CROYDON IN CRISIS: For weeks, the Town Hall’s Labour leadership has been planning a cut to Council Tax discounts that will cost some of the borough’s poorest £25 per week or more – and see ‘means testing’ used in the borough. By STEVEN DOWNES
The presence on the steps of the Town Hall last night of protestors from trades unions, pensioner groups and disability campaign organisations – almost all of them Labour Party supporters – was the clearest sign yet of the multiple and abject failures of the Labour administration at Croydon Council.
In an act that plumbed the depths of civic cynicism, Hamida “Apologetic” Ali’s council had waited until gone 5pm last Friday before releasing details of some of the latest, harshest cuts to be inflicted on the people of Croydon as a consequence of the council leader and her colleagues’ bankrupting the borough last year.
It had been a piece of cruelly calculated timing by Ali and her cabinet colleagues, Stuart King and Callton Young, intended to protect their own backsides.
They had been discussing the £38.4million of additional cuts to the council’s budget for more than a month, but they had tried to hide the bad news behind the excuse of pre-referendum purdah, in the mistaken hope that the news of the cuts might adversely affect their cause at the ballot box last week. The truth is, the referendum vote couldn’t have been much worse for Ali and her team.
The council’s approach to the cuts was cynical, and dripping with hypocrisy, too.
At one point during last night’s meeting, Ali did a bit of crass virtue signalling. She castigated the cruel Tory government for its callous removal of the weekly £20 covid uplift on Universal Credit which will undoubtedly create hardship and poverty for thousands of Croydon’s least well-off and most vulnerable. This was coming on top of the loss of furlough payments, fuel price hikes and rising inflation, all making those already struggling on the lowest incomes struggle just a little bit more.
Yet, as Inside Croydon first reported a fortnight ago, all this time, Ali and King have been planning to cut the council’s own benefits, a Council Tax discount, which could cost some of this borough’s most vulnerable households from £3 per week to as much as £29 per week.
Some of the union and disability rights campaigners protesting outside the Town Hall suggest that the Council Tax benefit cut could affect 20,000 Croydon households – more than two-thirds of those who currently receive the benefit.
The Council Tax benefit cut is one of a range of measures, including permanent closure of Purley Pool, axing three-quarters of the borough’s Neighbourhood Safety Officers, and £400,000 being taken out of the pot to fund Croydon’s voluntary organisations.
It’s cynical, hypocritical, and devious, too.
The council is trying to dress up the cut to Council Tax subsidies as “New council tax support scheme aims to be fairer while prioritising our most vulnerable residents”.
It’s “new”, only because it is different, by offering the discount to fewer households.
It’s “fairer” only if you consider that there’s less help to go round, and some people will still receive the benefit. Many thousands more, though, will not. And that’s where the “prioritising our most vulnerable” bit comes in. Devious.
Ali has placed this particularly malodorous bit of shit-mongering in the hands of her deputy, Stuart King.
In the official statement issued from the propaganda bunker at Fisher’s Folly, King made all the right noises about wanting to make the scheme “fairer and simpler… while ensuring it is better focused on households with the lowest incomes”.
King said, “We are committed to protecting the most vulnerable and so these changes protect the 100 per cent discount for eligible pensioners, young care leavers, and disabled residents who are unable to work.
“As a result, more than 9,000 households would remain unaffected by these proposed changes.” What King failed to mention was the 20,000 households who now won’t be receiving any Council Tax benefit. Devious.
Protesters last night reckoned that the savings for the cash-strapped council will amount to less than £5million per year.
The council is, as ever, running a public consultation, after which it will undoubtedly go ahead and implement the cuts as proposed.
According to the council, the revised scheme will operate a version of means testing, what they call an “income band” approach “which prioritises support to households with the lowest incomes and would be far simpler for residents to apply for”. Because far fewer residents will qualify for it.
Eligible pensioners, care leavers under the age of 25 and disabled residents who are unable to work will continue to receive 100 per cent Council Tax discount.
The council says, “Other eligible residents would still receive a discount on their Council Tax bill, but this may be smaller or larger than before.” They really mean smaller.
There’s a bit, though not much, of a safety net. “Alongside the proposed changes, the council would introduce a one-year hardship fund to support residents who are affected by changes to the Council Tax Support scheme discount to adapt to the new system.”
The CTS scheme was introduced in 2013, with 90 per cent of funding coming from central government. Government funding for CTS has been steadily reduced. Accoording to council figures, it spends £35million a year on the scheme.
The proposals will now go before the cabinet meeting next Monday, when they will doubtless be pushed through on the nod. With a six-week consultation to follow, time is tight to implement any changes from April 2022.
Read more: Further £38.4m to be sliced from next year’s council budget
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