“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is a commonly held notion which is being increasingly aired in today’s times of austerity. And it was Worthing’s poorest that were hit by the Council’s budget leaving the rich unscathed.
The Conservative administration froze Council Tax for the fourth year running in spite of a clear majority of residents, in the budget consultation, preferring a small increase to protect services – 64.9% for an increase to 35.1% to freeze.
Many of Worthing’s disadvantaged until April 2014 were entitled to Council Tax benefit paid by central government but the government reduced the grant by 10% for the 2014-15 tax year. Local authorities were allowed to set up their own Council Tax Support CTS) scheme to cover the lost 10%.
Worthing Borough Council last year introduced a scheme funding the 10% and the disadvantaged were not affected by the change – they were blissfully unware. Under the scheme and as previously under Council Tax Benefit many paid no Council Tax.
This year the Conservatives in Worthing brought in a minimum payment of £5 per week and Council Tax bills fell through letter boxes for £260 where there had been none previously. Suddenly Worthing’s poorest were very much aware. So much aware that Worthing Borough Council received over 300 phone calls on the Friday of that week.
At the February Council meeting the Liberal Democrats proposed an amendment to the budget to stop the minimum payment being introduced but their proposal was defeated. All Conservatives voted for the minimum payment to be levied as did one half of UKIP (presumably the right half) and all Liberal Democrats voted for no minimum payment, as did the Green member and the other half of UKIP (presumably the left half).
One of last year’s number one books in the New York Times bestselling non-fiction hardbacks was the French inequality economist Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century. Mr Picketty argues that inequality is not an accident but rather a feature of capitalism and unless reformed the very democratic order will be threatened.
Less apocalyptically Sabrina Bushe of the New Policy Institute queries in a blog, for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, whether increasing arrears caused by the introduction of Council Tax minimum payments could be the start of a trend that mirrors the Poll Tax and ultimately led to its abolition.
Conservative leader Dan Humphreys said the introduction of a minimum payment was in line with the budget consultation and represented residents’ wishes. He ignored their clear wish for a small increase to protect services – cherry picking for this year’s election leaflets we suspect.
Will this be Worthing’s Poll Tax? We shall see.