08:00 Wednesday 05 December 2012

Controversial benefits cuts approved by council

Written byJOSHUA TAYLOR

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

Bernard Peters - ESBC councillor for Brizlincote
Councillor Bernard Peters

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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