Catherine West: 'I want people to know that this is coming from the government, not from us'
Published: 31 August, 2012
by ANDREW JOHNSON
THOUSANDS of hard-up residents in Islington face losing another £200 a year because of government reforms to council tax benefit.
Islington’s Labour Town Hall leader Catherine West said the changes, which will come into effect next April, could hit 20,000 people, many of whom will already be paying more in rent because of housing benefit limits.
On Wednesday, Cllr West will join forces with the Tory chairman of the Local Government Association, Sir Merrick Cockell, to argue the case at a select committee of influential MPs. She will tell the Department for Work and Pensions inquiry into the new rules that the tax cuts to the rich – the top rate of tax for those earning more than £150,000 a year has been cut by 5p to 45p in the pound – will come in at the same time as the changes to council tax benefit.
The rule change means that local authorities will have 10 per cent less to spend a year on council tax benefit.
The benefit gives people help to pay their council tax, around £1,000 a year. It is automatically paid to all pensioners, while relief is paid on a sliding scale to the low paid. But the government’s changes will still leave pensioners exempt, meaning that the cut will have to be picked up by everybody else.
It is effectively around 18 per cent for each person – meaning families and individuals who don’t pay any council tax at the moment will have to pay £192 a year – £16 a month.
“That’s a lot of money for people who are just getting by, counting every penny,” she said.
Cllr West admitted that the Town Hall could choose to cut services even more to make up the 10 per cent cut, which is around £3million, but said the cuts of £100m over four years already imposed by the government left no room for manoeuvre.
“Letters will start to go out to people this week,” she added. “But I want people to know that this is coming from the government, not from us. It is not our idea. But the information goes out on our letterheaded paper, which makes it look like it is. Which is what the government wants.
“It is such a regressive move. Economic experts have said that the way to stimulate the economy is to put money in the pockets of those on low incomes – as they spend it in the local area. But this is taking even more money out of their pockets, and instead putting it into the pockets of the rich.”
She added that many Conservative-run councils are also against the changes and warned those who can’t pay up may find themselves prosecuted. “It is another cut to local government,” she said. “There’s a fear that collection rates will go down [currently 95 per cent of council tax is collected] because people can’t pay.”
“I still have a chance to change their minds at the select committee. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has been talking about a new wealth tax. You don’t need that. Just stop this policy.”
ISLINGTON has been chosen to be one of 16 boroughs that will pilot the government’s new workfare scheme – forcing young people aged between 18 and 24 who have spent less than six months in employment since leaving education to work for their jobseekers’ allowance.
The proposals, announced by Employment Minister Chris Grayling on Wednesday, will be rolled out first in London. Those affected will have to work in charities, care homes or in other community jobs for 30 hours a week, as well as spend at least 10 hours a week job hunting. The number of 16- to 18-year-old “Neets” – those not in employment or training – has risen from 181,000 to 191,000 in the first quarter of this year.