Tag Archives: Council Tax Benefit

More smears from the Mail against UN official who is trying to help the poor

The victim: Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations' expert Special Rapporteur on Housing is once again the victim of a baseless Daily Mail smear piece.

The victim: Raquel Rolnik, the United Nations’ expert Special Rapporteur on Housing is once again the victim of a baseless Daily Mail smear piece.

Yet again, the Daily Heil has been using the tactics of its best friend Adolf Hitler – the ‘Big Lie’ – to attack a United Nations official whose job is to point out that Coalition government policies are harming the innocent poor.

The Flail‘s tone was Nurembergian – and almost entirely fact-free – as it denounced ‘Brazil Nut’ Raquel Rolnik for imaginary crimes against Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit cuts – the homicidal, if not genocidal, measures that are driving hundreds of thousands of people into destitution and despair.

You see, the Fail is fine with destitution and despair for the poor – its readers are all rich middle- or upper-class housewives who pass their days spending their husbands’ vast fortunes (this is not entirely true, but is exactly the sort of generalisation you can expect from that paper. If you are a Mail reader, it isn’t such fun when you’re the victim, is it?) and gossiping.

The news story is that a group of United Nations poverty ambassadors has written a 22-page letter pointing out that cuts to social security benefits introduced by Iain Duncan Smith and enforced by his Department for Work and Pensions on behalf of the Coalition government may constitute a breach of the UK’s international treaty obligations to the poor.

The letter is new but its factual information is not, having been confirmed by the Council of Europe.

The letter states: “The package of austerity measures enacted could amount to retrogressive measures prohibited under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified in 1974.”

Among the benefit changes it highlights are alterations to housing benefit, council tax benefit, working age benefits and the bedroom tax and the benefits cap – which everybody agrees would be a good idea if it had been limited to a reasonable amount, rather than one at which the Conservative-led Coalition could throw people into hardship.

The Mail‘s report pays little attention to the facts, lavishing far more space on Mrs Rolnik herself. It said she had been nicknamed the ‘Brazil Nut’, which she had – by the Daily Mail; and went on to attempt to cast doubt on her authority as special rapporteur on housing and those of fellow UN ambassadors Maria Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, special rapporteur on extreme poverty; and Olivier De Schutter, the special rapporteur on the right to food.

These are experts in their field who have been engaged by the United Nations – a higher-ranking legal authority than the UK – to investigate government policies, but that’s not good enough for the Mail.

It prefers to get its opinions from tupenny-ha’penny Tory thinktanks.

So it casts doubt. The letter is from ‘ambassadors’ and follows an ‘investigation’, according to the Mail, because putting those words in that way casts doubt upon their validity.

Mrs Rolnik was brought up as a Marxist, the Mail states – as if that has anything to do with her findings. And the report claims she should leave the UK alone and concentrate on problems in her own country, where millions of people live in shanty towns – even though the writer, ‘Jason Groves’, should know perfectly well that her job involves just that.

He clearly doesn’t want you to see her comments on housing in Brazil, prior to the football World Cup which is being held there at the moment: “We expected that the champion of many football cups would use this opportunity to show the world it is also a champion of the right to housing, in particular for people living in poverty, but the information I have received shows otherwise.”

She had received allegations of evictions without due process or in breach of international human rights standards, cases in which residents and citizens had not been consulted and were barred from to participation in decisions that had a grave impact on their standard of living. Concerns had also been expressed about very low compensation that might lead to the creation of new “informal settlements” (shanty towns) with inadequate living conditions or greater rates of homelessness.

“Authorities should avoid at all costs any negative impacts on then human rights of the individuals and communities, especially the most vulnerable… [and] should ensure that their actions, and those of third parties involved in the organization of the events, contribute to the creation of a stable housing market and have a long term positive impact in the residents of the cities where events take place.”

So critics who think she has ignored issues in her home country are wrong.

That’s a bit of a blow to the Mail‘s credibility, isn’t it?

