Letter: Cherie Blair's warning on poll tax jailing

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Labour Party is putting itself on the wrong side by defending Cherie Blair ("MPs back Blair's wife over legal advice", 23 January) and not defending the poor against whom the law about the poll tax, rather than the lawyer, discriminates so cruelly. The seeds of the deep injustice of imprisoning people receiving Income Support who cannot afford the tax were planted by the Conservative Party when they wrote the poll tax law. At that time there was a tragic miscalculation. It was assumed that Income Support was high enough to feed, clothe and provide a family with enough fuel to keep warm. It was not. So the strange device of central government loading the Income Support level with an amount which would then be deducted by the local authorities -as 20 per cent of the poll tax only raised Income Support to a level nearer to that needed to provide recipients with the basic necessities of life; but it was not enough. The poll tax has therefore been an extreme burden for the poor.

The research showing all this was made available to the Department of Social Security, which has remained culpably silent. Very recently the Commission on Social Justice confirmed these and other findings when it reported that "Income Support levels are too low to allow people to feed and clothe themselves adequately, let alone participate in the wider community". Add to this the commission's finding that the poor are dying younger while the rich live longer -the reasons being stress, inadequate health care and diet - and it becomes clear that social benefits in the United Kingdom are much too low.

Magistrates have the power to remit the arrears of debt when people cannot afford to pay the tax. That is the case with everyone receiving Income Support. The magistrates should therefore exercise their power to remit in such cases. Imprisonment is deeply oppressive.

Yours faithfully, PAUL NICHOLSON Treasurer Campaign Against Poll Tax Imprisonment Turville, Oxfordshire