Selasa, 29 Januari 2013

Tories force through Cornwall Poor Tax

From April this year, if you are poor and of working age in Cornwall, you will be forced to pay at least a quarter of your council tax bill for the first time. That is the decision made today by the full council.

This will impose a poor tax averaging about £265 a year on the 26,000 poorest families of working age. At a time when the Conservative group leader is busy campaigning for a council tax freeze without explaining what services will have to be cut, her attitude seems to be that the poorest should still have to face a massive tax hike.

Today's debate looked at two options. The Conservative proposal was to impose the poor tax. The amendment that I put forward on behalf of the Liberal Democrats looked to retain the current system and to pay for this by cutting the spending on consultants and agency staff.

Cornwall Council currently spends more than £1 million a month on consultants and agency staff. Some of this is absolutely essential - it is spending on social workers and call centre workers and the council could not function without them. But that total (according to the figures given to me by the council) is around £5 million out of the total of £13 million. So the council would still be able to save the money without threatening lifeline or essential services.

There was a lot of bluster from the Conservatives claiming that every penny that they spend on consultants and agency staff is essential. Yet just two years ago they were spending £4 million per year less and their leaders were claiming it could be cut back further still. If we could spend so much less then, why can't we do so now and protect the most vulnerable from this tax hike in the process.

I am clear that this decision today will force thousands of families into debt that they will not be able to cope with. There will be thousands more county court judgements and bailiff visits and many more families struck down with the stress and worry of it all. I'm glad that there will be a £1 million hardship fund and that we will be giving the Citizens Advice Bureaux extra money to help counsel people. But the hardship fund will disappear after a year and I fear that the CAB money is far too little for the extra work they will be faced with.

This was never an easy decision to take. But when the Leader of the Conservative group says that she "knows nothing about these people," I think it tells you far more about her and her party's attitude to the poor than anything else.

UPDATE - BBC and WMN coverage of the decision

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