The measures criticised by Mrs Rolnik and her colleagues were brought in “to tackle the huge budget deficit left by Labour”, according to the Mail. Again, this is wrong. The Coalition government has made no real effort to tackle the budget deficit which was necessitated when Labour saved our banking system, the threat having been created by Tory-supporting bankers whose greed put their firms into overwhelming debt. Look at the annual deficit for the last financial year; it is still well above £100 billion. If you agree that the cuts were to bring the deficit down, you have swallowed a lie.

Iain Duncan Smith, the man this blog describes as ‘RTU’ (standing for ‘Returned To Unit’ in tribute to his failed Army career) is reportedly furious at this intervention from the United Nations, which has a duty to intervene if governments of member countries descend into criminality, as has happened with the UK (here’s just one example).

Vox Political has reported extensively on this matter and his arguments carry about as much weight as his retrospective Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act. Take a look at Mrs Rolnik’s report on housing in the UK and the research that supported what she said and then ask yourself if Mr …Smith has got a leg to stand on.

According to the Mail, he said: “They talk down our country, criticising the action we’ve taken to get control of the public finances and create a fairer more prosperous Britain. They simply do not have a clue – and we will not be taking lessons from a group of unelected commentators who can’t get their facts straight.”

“Unelected” and “Can’t get their facts straight” are both criticisms that could be applied with more accuracy to Mr …Smith and his government.

In fact.

Additional: Here’s some more information about Iain Duncan Smith playing fast and loose with statistics, just in today.

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The questions that Sunday Politics WON’T ask Iain Duncan Smith


Like it or not, politics in the UK is far more nuanced today than it has been at any time in the last 100 years. How can it be anything else? All the main political parties are trying to occupy the same, narrow, centre-right ground.

Even so, one man has emerged as the pantomime villain of British politics: Iain Duncan Smith.

ConservativeHome readers regularly vote him into the top slot as the most popular cabinet minister – but it seems that anyone who has ever had dealings with his Department for Work and Pensions has the exact opposite opinion of him. He has been nicknamed IDS, but this blog calls him RTU instead – it stands for ‘Returned To Unit’, a military term for serving soldiers who have failed in officer training and have been returned in disgrace to their original unit (the implication being that his claim of a glittering military career is about as accurate as his claims to have been educated at the University of Perugia and Dunchurch College of Management).

Here at Vox Political, we believe that this man’s tenure at the DWP will go down in history as one of the greatest disasters of British political history – not just recent history, but for all time. It is our opinion that his benefit-cutting policies have done more to accelerate the impoverishment of hard-working British people than the worst recession in the last century could ever have done by itself.

We believe the assessment regime for sickness and disability benefits, over which he has presided, has resulted in so many deaths that it could be considered the worst genocide this country has faced since the Harrowing of the North, almost 1,000 years ago.

That will be his legacy.

On Sunday, he will appear on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show to answer your questions about his work. The show’s Facebook page has invited readers to submit their own questions and this seems an appropriate moment to highlight some of those that have been submitted – but are never likely to be aired; RTU is far too vain to allow hyper-critical questioning to burst his bubble.

Here is our choice of just some questions he won’t be answering:

“Why [has he] decided to cover up the number of suicides due to [his] benefit cuts?” “Why is he killing the elderly and the disabled?” “Does he have a figure (number of deaths) before he accepts a policy might not be working?”

“Universal Jobmatch, Universal Credit, WCA reforms, PIP; are there any policies and projects he has tried to implement that haven’t been a massive shambolic waste of money, causing distress and sanctions to so many people?”

“Would he like to comment on the huge amount of people wrongly sanctioned, and would he like to explain why whistleblowers from the JCP have admitted there are sanction targets?”

“Ask him if he believes a comparison can be drawn between the government’s persecution of the sick, disabled and mentally ill and the ‘Action T4’ instigated by the Nazis in 1939. I am sure the tow-the-line BBC will give him sight of the questions before he gets on the show so he will have time to look it up.”

“People are now waiting months for their appeals to be heard and the meantime their benefits are stopped. What does he expect them to live on? Why [are] he and his Department pursuing this deliberate war against some of our most poor and vulnerable people?”

