Editorial: A squeeze too far on Britain's least well off

Spending cuts are unavoidable, but hitting the poorest hardest is no solution

Share
Related Topics

From April, millions of people across Britain will face higher bills for local services. And thanks to the Government’s maladroit handling of the introduction of “council tax support” to replace “council tax benefit”, some of the poorest families will bear the brunt of the changes. Hard-up households, including both those with no working adults and those with adults receiving only the minimum wage, will have to find between £96 and £255 a year. The worst affected – that is, single parents, working part-time, with children in childcare – could face increases of £557, a hike of more than 300 per cent.

Given the scale of Britain’s public debts, major cuts in spending are unavoidable. And it is true that the cost of council tax benefit has doubled in recent years. Indeed, about five million households in England now receive some support, of which perhaps half pay no council tax at all. Altogether, the welfare system costs taxpayers more than defence, education and the NHS combined.  But cuts which hit the poorest disproportionately hard are no solution.

Meanwhile, the Government is trying to pass the blame on to local councils – which have to administer the 10 per cent cut to the council tax benefit bill. Three-quarters of local authorities say they will pass on the cost to families, rather than absorbing it themselves. But they blame the Government’s two-year council tax freeze and insistence that councils seeking increases of more than 2 per cent this year need approval in a local referendum.

Some local authorities will, of course, manage to maintain council tax support at current levels. But a postcode lottery, with identical individuals treated differently depending on where they live, is not acceptable. Furthermore, to leave so controversial a measure to the discretion of local authorities only adds an unwelcome political dimension to an already charged issue.

Nor is it likely that the Coalition will be able to transfer the political heat to local councils quite so easily. Although the next general election will not take place until 2015, the process of setting budgets for 2015-16 has already begun – with the Chancellor, George Osborne, telling ministers he must find another £10bn of spending reductions. Several senior ministers have expressed doubts about the strategy. Understandably so. Mr Osborne is committed to maintaining his “ring fence” around the health, education and international aid budgets; and there are also to be increases in spending on military hardware, including nuclear submarines and an aircraft carrier, the Prime Minister confirmed this week. The space within which further cuts can be found is, therefore, shrinking rapidly.

The Liberal Democrats are pressing for more spending on infrastructure and science, in an attempt to boost growth in an economy which is still well below its pre-crisis peak. And the Chancellor himself will be wary of cuts that add to the drag on the business expansion he hopes to fill the gaps left by the crimp on the public sector. There are two obvious candidates for the bulk of further cuts, then; one is the Home Office, and the other is welfare.

The Prime Minister has stressed repeatedly that pensions are sacrosanct, as are universal pensioner benefits such as winter fuel payments and free bus passes. But that will have to change. The reduction in council tax benefits now going ahead is already a step too far in squeezing society’s least well-off. For the state to continue to subsidise the lifestyle of wealthy old people is, quite simply, no longer either politically or morally defensible.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

John Rentoul
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...