The Great Council Tax Benefits Cut Reversal!

Unlike other principled socialists, like for instance the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the leaders of Leicester’s Labour Council keep demonstrating that they are out-and-out hypocrites. This blatant hypocrisy explains why both the City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and his deputy, Rory Palmer, have been outspoken in the media over their preference for Corbyn to resign. A good example of such hypocrisy is provided by Sir Peter and Rory’s recent actions in relation to the collection of Council Tax. In contrast to the recent posturing of our local Labour leaders, in today’s Leicester Mercury, Rory explained fairly sensibly that:

“Council tax isn’t the solution [to Tory funding cuts for local services]. It won’t raise the money needed and it is a profoundly unfair suggestion with an in-built bias against poorer areas.” (December 14, Mercury)

But such an opposition to such an unfair tax regime was clearly not at the front of the minds of our Council leaders in August when they first proposed that should just increase the amount of Council Tax paid by residents who can least afford it. This openly discriminatory policy was set to affect 19,809 city households on very low incomes by making them collectively contribute another £1.4 million a year to our city’s finances.

The Leicester Mercury’s subsequent reporting on this issue however was somewhat confusing. For instance, in the wake of the release of the results of the Council’s public consultation on this issue, the paper surprised it readers by noting how 29% of the low income people who participated in the consultation and were already in receipt of Council Tax Benefit actually requested that they should be asked to pay more money (42 of 145 people).

Less surprisingly, especially given the biased way in which the proposals were framed by the Council, the Mercury pointed out that 180 of the 300 people who took part in the consultation and said they were not receiving the benefit “favoured the highest 30 per cent contribution” (November 13, Mercury).

Yet in the same report, the Mercury had observed that 530 residents of Leicester had completed the consultation survey (with an additional 40 who were non-city residents). But if you add the 300 aforementioned people who had not received the benefit to the 145 people who did receive it, the total of 445 is at odds with the number of Leicester residents (530) who completed the consultation.

No explanation for this dubious reporting was ever provided by the paper. However, in direct contradiction to their previous report, a few weeks later the Mercury stated that the Council had decided to do a U-turn on their proposed changes which had “proved unpopular with residents” (November 23, Mercury). Although no numbers were referred to, the Council’s web site pointed out “A greater percentage of respondents reacted positively” to the proposed option not to change the Council Tax benefit system. This is certainly good news, certainly as it seems to demonstrate that it doesn’t take much public opposition to get the Council to change their minds.

Nevertheless, despite this welcome U-turn on the part of the Council, and despite Rory Palmer’s pronouncements earlier today that he considers Council Tax to be a regressive form of taxation, Sir Peter said their proposal was only going to be shelved for a year. After this period Sir Peter promised to embark upon a fresh consultation on whether the Council should make an already regressive tax regime even more regressive by making the poorest pay more.

Strangely, Sir Peter said that making the city’s poorest residents pay an extra £2 a week towards their Council Tax would target “families which are struggling,” but in the same sentence he belittled their additional contribution by arguing that this extra burden was “minimal compared to the scale of the biggest cuts being imposed by the Government on people on benefits…” But surely a socialist Labour leader would use exactly such an argument to make the case for why they would never again consult on such a ridiculous proposal?

gavin george

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