“Could he comment on the massive amount of money written off due to failures with the Universal Credit?”

“Why are we paying private companies to test disabled and sick people when one phone call to their consultant or GP would provide all relevant details they need?”

“[Does] he have any intention of putting his money where his mouth is, [living] on £53/week, and how does he square that with the £39 on expenses he claimed for breakfast? Half a million people signed the call for him to do so.”

“Why are full time carers who look after loved ones only paid £59.75 a week? Less than JSA, indeed less than any other benefit! they save the tax payers millions, and yet have still been hammered by the changes in housing benefit, council tax benefit and of course the hated bedroom tax.”

“Ask him about the Universal Jobsearch website and the fake jobs on the site. As a jobseeker, this site need[s] better monitoring.”

“Ask him if the bedroom tax was really just a deceitful way to remove all social housing and force people into private rentals for the rich to claim housing benefits paid to claimants.”

“Does he think that paying subsidies to supermarkets and other private companies via welfare benefits because they do not pay well enough is what government should be doing?”

Some of the questioners address Mr… Smith directly:

“Why do you keep testing people with incurable progressive illnesses? Once found unfit to work, [they] never will get any better so to retest is stressful, cruel, and not needed.”

“Why are you telling Jobcentre Plus staff to get ESA claimants and JSA claimants to declare themselves self-employed, then reeling them in with the promise of an extra £20 per week? Is this why the unemployment rate fell last quarter?”

“You say you want the sick off what you call the scrap heap but with few jobs out there, do you mean off the scrap heap into the destitute gutter?”

“Do you feel remotely guilty for the lives you’ve ruined? the lies you’ve told? The dead people on your hands? Do you feel any shame at all that you’ve done all this and more? Do you sleep well at night knowing there are people who can’t feed their children because of you?”

“As a committed Roman Catholic, how does your conscience deal with you supporting and advantaging privileged millionaires while you personally and systematically further impoverish the poor and disadvantaged?”

“Does he feel ashamed to have caused so much suffering, because he flipping well should!”

There were many more questions that were not appropriate for repetition.

To see what he does have to say for himself, tune in to Sunday Politics on BBC1, starting at 11am on March 9 (which is, as you might have guessed, Sunday).

Just don’t get your hopes up.

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A word of caution on the ‘Bedroom Tax exemption’ victory


Campaigners in the UK have been celebrating after they found a little-known regulation that exempts many social housing tenants from the Bedroom Tax.

The Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2006 state (in not so many words) that, if you have been in receipt of Housing Benefit since before January 1, 1996, then you are exempt from the Bedroom Tax.

The relevant part is on pages 32 and 33 of the PDF file, and schedule 3 (4) (3) (b) (ii) states that a break of up to 4 weeks in the continuous period is allowed.

Many people have seen this as a considerable victory, as it may affect a large proportion of the 660,000 households hit by the spiteful tax. Everyone who has lost money because of it has been urged to check whether they can appeal on these grounds.

Some have noted, with sadness, that people who have died – like Stephanie Bottrill  – might still be with us if we had earlier knowledge of the regulation.

Now here’s the bad news: You have to have proof that you have been in receipt of HB since before January 1, 1996, or the authorities will ignore any exemption request.

Or, as a Vox Political commenter put it: “Just been on to HB as we should be free of this bedroom tax and they just told us we need proof of being here since this time scale which after all these years we don’t. And they said their records only go back six years. My God, they just won’t have it, will they? So stuck again as no proof as housing and DHSS don’t go back to 1/jan 1996.”

How many others are in the same situation?

Worse still, look at this comment from a DWP spokesman, published in the Morning Star‘s coverage of the story: “”We are aware of a potential regulatory issue in relation to pre-1996 social sector housing benefit tenants and the removal of the spare room subsidy,

“We are looking at this carefully and will take any necessary action to clarify our position as soon as possible.”

