It was passed with little ceremony or publicity, but for Green Councillors, the passing of a formal decision yesterday on the council tax reduction scheme by Labour & Conservatives was a “defining moment” for the new Council administration. The decision taken at yesterday’s Full Council meeting increased the minimum level of council tax that the poorest households must pay, before receiving any support from the Council. This equates to an effective 33% rise in council tax bills for the poorest in the city, well above the 2-4% rise likely to be seen for others.
The decision was passed despite significant protests by the local Green party as well as organisations such as Brighton and Hove People’s Assembly and Brighton Benefits Campaign, and followed a consultation where 68% of respondents opposed the decision.
According to Labour councillor Les Hamilton at the latest Policy and Resources committee, the average increase will be £50 per year for the poorest households, which he said will not be a “really big figure” when compared to other reductions in income these families will face over the next few years.
Green councillor Phelim Mac Cafferty, convener of the Green Group, said:
“The decision taken at Council on Thursday was a defining moment for the new Labour council administration. Sadly it has fallen at the first hurdle by failing to mitigate impacts of its cuts on the very poorest households.
“While we recognise the difficult context created by vicious Conservative cuts to local government, the reality is that the Labour council have a choice. If they wished, Labour could reduce the disproportionate impact of cuts on poorest households by prioritising council tax reduction. Instead, we see the council actively driving the poorest households further into destitution by increasing their council tax burden far more than other households.
“The idea that £50 per year for the poorest households is acceptable, in the context of dramatic increases in rent and damaging welfare reform, is completely absurd. Labour are simply perpetuating the approach of the Tories to focus cuts on the most vulnerable, who are least able to speak out”.
Green councillor and spokesperson for neighbourhoods, communities and equalities, Leo Littman, said:
“Despite the much lauded launch of the Brighton and Hove Fairness Commission, we see Labour making a deeply unfair decision to increase council tax for the poorest households at a rate far higher than for other households in the city.
“The Labour consultation on council tax reduction found that 68% of all respondents specifically said the minimum contribution should be less than 20%. Only 4% of respondents felt that the minimum contribution should be 20%. Is this the level of influence residents can expect from Labour’s budget consultations?
“At the last Neighbourhoods, Communities and Equalities Committee we heard of council officers needing to have conversations with residents about considering more affordable places to live. In such a context the council must do whatever we can to support the poorest households. Driving up council tax bills for this group is unfair and it should not stand.”