Gagged on Welfare

There is no doubt that the bedroom tax is an especially brutal form of punishment, devised by the Con-Dems, and then implemented by Labour Councils country-wide. Fifty-two of the fifty-four Councillors in Leicester City Council — who are apparently members of a working-class party known as Labour — thus regularly shed tears of frustration in their Council meetings…Then, when our democratically elected representatives have recovered their composure, they cry out that there is nothing they can do to fight the ongoing desecration of the welfare state as they wield the bankers axe.

“Just wait until a Labour government is elected,” they say, “and then we will fight your corner (sometimes), although it has to be said, we actually agree that most of the cuts are necessary.”

Either way, estimates made earlier this year by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research suggest that approximately 4,300 households here in Leicester would be affected by the bedroom tax alone (although the Council has now put this figure at around 2,700). This crime of humanity inflicted upon some of our most vulnerable residents representing a £2.7 million annual reduction in welfare provision.

Yet this attack represents just the tip of the iceberg of the destructive reforms being waged upon the working class in Leicester. With the best estimates (based on the government’s own data) indicating that the full impact of the welfare “reforms” (as due to be completed by the 2014-15 financial year) will mean a further £123 million cut from our annual welfare budget. This is a staggering figure and demonstrates just how much we need a Council that is willing to build a mass public campaign to resist these cuts.

So what are these other cuts apart from the aforementioned bedroom tax? Well, the biggest one here in Leicester involves a reduction in Child Tax Credit and Working Families Tax Credit, which is to affect 36,400 households and will represent a local loss of benefit-related income amounting to a whopping £30 million a year. Moreover further organized looting of welfare provision to Leicester families involves the enforcement of a three-year freeze on Child Benefits which is set to affect 43,100 households (income lost by these families amounting to £14 million).

The second most significant cut in terms of monetary value involves the slashing of £28 million from the local welfare budget, which derives from the coercive replacement of Incapacity Benefit and related benefits by Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) — affecting 8,100 households. These vile attacks on our citizens are then compounded by a reduction in annual up-rating of the value of most working-age benefits (a disgusting 1 per cent up-rating instead of it being adjusted upwards according to the rate of inflation), which effectively means that the city will be losing £25 million a year from their welfare budget.

Other attacks (rather: “reforms”) include replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) by Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which punishes 2,900 households and will mean £9 million less will be spent each year to help the disabled. Then there will be changes to the rules governing assistance with the cost of housing for low-income households in the private rented sector, which involve a £8 million budget reduction which will affect 9,100 households.

On top of these assaults about 26,300 poor households are now being forced to pay 10 per cent of their Council Tax (which represents an income loss of £5 million each year); with other lesser known deductions from welfare provision including changes to non-dependant deductions (affecting 2,000 households: income lost £2 million), and new household benefit caps (affecting 420 households: income lost £2 million).

Such cumulative attacks on Leicester’s citizens must not be tolerated by our elected political representatives.

Labour Councillors must stand up for the people who elected them and begin the process of openly publicizing and condemning the murderous cuts being made to local welfare provision. This however is unlikely to happen any day soon, as so far no Labour Councillors in Leicester have felt able to take a public stand against their Council’s complicity in the Con-Dem’s demolition of the welfare state.

With all Jon Ashworth’s heroic posturing in the face of the Tories “gagging bill,” he unfortunately seems to have overlooked the fact that members of his own party here in Leicester have already been gagged on the issue of opposing the cuts. Not recognizing the applicability of his tough-talking statement about the Tories to his own party, Ashworth observed: “I think we all learned quite some time ago that David Cameron and his cronies cannot be relied upon to stand up for this country in the way it needs and deserves.”

As everyone knows, democracy cannot function without the existence of political parties which represent the political will of their constituents. So we are brought to the obvious conclusion that a new mass party of the working class must be constructed, and done so with some urgency. Thankfully, the germinal shell of such a new party already exists in the form of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). Thus the task that lies ahead for us is to put the flesh on the bones of this electoral group; a job which can only be done if concerned citizens throw their collective weight behind the only political alternative that offers us a much needed democratic and socialist future.

Further Reading

Christina Beatty and Steve Fothergill, Hitting the Poorest Places Hardest: The Local and Regional Impact of Welfare Reform, Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research, Sheffield Hallam University, April 2013.

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