That’s what Shropshire Council is planning to do. Unable to balance its budget, and that is the fault of the government as well as this Conservative led council, it plans to tax some of the poorest people in our county. Yesterday, 14 December, the council voted in favour of making some of the poorest and most vulnerable in Shropshire pay 20% of their council tax bill. One member argued: “It is only fair that everyone shares the burden.” I disagreed saying: “It is not fair that the poor share the burden.”
Surely our job as a council is to protect vulnerable people, not tax them?
The other argument made by the Conservative group was that other county councils do this, so Shropshire should. I said that just because other councils do it, it doesn’t make it right.
This move takes £1.2million from the poorest to pay for council services. Council leaders argued that those struggling to pay their share of council tax could apply for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP). But DHP is notoriously had to obtain in Shropshire. So much so, the council has paid DHP funds back to central government in the past. It is also time limited and requires completion of a form around 30 pages long.
The Lib Dem group proposed an amendment calling on the council to save the smaller sum of £206,000 by making the minimum award of £1.50 a week. This was rejected with the larger Conservative group outvoting the opposition parties.
This is an edited version of what one correspondent told me:
“I have, since childhood, suffered with a severe mental health illness. I have been in the ESA Work Related Activity Group for years now. I am not in the Support Group who would be exempt from paying the proposed 20% minimum payment, so I would have to pay it.
My illness has been made so much worse by disability benefit cuts, threats of sanctions, cuts to housing benefit and a general freeze of all benefit since 2011. Having read the letter saying I may have to pay £200 plus, extra per year I am in despair. I can only just afford to live as it is. This extra money and the threat of a looming rent rise would mean I would be made homeless. Housing benefit doesn’t cover [my rent] so I spend my ESA on my rent. Add water rates, electric, food etc, etc. I just cannot afford an extra £16 per month.”
Original article 13 December 2017
If the council votes in favour tomorrow, and that is as certain as Lewis Hamilton winning Formula 1, many people on benefits or very low wages will be forced to pay 20% of their council tax. It will cost many £200 a year.
This is a truly a tax on the poor. What is more, it won’t work. People who are on benefits won’t be able to pay. They will just get a debt and a black mark against their credit score, making it even harder to get back into work.
If you are on benefits, it’s hard. I know. I’ve been there. It’s a choice a fuel or food. Most of those on Jobseekers or Universal Credit must pay to go to Leominster to sign on. This proposal also affects those on very low incomes.
Currently “working age individuals not in employment or on low income can receive 100% protection against their council tax liability.” So, no council tax is paid.
There are two parts to the proposal. The first is to set a minimum discount on council tax discount of £1.50 a week. That will simplify administration. The second is to make recipients of benefits pay 20% of the council tax bill. That’s maybe £200 a year, perhaps more.
Some, including, the most vulnerable will be exempt from this tax on the poor. Those in receipt of severe disability premium, Employment Support Allowance or a war pension allowance.
The aim is to raise £1.2million a year. But officers recognise the damaging impact of this move. They are asking for £300,000 from funds already allocated for struggling people to cover “transition.” What is more, they say that council tax collection will go down in the short term. That could mean a loss of between £175,000 and £546,000. The expectation is that this will be collected later from people unable to pay at the moment.
This is so unrealistic. It will force people already struggling to get by into debt. It could drive them to payday loans to get by. It will make it so much harder for people to get into work. And the foodbank will need to keep more people going because of the withdrawal of essential state support.
The mantra from politicians that back these moves always is: “It is only fair that everyone pays a contribution.” My mantra is that it is only fair that we are fair to people struggling in our society.