Poor being hit hardest yet again

Open letter to Norman Baker MP

Lewes District Council, now run by the Tories, is consulting on proposals to reduce council tax benefit. From April 2013, LDC will set the rules for this benefit in our area instead of the government, which will be reducing the total amount of grant paid for the benefit by 10%.

Clearly this is yet another example of the government making sure that the least well off in society pay the price for the financial difficulties created by out-of-control banks and other wealthy supporters of the Tory Party.

After all, many low paid people rely on this benefit to pay their council tax. And it is worth noting that at exactly the same time as the government hammers the poorest yet again, it will be reducing the top rate of income tax for the wealthiest from 50% to 45%, effectively writing a cheque for £40,000 to those earning over £1 million.

LDC’s preferred option is to set a maximum £20 per week council tax benefit even though current weekly rates of council tax range from £20.09 - £21.61 in Band A to £60.26 - £64.84 in Band H.

So the benefit will not cover all of the council tax of people living in even the most modest housing and things will be worse for families, who need larger housing which tends to be in higher bands.

Even more shockingly, when LDC work out how much benefit you are entitled to, if it is less than £5 per week you don’t get it. £5 may not sound a lot, but for those struggling on the minimum wage it could make working unviable. It gets worse, though.

If you have someone living with you who is not legally dependent on you – most commonly when working age children live with their parents – your benefit is cut to cover the amount they are supposed to give you.

This is likely to lead to increased homelessness amongst young people, with extra costs to the council.

It is hardly surprising of course that a Tory-led council would come up with such a set of proposals guaranteed to leave the least well-off even worse off. However, Lewes Green Party wonders whether there is any effective opposition on LDC to this attack on the most vulnerable. Lewes is mostly represented by Liberal Democrats on the council.

Are they just going to hide behind their party’s coalition agreement with the Tories at national level and whinge that there is no alternative or are they going to work with local people and activists to find an equitable solution?

Equally we wonder if Norman Baker’s moral compass has gone missing now that he is a government minister? Or will he work to change this injustice, which ultimately flows fro his government’s policies on cutting benefits.

Lewes Green Party really wants to know what he and his fellow Lib Dem councillors are going to do to help people on benefits in Lewes and looks forward to seeing their responses in the columns of this paper. Perhaps they could even come along to the public meeting on 12th October at Westgate Chapel.

The Green Party believes that there is an alternative.

The council does not have to savage benefits or even cut services to pay to keep council benefits at their current level. The only really sensible option is to say No and ask the coalition government to think again, think about the poorest in society and not its rich friends for once. LDC could raid its reserves to fund this benefit, but that is hardly a viable long-term solution.

Rather LDC must put up council tax to cover the shortfall in the government’s grant. These are difficult times for everyone and no-one likes the thought of paying more council tax.

However, the Green Party believes that this is the only alternative if we are all to take the strain rather than the most vulnerable in our community. We all want to live in a fairer, more equal community where those that have give a little bit more to the benefit of all of us.

Local Lib Dems recently found something rather dodgy about Greens wanting to increase the town council’s element of the council tax to pay for improved services for all. Even so we hope that they will join us in supporting demands for LDC to increase its council tax in order to look after the most vulnerable in our community.

We should all be in it together and if we cannot support the least well off in our town then really there seems to be little point in us being elected to represent them at all.

Cllr Susan Murray,

Green Party, Castle Ward, Lewes