We all know what a DWP clarification is; it’s legislation to ensure that the regulation is removed – in order to ensure that the cock-up is erased from history and there continues to be no obstacle to Iain Duncan Smith’s plan for the impoverishment of the masses.

That’s what he tried with Workfare, after all – even if he couldn’t get it right.

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Why working people should fear the Coalition’s social insecurity

TUCpollIt’s absolutely astonishing, the amount of willingness people have to be tricked by Tory doubletalk.

For example: “We love the National Health Service,” said David Cameron. Then Andrew Lansley turned it into something that was neither national nor healthy.

Now Iain Duncan Smith is busy turning our social security system into something that is extremely insecure and downright antisocial!

In the name of fairness.

He and his cronies keep repeating their mantra that benefits have increased by almost twice as much as average wages, even though it has already been proven to be total nonsense.

Well, I’ve got a few more statistics for you – covering the expected effects of the Coalition’s (let’s not forget the Liberal Democrat part in all this) benefits tinkering.

Thanks to this government, working families will lose £9 billion of support every year, according to Liam Byrne. But he said the welfare bill – barring tax credits – will not rise by the one per cent of the benefit uprating, but by four per cent – £8 billion – because the government is failing to create jobs. (Why not? We’ll come to that later)

More working people are in poverty than ever before, with the figure currently standing at a record 6.1 million, according to Karen Buck. She said, according to the House of Commons Library, if only out-of-work benefits were subject to the one per cent cap, but in-work benefits were uprated as normal, 80 per cent of the proposed savings would disappear.

Add changes to the personal tax allowance (increasing to £9,440 this year) to the effects of the Benefits Uprating Bill and working people take 60 per cent of the hit – in other words three-fifths of the drop in income will affect people in work, but they will be expected to take FOUR-fifths of the financial squeeze.

So now even the government’s flimsy claim to be standing up for working people is revealed as a tatty lie.

In each Conservative-held constituency, an average of 6,000 families will be worse-off, Mr Byrne said. Nationally, if the Bill is passed, of the 14.1 million working-age households with someone in work, seven million will be hit – alongside 2.5 million jobless households – so the Benefits Uprating Bill will reduce the capacity of 9.5 million of the UK’s 23-24 million households to pay their bills (Karen Buck).

According to Ian Mearns, 4.4 million jobs pay less than £7 an hour.

As a result of the Bill, five million people may resort to payday loans in order to balance the books for the end of the month, according to Chris Bryant.

He said a food bank is opening every three days and working people are using them to feed their children.

You see, the Government cannot make serious money out of an assault on out-of-work benefits alone – just three per cent of all welfare spending goes on Jobseeker’s Allowance, and all out-of-work benefits account for only three per cent of GDP between them (figures courtesy of Karen Buck)

And the reality is that the line between working people and the jobless is blurred, with people changing between being in and out of work all the time. Last year there were between 244,000 and 357,000 new claims every month for Jobseeker’s Allowance, while between 242,000 and 370,000 left benefit every month (Karen Buck).

Let’s look at the figures affecting both workers and the jobless. According to Liam Byrne, the Benefits Uprating Bill means a child benefit rise of 20p per week; maternity allowance would go up by £1.37 and Jobseekers’ Allowance by just 72p.

Getting back to those 2.5 million jobless – they will lose about £215 a year by 2016, said Karen Buck. Ian Mearns added that, according to the Child Poverty Action Group, a working family eligible for both housing and council tax benefit will gain only 13p a week extra as a result of the extended personal tax allowances.

Meanwhile, a millionaire’s income will rise by £2,058 per week as a result of the cut in the top rate of tax from 50 per cent to 45 per cent, according to Liam Byrne.

With less money to spend, more shops will close and more people will lose jobs (Chris Bryant). this is because money in the pockets of people at the bottom end of the income spectrum is far more likely to be spent, and therefore to keep the economy moving (Sarah Teather, one of the few Liberal Democrats who rebelled against the Bill).

The government would have you believe that the losses I have described above, and the poverty they will bring, could be avoided if scroungers stopped stealing money from the system through fraud, and got back to work.

