Welfare cuts are at the centre of the coalition government’s agenda. Just a month after being elected the Chancellor George Osborne, in his Emergency Budget, announced £18 billion cuts to Britain’s welfare budget.
That has now expanded to over £30 billion, with the latest £10.5 billion yet to be specified.
The main themes will be familiar: workfare for the unemployed, work capability assessments for the disabled and cuts, caps and freezes to benefits and tax credits.
But many people are only just waking up to the next attack as the government announces a 10% cut to Council Tax Benefit, to be administered by local councils.
Currently every council in the country is consulting on who should continue to get council tax benefit – that is, exemption from council tax.
Pensioners are statutorily protected, but the disabled on employment and support allowance or disability living allowance, single parents with children under five, students and the unemployed could all now pay some council tax.
In my local area, Croydon Council proposes to protect the disabled and single parents, but those on Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) will be subject to an effective 5% weekly tax — paying £3.50 out of their £71 JSA. For the rising number of youth unemployed, this represents an even greater proportion of their allowance, which is just £56 per week. The same rate will apply to students, just as they are hit with the first year of £9,000 fees.
Unlike council tax this will not be a household tax on student or unemployed households, but a poll tax on individual students and unemployed people.
Consultations are happening in every council area, so your first step is to find out what your council is proposing. Then start organising locally against the proposals – building links between student unions, local disability groups, unemployed workers’ centres or Unite community branches, and other activist groups.
We have to make sure we are not divided — sacrificing the disabled to exempt students or the unemployed for single parents — and work together to lobby local councils and councillors.
We have until 1 April 2013 until this new locally set “Council Tax Support” replaces council tax benefit. I know of only one council that is currently proposing to use its reserves to maintain full exemptions — but even they admit that can only stave off the inevitable for a year or two.
Aside from the electoral implications, if councils raise council tax overall to compensate they will lose the grant they got from the government to freeze the tax. And the other alternative would be further cuts in local services. There really is little room to manoeuvre.
We need to work with councils and councillors to lobby government and force them to withdraw this new welfare attack.