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Controversial benefits cuts approved by council

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: December 05, 2012

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CONTROVERSIAL benefit cuts have been approved by councillors as they battle to plug a predicted shortfall of up to £867,000.

The Conservative majority on East Staffordshire Borough Council voted in favour of the new local council tax support scheme.

Labour opposition members, however, described the new system as ‘mean-spirited, despicable and wicked’, and claimed it would hit the poorest people hardest.

Under changes due to come into effect next spring, responsibility for council tax benefits will be transferred from central government to local councils.

The amount of money available to give out in council tax subsidies will also be cut by a tenth, leaving the borough council with a shortfall of between £740,000 and £867,000 a year.

Bernard Peters, the Tory councillor with responsibility for benefit payments, said: “We are doing everything we can to protect the most vulnerable and we are being fair across the patch.”

To make up the predicted shortfall, the borough council’s Conservative chiefs asked members to vote in favour of a series of measures, including abolishing 100 per cent council tax subsidies, chopping up to £10 a week off each claimant’s entitlement for every working, nondependent cohabitant, and removing council tax benefit rebates for the second adult in each household.

Labour’s Dennis Fletcher said: “This is the result of one of the most mean-spirited, despicable and even wicked acts of this Government because it hits out at those least able to pay. This hits the working poor hardest, adding to the disincentives to work.”

He said the scheme was ‘shameful and obscene’.

Councillor Peters, however, said Councillor Fletcher’s claims were ‘complete drivel’ and said a public consultation process, which included a letter sent to every household in East Staffordshire, showed there was support for the measures being introduced.

At least 57 per cent of respondents backed all proposed changes to the council tax benefit system.

Labour, though, said the consultation process was flawed because only 1.57 per cent of people invited to respond actually responded, although Councillor Peters said independent experts had found it to be ‘statistically robust’.

The local council tax support scheme was approved by the Conservatives, with all the Labour councillors either voting against or abstaining.

The new scheme will now be up and running by April 2013, following the current system’s abolition on March 31.

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  • Burton Mail  |  December 05 2012, 9:20PM

    I hope they realise what they have done to some of the most vulnerable in our society. I hope they get their just rewards through the ballot box. Can`t you tell they belong to "the nasty party"

  • Burton Mail  |  December 05 2012, 4:00PM

    I attended the ESBC full council meeting on Monday because the decision was to be taken on the proposal to cut Council Tax Benefit. Previously I was invited to meet with the leader of the Conservative group, Councillor Richard Grosvenor, the Chief Executive, Mr Andy O’Brien, and officers Ms Sarah Richardson and Mr Sal Khan at the council offices in October. I was and am very grateful to them for their invitation so that they could explain the proposal to me and the candid discussion which followed. The proposal’s aim is to realize a 10% cut equaling £866,091.40. The proposal seeks to be a local scheme shaped by the constraints laid down by Tory led central government. My understanding of the situation is very much that the Council has been presented with a “hot potato” – to use Councillor Bernard Peters’ phrase from Monday night’s Council meeting. Or to use Councillor Grosvenor’s phrase in October: a not very nice sandwich and we all have to take a bite. It is to the credit of those involved in the creation of the proposal that those currently defined as vulnerable or pensioners are not affected. But inevitably it appears that some of the poorest, both in and out of work, and least able to pay, are having to take a bigger bite than most. Councillor Grosvenor went onto explain to me that no one becomes a councilor wanting to make these types of cuts to benefits. So I have respect for the attempts to formulate a workable proposal whilst the Council’s hands are tied by a Tory led Coalition Government which cares more about tax cuts for millionaires. Growing up in Burton and serving in the Army taught me that placing the burden on those least able to respond is not only likely to lead to failure but is often wrong. It goes without saying that under the last Labour Government even more could have been done to support those out of work and or on benefits back into jobs. And there will always be certain individuals who can be seen as undeserving of assistance. But to penalize an entire group in society because of the misfortune in which they find themselves is wrong. Attacking the working poor is pernicious and something I will always fight against. I believe that in an advanced democracy the better off have a civic and moral responsibility to those less advantaged. On Monday night I heard Councillors Denis Fletcher, Richard Grosvenor, Ian North, Ali Chaudhry, and others – councilors from both parties, speak with considerable insight. I could detect the echo of Mr Grosvenor’s earlier remarks that the proposal was one which most would prefer not to make. With the Chancellor’s economic strategy clearly failing and sustained growth remaining elusive the next few years appear uncertain at best and bleak for those least able. Labour councilors like Denis Fletcher, Ian North and Ali Chaudhry will always argue strongly and do all they can to fight for their constituents. And they will always receive my full support. And what concerns me is that the Council may be rewarded by its attempts to manage these Coalition’s cuts with only the prospect of the imposition of more cuts in the future. As I was told in October there are no guarantees that the Council will not again be forced to make further cuts. No guarantees that the definition of the “vulnerable” will stand and the most in need will avoid these cuts in the future. And no guarantee that this is not merely the thin end of the wedge. Mention was made on Monday night of the Poll Tax and whether this is a repeat. Councillor Peters acquitted himself admirably in his vociferous denial that these cuts are in any way similar to the imposition of the Poll Tax. But only time will tell whether this is yet again a cold-hearted Tory led Central Government hoodwinking its loyal followers whilst aiming its attack upon an ever widening strata from the working poor to middle-income fa...

  • Burton Mail  |  December 05 2012, 10:44AM

    yet again the public consultaion is accused of being flawed, how many times have we heard that in recent months , as i see it a public consultation is taken only to suit this shambloic councils will, and with the "wizard of finance " as certain councillors call him , namely Mr Hinds sitting there finding more and more ways to make money for this council(which is good for the town ) as long as yet again the most needy will suffer under these ideas ( well what do you expect from Captalist Tories.Point made !!!!

  • Burton Mail  |  December 05 2012, 8:57AM

    How much did it cost to send letters to all residents? How much did it cost to use consultants to determine the "robust" nature of the 1.57%? This is tpp quality lying! £2bn given away on useless green agenda while our people are screwed. VOTE UKIP it is the only solution that is not Common Purpose!