But benefit fraud stands at 0.7 per cent, according to official figures, and the total number of available jobs (according to the Office of National Statistics) is 489,000.

And – for the third time in this article – there are around 2.5 million people out of work.

There aren’t enough jobs to go around.

So why do you think the government wants to make it impossible for those who are out of work to make ends meet?

It all comes down to something identified by Skwalker1964 in his excellent blog: Greed.

This is about employers wanting to make sure they don’t have to pay too much of their profits away to their workforce – the people who actually make things and do things to generate the money – bear in mind that employers’ pay has risen to eight and a half times what it was 30 years ago, while workers’ pay has increased by an average of just 27 per cent.

Employers want to make sure workers stay in a weak position when bargaining for more pay. If there were more jobs available, or the number of long-term jobless was high, their position becomes stronger as they would realise they could not be replaced very easily.

Lots of people unemployed over the short term means more insecurity for those in work, so they’ll tolerate lower wages and won’t demand increases. The long-term unemployed are less of a threat to job tenure as they are more likely to remain out of work than take a working person’s job.

That’s how the ‘fat cats’ think. And they, of course, pay huge donations to a certain political party, currently in power, to ensure that they get their way.

Do you think I’m wrong?

Then tell me – by how much has the income of the UK’s top earners increased, in total, since May 2010?

Why do governments only ever quote statistics that mislead?

Misleading information from the IDS schoolroom: In Iain Duncan Smith's world, anyone without a job is a scrounger, never mind if you're between engagements, have plans that you're following through or have simply fallen on hard times. He makes no exceptions.

Misleading information from the IDS schoolroom: In Iain Duncan Smith’s world, anyone without a job is a scrounger, never mind if you’re between engagements, have plans that you’re following through or have simply fallen on hard times. He makes no exceptions.

I’m getting tired of writing about this goon.

I suppose I should apologise for harping on about him, but Iain Duncan Smith has done it again! Today he has been banging on that it is unfair for benefits to rise at a faster rate than wages.

He used percentages to support his claim, saying jobless benefits have risen by 20 per cent in the last five years, compared with an average 12 per cent rise in private sector pay.

Smith is trying to get you to think that the jobless are making more money than working people, and those figures are probably enough to fool the unwary television news viewer or radio listener.

But what happens when we use actual amounts of money to illustrate this?

According to financial journalist Paul Lewis on Twitter, this means unemployment benefits have risen by just £11.85 per week, while average private sector pay has risen by £49 a week.

How’s that difference looking now?

Bear in mind that inflation over the last five years was 13 per cent – for everyone – and you’ll see that nobody is making a killing here.

IDS is living in a world of his own, though. He’s arguing for a cap of one per cent on benefit rises, for the next three years – effectively removing six per cent of jobseekers’ income by the end of that period.

In effect, the Secretary of State for what used to be called Social Security is saying: “The poorest in the UK aren’t poor enough for my liking. Let’s show them how powerful we are by grinding them into the dirt!”

Don’t forget, the bedroom tax is coming into play in April, when Council Tax Benefit is abolished. The benefit cap is also being introduced this year, and Universal Credit is due to needlessly complicate matters further in October.

If you are affected by any of these, make no mistake: Iain Duncan Smith and his government want to make you destitute and put you on the street. It won’t matter if you voted Tory; they fooled you then and now they’ll throw you into the gutter without thinking twice.

That’s what these figures mean.

Osborne-created tax loophole diddles the UK out of hundreds of millions

A tax avoidance loophole specially created by George Osborne, the UK Chancellor, last year means that water companies have played the system to reduce their tax bills to a trickle.

Some people just don’t know when it’s time to do the right thing.

Look at the three water companies that are paying practically no tax on their huge profits, while yanking up prices every year according to the retail price index and enjoying a monopoly in their areas – according to today’s report in The Observer.

Thames Water avoids tax by offsetting the interest payments on its debts against its tax liability and delaying it by claiming allowances on capital project spending. The company is seeking government support for a £4.1bn project to build a new “super sewer” under the Thames.

