Tagged: Hilary Benn

Hilary Benn shares memories of Durham Miners’ Gala – but says Labour cannot commit to funding the event

Labour figure Hilary Benn has told of fond childhood memories attending Durham Miners’ Gala, but admitted a Labour Government could not offer money for the under-threat event.

The Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, whose much-admired father Tony Benn was a fierce defender of the miners during Margaret Thatcher’s time in power, recalled the magic of the Big Meeting when he watched banners pass the County Hotel balcony.

But he said his party, which was founded by the union movement, could not offer cash to back the Big Meeting.

The event was founded by the Durham Miners’ Association and has a long and rich history as a celebration of the region’s heritage.

Tory Communities Secretary Eric Pickles seized on the chance to criticise Labour and accused them of failing to “respect their roots”.

The Gala’s future is uncertain as the association is struggling to find fresh funds, organiser, general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association Dave Hopper told the crowd in 2014, though it will go ahead on Saturday July 11.

Hilary Benn, who followed his father into a career in Parliament and is campaigning to be re-elected in Leeds Central, said he shared Mr Hopper’s fears for the event.

“One of my earliest childhood memories was my dad taking me up to the Gala,” he said. “There must have been about 11 of us on the famous balcony of the County Hotel, including Harold Wilson.

“We watched the banners go past the hotel in the procession. I was struck by how it was a great day of trade union solidarity and it is a great Labour tradition.”

But it is a sure signal of just how tough times are that the Labour Party can’t offer any money towards the event.

He said: “The Labour and trade union movement have always been big supporters of the Gala, and we will do all we can to support it, but we can’t make specific spending commitments.”

The Miners’ Gala was first held in the city’s Wharton Park in 1871.

Numbers grew strongly during the miners’ strikes to attract huge crowds of as many as 300,000.

Though the North East mining industry is a shadow of its former self, the Big Meeting continues to pull thousands of visitors.

Lodge banners are marched through the city and hundreds gather at a field near banks of the River Wear in what is a proud celebration of the North East’s heritage.

Tony Benn was one of the great figures of the left that have spoken at the event.

Labour Leader Ed Miliband has told colleagues he will give a speech this year, sharing a stage with long-serving parliamentarian Dennis Skinner.

The association said it was left with a £2.2m legal bill after losing a six-year court battle on behalf of former miners who have osteoarthritis of the knee.

Critics, including Labour’s North Durham candidate Kevan Jones, however, say the association had £6m in its accounts when it was a union in 2007.

Mr Pickles said a Conservative Government would not offer any help but insisted the party’s plan to create jobs would see more people support the event.

Mr Benn said one of the things the unions, many of which will be represented at the Gala, will fight is the rise in zero-hours contracts which grew four-fold under the Coalition government.

Mr Pickles, however, said: “As it is predominantly Labour Party and trade union members involved you would expect them to respect their roots.

“What we can promise is more jobs and more prosperity and more pounds in people’s pockets.”

Source –Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 Apr 2015

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Cuts have hit the North much harder than the South, study shows

Cuts have hit the region’s town halls nine times harder than wealthy parts of the South, a new analysis shows – despite the North facing much higher care bills.

The study highlights the areas where people suffer most from poor physical and mental health, disability and early death, imposing huge extra costs on local councils.

The worst-hit fifth of 325 authorities includes no fewer than ten North-East areas, a list headed by Middlesbrough which is ranked fourth for “health deprivation and disability”.

Not far behind are Newcastle (13th), Hartlepool (14th), Gateshead (17th), Darlington (20th), Redcar and Cleveland (21st), Sunderland (25th) and County Durham (28th), followed by Stockton-on-Tees (51st) and South Tyneside (65th).

On average, those ten councils have lost £213.04 of their overall ‘spending power’ for every resident since 2010, according to finance chiefs at Newcastle City Council.

Yet, the average loss in the ten areas with the fewest sick and disabled people, and much lower care costs, is calculated at just £23.19 per head – more than nine times less.

Incredibly, spending power has actually risen at one authority, Elmbridge, in Surrey (up £8.14 per head) – while it has plummeted in Middlesbrough (down £289.02).

The gulf is seen as crucial because social care is the biggest financial burden for cash-strapped councils, which are now also responsible for public health.

Recently, the charity Age UK warned that older people have been left “high and dry” by council cutbacks to help with washing and dressing, to day care places and meals on wheels services.

Hilary Benn, Labour’s local government spokesman, condemned the much-bigger cuts in areas with the biggest ill-health and disability burdens as “deeply irresponsible and unfair”.

 And he said:
“The A&E crisis in our NHS, driven in part by insufficient social care provision where it is needed, shows that the Tories can’t be trusted with vitally important health and social care services.”

