Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The abolition of the old council tax benefit system in April 2013 and the cut in central government funding to the new localised schemes is beginning to bite. Millions of people on low incomes are being told to pay more council tax and many thousands are being thrown into debt. By acting as the delivery mechanism for coalition attacks on the poorest people, Labour councils are again taking the political flack for austerity cuts. The union Unite is leading a campaign supporting people to fight back against the new poverty tax, and asking local politicians to refuse to be used as the coalition’s pawns.
At the end of October 2013, against the backdrop of several hundred people queueing outside Camberwell magistrates’ court, Councillor Richard Livingstone, lead member for finance in the London Borough of Southwark, attempted to explain why 5,800 Southwark residents had that morning been summonsed for non-payment of council tax.
It was an unedifying sight. As several local residents berated him for subjecting the poorest people in the borough to a direct cut in income through the new council tax charges, he stammered a defence of powerlessness against central government cuts. It didn’t go down well, and once again the Conservatives seemed to have been successful in making Labour local politicians the bad guys in the eyes of their voters. When offered the opportunity to work with Unite to find ways to avoid passing on the cuts to residents, as has happened in Merton and Tower Hamlets, he looked relieved and agreed.
The people in the queue outside the court were among the poorest of Southwark’s households. The borough’s new scheme requires all residents to pay 15 per cent of their council tax bill regardless of income, meaning that those on out-of-work benefits, or in poorly paid or part-time work will be asked to pay up to £300 a year extra. Around 35,000 households in Southwark are affected – approximately two in every five.
Southwark has now summonsed nearly 10,000 people for non-payment since April. Most are unable to pay unless they stop paying other bills. A number were already in rent arrears to the council as a result of the bedroom tax. Many are now resorting to food banks. Unite’s community and industrial members are rolling out a campaign to lobby targeted local politicians, asking them to take action against the government and protect their residents from further debt and poverty.
The government’s 10 per cent funding cut that accompanied the abolition of council tax benefit appears to have left councils with a stark choice: absorb the cut by further cutting council services, cut the number of people entitled to the benefit and/or cut the amount people receive. But that isn’t in fact the case.
Across England nearly one fifth of councils have decided against passing on this cut to local people. The reason isn’t in the main due to the obvious human and social costs that will result from asking for taxes from people who are already stretched to breaking point. It is that, as with the bedroom tax, which is increasingly being recognised as uneconomical, the costs of attempting to enforce the policy will be higher than any savings made.
Most councils estimated an 80 per cent collection rate of the new charges, and calculated their budgets accordingly. But this is likely to turn out to be a massively optimistic guess. It’s very likely that a high proportion of the new charges won’t be recouped – while councils incur court and bailiff costs, adding up to holes in their budgets that are bigger than the original government funding cuts.
Local Conservative politicians have been among those most critical of the change. As Wandsworth Council commented: ‘The size of these amounts in respect of council tax would in many cases be uneconomic to recover, with the costs of collection, including legal recovery costs which fall to the council, being higher than the bill, and would in all likelihood have to be written off when the debt is uncollectable.’ Six London councils, including Tory-controlled Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham, are not collecting from benefit claimants for this reason.
Other councils have a chance to do likewise in April’s budget. The risks of not doing so are high. Some are calling this ‘poll tax mark 2’ and suggesting a mass civil response that is similar in scale and consequence. It’s something local politicians should think carefully about before elections in May.
The police spend little of their time making arrests, and most crimes are not solved, writes Alex Vitale – their real purpose is social control
Many important things happened on conference floor, reports Alex Nunns – but you wouldn’t know it from reading the newspapers
Radhika Desai says Capital by Karl Marx is still an essential read on the 150th anniversary of its publication
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum
The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes
Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference
Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going