Anglian lent £1,609.1m to a subsidiary company in the Cayman Islands tax haven in 2002. This year it was able to pay £478.1m in equity dividends to investors, including its subsidiary in the tax haven.

Yorkshire Water also increased the debt on its books recently, which offsets tax payments.

In other words, all three were able to exploit a new tax loophole, created by George Osborne last year – that’s right, the Chancellor who is supposedly trying to stop tax avoidance has actually been creating more ways for big business to achieve it – to pay as little tax as possible.

In my article last Monday, I highlighted changes to the tax laws, brought in by Gideon, I mean Mr 0, that mean companies in the UK pay nothing at all on money made by their foreign branches and may claim the expense of funding those foreign branches against tax paid in the UK. That is exactly what Anglian and Yorkshire are doing, according to the Observer report.

Without knowing where the Thames debt is based, it’s hard to say for certain whether it falls into this category of tax avoidance.

Thames made an operating profit of £650 million last year, and Anglia’s was £492, while Yorkshire’s was £303 million. With Corporation Tax at 26 per cent (they should all pay the higher rate), this means the Treasury failed to collect nearly £376 million from the three companies.

The amount lost to the Treasury from these three companies alone would pay off three-quarters of what the government hopes to take away from people currently on council tax benefit, when local authorities implement their new council tax relief schemes – the ‘Pickles Poll Tax’ – in accordance with Eric Pickles’ Localism Act, next April.

Both Thames and Anglian told The Observer their tax was merely being deferred, and they would have to pay it in full at a later date. Yorkshire declined to comment.

My problem with this is that the UK is in deficit difficulties NOW. We need everybody’s tax money NOW. Not later. By exploiting a loophole in the tax system that the Chancellor irresponsibly created, they – AND HE – are extending the problem.

The absence of any significant tax bills means Thames and Anglian were able to pay out dividends totalling £1.5881 billion. I don’t have the figures for Yorkshire. Ask yourself how many of those shareholders have tax avoidance schemes of their own.

Meanwhile, those of us on PAYE have to pay the full amounts of our tax bills – and our utility bills – no matter what harm they do to our household finances. There can be no deferrals for the working-class citizen!

And what help do our bloated water companies give us?

A drop in the ocean.

Cameron’s benefits bungling could cost you your home

When Mr Cameron’s housing benefits cap takes effect, along with the increased council tax bill for those on benefits, how long will it be before working-class Tories find their representatives have forced them out of their homes?

It’s the kind of ignorance that could kill off the Working-Class Tory.

We all knew David Cameron had his head in the clouds (or where the sun doesn’t shine) when he asked what hard-working people were meant to think when they see individual families getting up to £60,000 of housing benefit. I believe the Conservative Party has yet to provide proof of the claim.

The fact is that a huge amount of new housing benefit claimants are in work themselves – so Mr Cameron’s argument was utterly defeated before he had even uttered a word of it.

Today (Monday) the National Housing Federation has stated that a failure to build new houses has led to an 86 per cent rise in working people claiming housing benefit between May 2009-2012, as rents and mortgages have soared.

An extra 10,000 new claims are being made each month.

The solution is simple; I’ve pointed it out in this very blog, many times – cap rents.

Instead, Mr Cameron said he was capping housing benefit, meaning hard-working families will have to tighten their belts and cut back even further on their other outgoings, just to keep a roof over their heads. They might not be able to afford to heat their home as well as last year (I doubt a working family qualifies for the Winter fuel allowance). They might not be able to eat as well as they did last year, as food prices are rocketing. But don’t worry – their landlords will carry on doing just fine, thank you very much!

(Until the family’s earnings can’t be stretched any further and they are forced out and – because the rent is too high for anyone else, the property becomes vacant and derelict. Landlords: Isn’t it wiser to make rents affordable and at least have some regular income from your property?)

In his speech to the Conservative Party conference, Mr Cameron said: “Because of our welfare cap, no family will be getting more in benefits than the average family earns.”

