The 21 February saw the Medway Council Budget meeting take place. I am sure most people are not particularly interested in the speeches and political debate which took place in the council chamber, but this year saw a number of changes which will impact residents across Medway and Kent.
These changes are being driven down by central government at an alarming rate, so much so that people are genuinely confused about what is going to impact when, and on which parts of the community.
There are two changes in particular which Medway Broadside readers need to be acutely aware of; my view is they are both vicious in their impact and their targeting of the most vulnerable in our society.
Firstly there is the Bedroom Tax; this sees people who are in homes either through the council or another social landlord who are going to have their incomes cut because they have a spare bedroom – although it is not as simple as that.
We are already aware of examples including families who have members in the armed forces who will have their income cut, individuals who have care needs who will have their income cut, even those who have suffered the absolute tragedy of their child dying faces the prospect of their income being reduced – this, in my view, is completely unacceptable.
Then you have the “Localising Council Tax” scheme, which should really be called the “Localising the blame for the Coalition’s failed economic policy” scheme. In Medway, we will see 14,000 receiving Council Tax bills they simply cannot afford. Again, those affected include people with caring responsibilities, the disabled and those working on poverty wages.
The last time we had a Conservative government we saw the Poll Tax, a scheme which meant people were sent bills that they could not afford. In my view, it is no exaggeration to state this change really is the Poll Tax Mark Two, people will be making the choice between paying this unfair bill or buying food for their household.
Although Medway is often seen as the home of Charles Dickens, you wouldn’t expect to see us return to Dickensian conditions, but with close to 2000 people in Medway already having to use our local food bank that is the frightening reality. Sadly from that 2000 many are children which again shows the human impact of these coalition government changes.
Those two changes are not in isolation though; if you are disabled, you have the Government’s changing the Disability Living Allowance to the so called Personal Independence Payment which saw 172 out of 173 disabled rights groups when consulted state changes will not help empower disabled people but actually condemn them to a more isolated life.
Remember at the same time these changes come in, we will see the coalition government giving a £40,000 a year tax cut to millionaires across Kent and Medway. Those same millionaires, if they live by themselves, will continue to also get a 25% discount in their council tax. I don’t think most reasonable people would see that as us all being “in it together”.
Politics is often about priorities. It is quite clear to me, that when it comes to the changes which will have such a negative impact, the government has its priorities wrong.
Words: Vince Maple (Leader of the Medway Labour Group)