the poor rather than make the necessary cuts in services. Tory councillor HB Patel made a somewhat incoherent attack on the plans to increase council tax on empty properties and second homes - 'You are taking away money!'

Defending the proposed Council Tax Support scheme Cllr Powney said that the low level of council reserves had been criticised over many years and that the incoming administration had decided to bring them into line with auditors' recommendations. We had to recognise the difficulty in getting the 24,000 to pay up and that the monies available for the scheme would be eroded by inflation in subsequent years. He said that the £6,000 savings threshold had been chosen to be in line with the Coalition's proposals for Universal Benefit and that if he disagreed with it Lorber should the issue up with Sarah Teather and government ministers.

Labour voted down the Lib Dem amendments and the scheme was approved.

The Labour benches were unusually subdued, as were the Lib Dems, and it was clear that Cllr Butt was not the only one 'unsettled' by the measures that were being taken that will, in a few months times, lead to people's lives becoming even more difficult and some families having to choose between food, heating and paying their council tax.

What is even worse is that many of those that will be hit do not yet know what is coming...


Simon Hales said...

Hopefully, since this scheme is the new "Poll Tax" then it will be resisted in the same way as the original one.

What we need is a massive campaign of civil (and maybe not so civil) disobedience as we saw in the 1989 - 1991 actions against the evil Thatcher and her Poll Tax.

Anonymous said...

Butt always reminds me of 'The Nuhremberg Defence': "They made us do it."

Alan 'Raymondo' Wheatley