Kettering Conservatives continue their attack on the poor

By Mick Scrimshaw on September 22, 2016

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Kettering Conservatives Continue their attack on the poor and discuss increasing council tax to those on benefits from already the highest rate in the country by up to a further 50%.

Last night at Kettering Council’s Executive Committee (meeting of the senior Conservative Councillors who take all the important decisions), they discussed the issue of next year’s level of council tax support.

This is the level of support given to vulnerable and disabled people who need help towards their council tax bills and this support has been cut significantly for the last four years running. Currently Kettering charge these residents far more than any other council in the whole country! For example, someone with the highest possible needs is likely to pay more than five times the amount than the same person would in neighbouring Corby.

They were discussing the process of further cutting support past these already unprecedented low amounts which may mean putting up people’s council tax bills by more than £200 a year.

A disabled resident took the time to turn up at the meeting and address the committee. He said “Disabled people were more than lines on a spreadsheet” and went on to explain that the support he received was a lifeline towards his independence and was therefore the beginning of the road to recovery, and highlighted that as utility and food bills continue to rise this move would just add to stress and anxiety, and may lead to further homelessness if people were unable to pay. A point touched upon in the report itself which recognises there would be a big risk in increases of non-collection.

The resident went on to ask the Executive directly “to stand up for the disabled and vulnerable people of Kettering”.

His moving statement was hard to follow but I took the opportunity to also address the committee.

I said I was amazed to read this report and see this issue return in this way, and that it looked as if the council were engaged in a significant and sustained attack against the poor.

I explained that I understood they feel they have no choice in the matter due to cuts in government funding, and I understood fully the narrative behind their ‘golden principles’ (these are the financial rules they brought in several years ago to ensure good financial management, but things have changed since then and these are arguably no longer doing the job that was initially intended), but their interpretation of this was wrong and that is was not the case they had no choice; it was purely a political decision!

I went on to explain why they were wrong and gave the example of every other council in the country who disagreed with them, including their own Conservative colleagues from around Northamptonshire in Wellingborough, Daventry, East Northants and Northampton and elsewhere; all of whom offer significantly more support to their residents.

I asked them to “take a breath and a step back, and to defer the report to next month’s meeting to give themselves time to discuss the matter further with their colleagues and their finance officers”.

Unfortunately it didn’t surprise me when the recommendation was passed unanimously, and not one single councillor raised any questions about what they had heard. The matter will now go to public consultation to increase council tax bills for these residents by 50%, 10%, somewhere in between or leave them the same level as they are now. Given that increases are already written about in the council’s forward plan I am not holding out much hope for the fourth option.

Mick Scrimshaw is the Leader of the Labour Group at Kettering Borough Council, the Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance at Northamptonshire County Council. He has a public record of standing up for Kettering as a County Councillor for the Northall division in Kettering, Northants and since May 2015, a Borough Councillor for the William Knibb ward. He is a keen cyclist and also runs a family business with his wife.

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