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Saturday, 25 August 2012

Poll Tax Mark 2 - Council Tax Benefit to be Cash Limited


 Can’t Pay Won’t Pay -  Council Tax Benefit We Must Oppose it Like the Poll Tax

I recently attended a seminar for the voluntary sector in Brighton concerning Council Tax Benefit. Instead of receiving CTB according to how much you receive or earn, and those on JSA/Income support receive 100%, Council’s will now receive only 90% of their previous allocation and are free to devise any criteria they choose.

Below is an article from ‘the angry claimant’ about how Tory (or is it Liberal-Democrat – no difference really) has decided to cash limit benefit to just £20, so if you rent in the highest band properties, you will have to pay over £40, which is 2/3 of your JSA entitlement.  Not only will it mean social cleansing but people will have to choose between heat, eating and paying the Council.
Do not despair.  People will not be able to pay.  This offers us a golden opportunity to campaign against these cuts just like 25 years ago we smashed the Poll Tax with a Can’t Pay Won’t Pay campaign.  This is the first opportunity for claimants and the poor to refuse to accept the cuts.  The richer you are in Tory/Lib Lewes the less of course you are affected.  
Painting the town red ... John Bartlett's History Painting (1993-4) sanitises the brutal reality of the poll tax riots. Photograph: John Bartlett
 It should be pointed out though that each Council is able to devise its own scheme.  In Brighton there will be a flat 10% cut for everyone, rather than a cash limit, and also a small discretionary fund.  Lewes has decided to ensure that the poorest pay the most.  

   

 Below is footage from the riots of 24 years ago.  That's the way we will have to go again!


Tony Greenstein

BENEFITS AND POVERTY IN LEWES AND BRIGHTON

“There’s nothing surer, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer”

DO YOU CLAIM COUNCIL TAX BENEFIT?

ONE IN FIVE LEWES HOUSEHOLDS DO.

ARE YOU UNDER PENSION AGE?

IF SO:

LEWES COUNCIL WANTS TO CUT YOUR BENEFIT!


From April Lewes District Council will set the rules for council tax benefit in the area instead of the government. Many low paid working people and those under pension age who cannot work rely on council tax benefit to pay their council tax.  Here is what the council (along with other councils in East Sussex) proposes to do:

NO MORE  THAN  £20 PER WEEK COUNCIL TAX BENEFIT- HOWEVER POOR YOU ARE

Even if you are destitute you will not get more than £20 per week benefit.  These figures show the current weekly rates of council tax for each band.

Band A ... £20.09 - £21.61          Band E ... £36.83 - £39.63
Band B ... £23.43 - £25.22          Band F ... £43.52 - £46.83
Band C ... £26.78 - £28.82          Band G ... £50.22 - £54.04
Band D ... £30.13 - £32.42          Band H ... £60.26 - £64.84
(figures vary according to the local parish rate)

So even people living in the most modest housing will lose out. Their benefit will not cover all of the council tax.  Things will be worse for families, who need larger housing which tends to be in higher bands. Almost everyone who is unable to work will have to meet some of the council tax out of their personal benefits.

Heaven knows how the council will manage to collect the amount of council tax not covered by benefit.  Mrs Thatcher lost her job largely because of rage about the community charge (poll tax) and the fact that councils could not collect the amounts of the charge not covered by benefit.  Now the coalition government has ensured that it is local council members who will the subject of this rage.

IF YOU ARE ENTITLED TO LESS THAN £5 YOU DON’T GET IT.

When they work out how much benefit you are entitled to, if it is less than £5 per week you don’t get it. This will mostly affect people who work for low wages.  £5 may not sound a lot, but if you are struggling on the minimum wage it could make working unviable.

EVEN LESS MONEY IF YOUR CHILDREN STILL LIVE AT HOME

If you have someone who is living with you who is not legally dependent on you your benefit is cut to cover the amount they are supposed to give you. (a non-dependent deduction)   This happens even if they do not pay any money.  This most commonly happens when working age children still live with their parents.  The councils want to double the amount that will be taken off benefit in this situation. This is likely to lead to increased homelessness amongst young people, with extra costs to the council.

NO BENEFIT IF YOU HAVE SAVED A BIT

If you have savings of more than £6,000 and you are under pension age you will not get any benefit at all.  Tough on those who make provision for a rainy day, but no problem for those who squander all their money.

WORSE TO COME FOR PEOPLE IN WORK?

If you are working and you earn more than you would get on benefits your council tax benefit is reduced.  At the moment, for every pound that you take home over benefit level you lose 20p of your benefit.  This is on top of the amount you will lose from tax, national insurance and universal credit (probably about 72p).

The council refuses to say whether it will change this.  It doesn’t suggest that it could reduce the amount and the whole tone of the proposal is that things will get worse rather than better. So the deduction will be at least 20p in the pound.  It could be as high as 25p in the pound, in which case why work? The council must come clean about what it proposes.

WHO IS TO BLAME FOR THIS?

A lot of the blame must go to the Coalition government.  They have cut the grants paid to council to pay council tax benefit with by 10% and said that councils cannot cut benefit to pensioners.  This means that councils must either savage benefit for working people or cut services or put the council tax up or all of these.

IS IT A DONE DEAL?