But it seems the average family doesn’t earn enough to stay off benefits! So what, exactly, was Mr Cameron saying, there? That he’s putting the average British family into an ever-decreasing recursive benefit loop?

The worst nonsense was the choice he said we give our young people today:   “Choice one: Work hard. Go to college. Get a job. Live at home. Save up for a flat […] Or: Don’t get a job. Sign on. Don’t even need to produce a CV when you do sign on. Get housing benefit. Get a flat. And then don’t ever get a job or you’ll lose a load of housing benefit.”

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Since people with jobs are on housing benefit, we already know this was a pile of hooey, but we also know that he’s capping that benefit, so people with jobs are going to lose a load of housing benefit as well!

“And we’re going to look at ending automatic access to housing benefit for people under 25 too.” So, if you’re aged under 25, Mr Cameron is pulling the ground out from beneath your feet, before you’ve even got on your feet!

And let’s not forget the threat of the Localism Act, which will add to the council tax bill payable on your home. If you are in a working family that receives housing benefit, you will most likely be in receipt of council tax benefit as well, and this means even more money will have to come from your tight budget, as of next April.

So here’s my question, for anyone who still thinks they’re a working-class Tory: When all these cuts and new taxes have done their worst to you, and you’ve moved back to live with mum and dad (or gran and grandad) simply to have a (rather overcrowded) roof over your head, and the next election rolls around, are you really going to tell me that you think David Cameron’s Conservative Party is your best choice?

Why are councils silent about the Localism Act’s eviction threat?

If you don’t have a plan to deal with the financial demands of the Localism Act, this could be you.

Has anyone received any information from their local authority about how it plans to implement the new council tax support scheme required by the Localism Act?

This scheme will be running from the beginning of April next year (2013), and it is therefore a matter of urgency that we find out what it will involve. Or is it our councils’ intention to take us all by surprise?

It is two months since I wrote my article on the subject, Poll Tax revival plan to take away your home, and I have heard nothing from my own local authority.

I have therefore written a letter, asking for information. If you are in the same situation, you may wish to use what follows as a template:

Dear County Council,

You will be aware that the Coalition government’s Localism Act means that Council Tax Benefit will be scrapped from April next year. Instead, local authorities – such as yours – will be compelled to set up local council tax support schemes. The aim is to cut 10 per cent from the current council tax benefit bill, or around £470 million.

Because pensioners will not be attacked in this way (at this time) – the legislation exempts them – this means working-age people are likely to face a loss of at least 16 per cent of their benefit.

Councils could choose to reduce spending in other areas or increase council tax, but these would affect groups other than current benefit recipients and so, in the name of fairness, I think we can be sure those who are on benefit now will end up paying that £470 million bill.

You can be sure that the illusion of choice has been included by the Coalition to ensure that you – and all the other local authorities in the UK – take the blame for what will be a considerable increase in the bills being paid by poorer households. I don’t think anyone who devised the legislation stopped to think what the tax hike will be, as a proportion of claimants’ earnings.

Worse than that, though, is the fact that I have not heard a single word from you about how you plan to approach this matter. Implementation of the scheme is now less than six months away, and those who will be affected need to plan how they intend to absorb the extra expense.

My fear is that you think you can remain silent until the very last minute in the hope that this will minimise harmful publicity against you. This would be disastrous for your taxpaying constituents.

Such a policy may well leave them unable to pay their bills and therefore, ultimately, homeless.

Please publicise your proposals to deal with the demands of the Localism Act now.

Hammering the poor is no Credit to anyone – certainly not Universal

According to The Guardian, nearly half a million disabled people and their families could lose so much money under the new Universal Credit system that they could end up homeless.

The information comes from a report by a commission headed by Paralympian Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson and, yet again, shows that Tory criticism of the current benefits system as being “too complicated” is a sign that they do not understand the complexities of life for those of us who rely on the system to top-up our incomes.

From my reading of the article, the report does not take into account disabled people who are found ‘fit for work’ under the Atos assessment regime, nor does it consider the effects of the Localism Act on their Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit.

