Thursday, 12 July 2012

LEADER'S REPORT TO COUNCIL - Speech by Cllr Clive Hart

Council officers and our Cabinet members are currently working extremely hard on minimizing the effects of the Government’s proposed welfare reforms on Thanet's poorest and most vulnerable residents. These reforms were the number one topic of discussion at last month’s Local Government Association Annual Conference which I attended along with the Chief Executive on behalf of council. Indeed, group leaders will shortly be given a joint briefing by the Chief Exec on a public consultation exercise to inform our own local council tax benefit arrangements.
The LGA has warned that the country’s poorest areas will bear the brunt of the Government’s £500 million cut to council tax benefit funding. Thanet is one of those areas. Since almost half of council tax benefit goes to the lowest-income fifth of households, it is unsurprising that the options the government is proposing will hit poor households the hardest.
New LGA analysis shows the cut – being introduced alongside the devolution of council tax benefit administration from Whitehall to local council’s – could see more than two million people, including the working poor and young unemployed, paying on average £247 more on council tax each year.
Sadly, Thanet and surrounding East Kent is an area with poor pay levels, so many of our own hard working and poorly paid residents, already struggling to make ends meet, could find themselves in even deeper trouble. Youth unemployment levels in Thanet are some of the most shocking in Kent and the South East, and consequently these Government enforced changes will have a devastating effect on many of our younger residents.
Councils will be allowed to recoup some of the 10 per cent cut by discontinuing discounts for second homes and empty properties. However, the Government has enshrined council tax benefit discounts for all pensioners and those living on their own, regardless of income.
Across the country, the money available from scrapping the discount for second homes and empty properties falls well short the £500 million cut that councils are required to implement and that is also the case here in Thanet.
The LGA Chairman Sir Merrick Cockell recently said “The £500 million cut is impossible to deliver without cutting services, increasing council tax for everyone or asking the working poor and young unemployed to pay an extra £247 a year. The treasury has made the cut and left councils to make the incredibly tough decisions and face the inevitable fallout".
Sir Merrick, a Conservative, also confirms “The poorest regions and the most vulnerable people will be hardest hit”.
At a Kent Forum meeting earlier this year, the KCC Leader Paul Carter raised concerns about the speed with which new computer systems would have to be found. I made it very clear indeed that my sympathies are with poor working families who are doing their hardest, in very difficult circumstances, only to be hit with larger bills through these proposals.
The fact is, cutting support for council tax and localising it are two distinct policy choices: either could have been done without the other. But no, this government, run by millionaires, has decided to do both things simultaneously and furthermore, start moves to implement their ‘Universal Credit’ scheme.
Universal Credit will replace a range of existing means-tested benefits and tax credits for people of working age. It will replace the Disability Living Allowance with a Personal Independence PaymentIt will restrict Housing Benefit entitlement and introduce a ‘bedroom tax’It will change the child maintenance schemeIt will limit payments of Contributory Employment and Support Allowance to a 12-month periodIt will cap the total amount of benefit that can be claimedLocal councils will be asked to reduce people’s Housing Benefit to make sure the total benefit income remains less than the ‘cap’ level set. It will replace Council Tax Benefit with a ‘localised’ Council Tax support scheme. The ‘granny tax’ will freeze the age related tax allowance. It will not be increased in line with inflation. Half a million pensioners will be affected.
At County Hall in Maidstone recently, at both an Ambition Board meeting and a Kent Forum, one West Kent District Council Leader expressed grave concerns about many of his poorer residents simply not being able to afford to rent homes in his area under the Government’s proposals. He was sure that many would simply have to move to East Kent just to survive. That concern is echoed over and over by London boroughs, and moves to the seaside and cheaper rents are reportedly already underway.

So far the government is not planning to set up a local office to help people deal with these enormous changes. There are no answers to the questions: “How and where will someone apply locally? What documents will they need and where will they take them locally? How does someone get face to face advice and help if they have a problem?

People will simply be expected to apply on-line or through a call centre.
Universal Credit will be paid monthly, in arrears, to one member of the household. If anything goes wrong with the claim, a whole family could be without any income for a whole month. TDC is currently working closely with KCC on projects to help ‘troubled families’ in Thanet. These Government changes will no doubt undo all that good work by tipping struggling families over the edge, creating many more ‘troubled families’.
Citizens Advice, The Children’s Society and Disability Rights UK warn us this week that tens of thousands of disabled adults and children will be much worse off as a result of welfare reform changes due to come into force next year.

The three charities are concerned that the scale of cuts in support for some groups of disabled people – including children – has not been properly understood because the changes have been viewed in isolation.

They refer to a report which looks at the impact on disabled people of the switch from the current complex array of means-tested benefits to a single Universal Credit payment, due to take place in October 2013. It shows that while some disabled people will gain from the changes, tens of thousands will get very much less help than they do now.

This week Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said "The Government argues that the reforms they propose are designed to improve the system in a way which protects the most vulnerable and redirects support to those who need it most. But under the new system, financial support for some groups of disabled people will be much lower than current support available for people in the same circumstances. Cuts - such as those to support for most disabled children, and disabled adults living alone - are going to make the future considerably bleaker for many of the most disadvantaged households in Britain.”

So there you have it. Many of the poorest and most vulnerable residents we represent here in Thanet are threatened by these rushed and poorly thought through Government proposals. As I wrote in my Leader’s Column in the Isle of Thanet Gazette last week. ‘There has probably never been a time when a compassionate and caring administration has been more desperately needed at TDC and we will certainly do everything in our power to protect local people here in Thanet from the very worst this government can throw at us’.

Published by Thanet Labour Group Press Office, 44 Northdown Road, Margate, Kent, CT9 2RW.


  1. So you attended an LGA meeting. What else has been done?

    Quoting national statistics is irrelevant to Thanet.

    What are the recommendations for Thanet?

  2. Hart will never answer the obvious question - why are cuts needed? Because Labour spent all the money - Liam Byrne said so, remember? Sold the gold and wasted billions - now we're paying the price and those who caused it now play the caring ones ignoring their role in the catastrophe they created. Their gall is staggering.

  3. The speech was delivered as above. I was hoping for something a little more Thanet-centric. For one, is TDC going to be entering the auction being held on 23rd July for 49-50 Hawley Square?

    What is the latest on discussions over Scrutiny Arrangements? The lack of scrutiny in major decisions was a running theme at Full Council last night. Its all well and good calling for special sessions of OSP on the Foreness mess but what's the impact on the agreed Work Programme?

    I know its been a quiet month Council meeting wise and announcements were being held back but I expected more than what we got.

  4. Anon 17:38 maybe so at a national level, but the Conservatives ran TDC (badly) for 8 years.

    We seem to be paying 60M a year to TDC for politicans and civil servants to tell us that there's no money and nothing can be done.

    58 councillors is too many. So is 750 cvil servants. 60M is too much. And a bottom 10% council unacceptable.

    1. 58 Councillors definitely is too many, which is why we have 56 Councillors instead. The other points you are making, Im not sure where that's coming from so you'll have to explain.


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