No. The council has just announced its proposals. It will finally decide in January. On the council’s web site there is a consultation that you can take part in- although they do not ask for your views about the rate of reduction for people in work.

WHAT CAN I DO?

By all means fill in the council’s consultation survey before the end of October, but also please let as many people as possible know what is happening.  Please also contact your Lewes District Council member to let them know that this proposal is not on.  No one likes putting up the council tax but this is the only alternative if we are all to take the strain rather than the most vulnerable in our community.

If you live in another area in East Sussex it is likely that your council are proposing the same system.  If you live elsewhere find out what your council is doing and publicise it.

THE CUTS WILL NOT APPLY TO PENSIONERS.

 HELP AND ADVICE

Regrettably the angry claimant doesn’t have the resources to give advice about individual cases.  But you can get advice here:

Lewes CitizensAdvice, 3 North Court, Lewes East SussexBN7 2AR   phone 01273 473082  

Newhaven Advice Hub, Summerhayes Centre, Newhaven, 01273 612360

East SussexDisability Association (ESDA) – advice for people with disabilities-  web   phone 01323 514500 
Age UK, benefits advice for older people, Lewes and Wealden 01273 476704 Ext 235
For a list of advice centres in Brighton see 

Always phone before visiting if you can to check opening hours and if they can help you.

Private solicitors may be able to offer advice under the legal advice scheme, but the government plans to close this.

If you have a disability or illness the organisation set up to cater for the condition may offer help with benefits.

There are a number of written guides to benefits.  The Disability Rights Handbook is good if you have a disability.  The Child Poverty Action Group sells a wide range of guides.

WHAT’S THIS ABOUT?

I’ve been involved in social security for over 40 years and I’ve been constantly amazed at how little people know about it.  We are nearly all claimants, contributing to the national insurance system and claiming child benefit, retirement pension and other benefits.  But most people understand very little about what they are paying for, how much they are paying, and what they are paying for.

This was brought home to me when I was engaging in debate with a an experienced Lewes district councillor, who didn’t appear to know that the council was about to be made completely responsible for devising a new system of council tax benefits, with 10% less money than the government currently spends on the benefit!

It seems to me that there is a real danger of the government getting away with its cuts in benefit because people do not understand what is going on and how it will affect our neck of the woods.  So I’ve started this newsletter.  It doesn’t aim to give benefits advice.  There are lots of sources of that. (See above).  It does try to explain what the system is and how the government’s changes will affect Lewes and Brighton.  Its aim is to improve knowledge, so you are welcome to forward it on to other people and to use the material in the newsletter, providing that you give me a credit and run any changes past me

 Chris Smith

2 comments:

Alan Murdie said...

When introduced in 1992 the council tax was promised as a system which would be simpler, fairer and more efficient that than the previous community charge or poll tax that preceded it.

The poll tax proved nothing less than disastrous between 1990-1993 and brought to an abrupt end the Premiership of Margaret Thatcher. As a consequence, the Conservative Government under John Major promised Parliament that the council tax would be a system which would provide up to 100% benefits for the unemployed and benefits and those on low incomes. Council tax was expected to protect the poorest in the community, particularly from enforcement action in the courts.


As part of the settlement in 1992-93, Parliament promised 100% benefits with council tax to protect those on low incomes and save them from enforcement action in the courts. This was by council tax benefit. CTB protection began to break down in 2000 and continues to collapse and in 2013 we will see it removed entirely and replaced with 326 varieties of fluctuating local discounts proposed under the current Local Government Finance Bill.

But more significant is the fact that over three million liability orders are now being sought annually by local authorities in England and Wales through the courts, following a 37% increase in applications between 2000 and 2007, before the economic depression actually started in 2008 (there are no equivalent statistics for Scotland).

So on one analysis a non-payment campaign is already underway, albeit one generated by the inefficiency of the computerised systems rather than any deliberate non-payment efforts. CTB is failing and the Government will kill it off entirely in the year ahead. The rise in liability orders applications has been accompanied in the last two years by the worst standards of administration and number of incidents of corruption in local authorities and outsourced companies in the field of local taxation since 1993. One sector which is getting rich are the bailiffs who have been enjoying record profits and bonuses, with Britain’s top bailiffs now earning more than Britain’s top judges.


Dramatic as pictures from the 31st March 1990 disorders may look, the actual collapse of the poll tax was as a result of non-payment, into which millions of people were conscripted by poverty. Around 10 million people did not pay poll tax between 1990-93 in England and Wales and at least 1 million failed to pay in Scotland between 1989-93. These figures coincided with the numbers of the UK population recorded as living in poverty

Resulting non-payment then had the effect of putting up the bills of the middle-class who did pay in the years 1991-93, enraging Conservative voters who believed that poll tax was about making them better off (in fact along with uniform business rate, it was brought for entirely different ideological reasons).

Unfortunately, those who forget the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat. Historically, local taxation in Britain seems to get reformed in a 20-25 year cycle - 1925, 1948,1967 and last in 1988. History seems to be repeating itself and the Government are gearing up for another predictable disaster….

(See Kipling’s verses “The Gods of the copybook headings” for a more poetic take on this process ).

Sue Blackwell said...

Nice video footage of the Poll Tax riots Tony. This time round, what can we set fire to in place of South Africa House?? ;-)