I wonder if this means the predicted increase in child poverty is now out of date and will have to be revised upwards again.

Citizens Advice, the Children’s Society and Disability Rights UK have already called for more cash to be provided for disadvantaged families. A forlorn hope. The point of this benefit (if we dare dignify it with that name) is that it is supposed to be universal, after all.

The government says the report is “highly selective” and could lead to “irresponsible scaremongering”. Of course, it is easy to say that now. The results of all this tinkering with the benefits system won’t be known for some time to come – and, if this report is to be believed, by then it will be too late to reverse the damage for hundreds of thousands of families.

Will it even do any good? Experience suggests not. All the Coalition’s tinkering has managed to achieve in two years is misery for the poor. National borrowing is on the rise.

And there are still questions to be answered about the way the new system works. What will count as earnings? will there be concessions for mothers on maternity leave? How will childcare costs be incorporated into the Universal Credit? What about extra costs for people with disabilities, and who will receive this support? What support will be available for carers? What about support for pensioners with children? How will housing costs be assessed? Will financial support for council tax be included in or separate from UC?

What about people who are trying to start up their own business – something the government is supposed to be supporting? Depending on how UC is administered, the amount of money they receive could be the difference between being able to set up in business – or not.

And, if too many people find they can’t, that could be the difference between economic revival – and not.

Get your votes out, lads and lasses!

Is the government is right to maintain benefits to older people, whatever their financial situation, while cutting benefits to more vulnerable people?

This was the popular issue on BBC radio’s Any Questions/Any Answers this week – popular because it highlighted the contrast between pensioners, who influence governments, and youngsters, who don’t.

The simple fact – nailed by a tweeter – is that old people vote more than young people. Therefore, it is the choice they make that can decide who forms the next government. Therefore any party (or parties) in power will pander to them and try to ensure that they take as few hits as possible during a time of cuts.

Remember the old adage that, if you don’t vote Tory when you’re old, you’ve got no brains? They try to look after their support base.

So pensions stop being linked to RPI and get linked to CPI instead, meaning a drop of 0.4 per cent in their annual rise (which was 5.2 per cent last year – well above average pay increases). They get a Christmas bonus. They get winter fuel payments whether they need them or not. Free TV licence.

Meanwhile, youth services are cut hard. Student tuition fees are tripled. The number of young adults out of work skyrockets and they are faced with crippling sanctions on their Jobseekers’ Allowance if they don’t comply with slave-labour Workfare schemes. The Universal Credit will cap the amount of benefit they receive to keep them in poverty. The Localism Bill will bring in county-based council tax relief schemes instead of Council Tax Benefit, which will push low-earners (traditionally the young) out of their homes to look for accommodation in less-desirable areas.

The government can get away with this because young people don’t vote – so they are no threat.

Of course, we’ve all heard the naysayers banging on that there’s no point in voting because it won’t change anything; whatever happens, you’ll end up with a politician representing you. We’ve all heard that sort of tripe. Their point – that politicians are no different from each other; that they’re all in it to line their own pockets, may seem valid. But just look at the evidence of the last century in Britain alone and you will see that it is not true.

Was Aneurin Bevan lining his own pockets when he set up the NHS? Of course not – but Andrew Lansley and many other MPs are lining theirs by breaking it up. And that’s just the obvious example.

So, young people of the UK – and in that I count anybody from 18 up to retirement age – it’s time to start thinking seriously about your situation.

Do you really want to be a Conservative politician’s helpless pawn? Do you want to be consigned to poverty, to a life of endlessly being shifted from one inadequate set of digs to another? From one Workfare placement to another?

Or will you take charge of your own political life and make it clear that you won’t be pushed around like that?

There are more of you than there are pensioners. You can choose a government that is fair; that actually wants to help you. Remember, the government that formed the NHS did it when there was supposed to be “no money left”, and in a time of far worse proportionate debt. And it wasn’t a Tory government. Or a Liberal Democrat one.

So get your votes out.