Councils hit by the biggest cuts are already known to have slashed spending on adult social care by 12.7 per cent on average – against just 1.2 per cent in more protected authorities.

 But Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, said
“We have been fair to all parts of the country – rural and urban, shire and city, north and south, with deprived areas continuing to receive the highest government grants.”

Labour has promised a new “fairer formula” for distributing local authority grants, but has yet to give details, or say when this would be introduced.

The ‘spending power’ measure bundles together grants, council tax, business rates and the New Homes Bonus, but is widely criticised for disguising the true scale of the pain.

Newcastle’s finance department calculated the changes since the 2010 general election, after the Government refused to produce official figures.

Source –  Northern Echo,  14 Feb 2015

Up To 40% Of Council Tax Levied On Low-Income Households Unpaid

This article was written by Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor, for The Guardian on Wednesday 27th August 2014

Local authorities were unable to collect up to 40% of council tax due from low-income households that had the charge imposed on them for the first time last year.

Council tax – set on average at £5 a week – has been levied on the poorest households in England since April last year as part of a cut in benefits. But such is the squeeze on household budgets, say campaigners, that the poor cannot afford to pay even these small sums.

The result has been widespread non-payment. Nationally, more than a fifth of council tax charged to working-age claimants was unpaid at the end of 2013-14.

The figures, obtained from responses from 140 councils to Freedom of Information requests by the anti-cuts group False Economy, reveal that some of the biggest towns and cities were left chasing millions of pounds from the poor.

Liverpool collected 61% of council tax due from the poor, leaving the city short by £3.5m.

In Birmingham, the non-payment rate among the vulnerable was 30%, leaving the council seeking to recover £3m in lost revenue.

Leeds, Nottingham and Sheffield were all chasing more than £2m each in tax from those on the lowest incomes.

A report published last month by Child Poverty Action Group and the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust said almost 40% of Londoners affected by the cuts had been sent a court summons for council tax debts in 2013-14, with more than 15,000 claimants’ debts referred to bailiffs.

In Haringey, north London, which collected 80% of the council tax due from benefit claimants, hundreds of households have been taken to court to recover unpaid tax – with non-payers threatened with bankruptcy, repossession and ultimately prison.

Last week, sitting in the magistrates court in Tottenham, Dick, 49, said there was “no way” he could afford the £7-a-week council tax his housing association two-bedroom flat was being charged. He has walked with a stick since his Achilles tendon snapped in 2012.

I don’t work. I get employment support allowance which is £70 a week and my son lives with me and he gets a few hours on a market stall. After rent and everything else we have about £140 a month to live on. Food, clothes, the lot. I go down the food bank to eat. Can’t afford to heat up food because we cannot put money into the gas meter. How can I afford the council tax too? We never paid this before. It’s just getting the poor to pay up. That’s all it is.”

Dick said he had offered to pay £3 a week towards council tax after working out his finances with the local Citizens Advice bureau, but the local authority did not respond to his offer. Instead the council has asked for the full year’s council tax to be paid immediately – £350 – plus the cost of recovering his unpaid tax through a liability order of £125. “It’s ridiculous. I worked all my life. Never needed anything. Now I got nothing they want to get that.”

A spokesperson for False Economy called for the cuts to be reversed. “These figures show that people on low incomes are struggling to cope with council tax benefit cuts, just as the government was warned they would. Households are left either falling into debt and at risk of legal action, or taking money for food and essentials to plug the shortfall, in what is a government-created personal debt crisis.”

Councils said they were caught in an “impossible situation” as ministers had forced local authorities to pass on £500m in cuts when the scheme was introduced – and there would be further reductions in the discounts the poor received as town hall budgets were squeezed in the coming years.

Sharon Taylor, chair of the Local Government Association’s finance panel, said: “Councils would need to find £1bn by 2016 to protect discounts for those on low incomes.

“At a time when local government is already tackling £20bn worth of cuts, this is a stretch too far. Many councils have been put in an impossible position. No one wants to ask those on the lowest incomes to pay more. But pressure on funding for local services means many councils have had little choice but to reduce the discount.”

Hilary Benn, the shadow cabinet member responsible for local government, said two million of the poorest people were affected by the council tax hikes.

“These figures show that many of the people affected, including single parents and disabled people, are finding it very difficult to pay the Tories’ tax increase. The government was warned that this was going to be Poll Tax mark two, and so it is proving.”

The government defended its changes, saying it had “worked with councils to freeze council tax for the last four years” for most residents.

Kris Hopkins, the local government minister, said: “Our reforms to localise council tax support now give councils stronger incentives to support local firms, cut fraud, promote local enterprise and get people into work. We are ending Labour’s something-for-nothing culture and making work pay.”

Source –  Welfare News Service, 29 Aug 2014

http://welfarenewsservice.com/40-council-tax-levied-low-income-households-unpaid/