Three more failed policies from the Coalition


photoAm I reading right can some punch my arm that free schools cost twice as much as the Government originally estimated and is failing to tackle the shortage of classroom places in many parts of the country a damning report by public spending watchdog. Which leads me to think what Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith has in common. Well blow me over the answer is they both introduced failed policies on behalf of the Nasty Party with the tax payers picking up the tabs.

Many of us are beginning to understand the impact of deep spending cuts coupled by very deep rumours that the grassroots of LidDems are not happy with their darling brain child Nick Clegg as it has been alleged that he has signed up to further deep cuts after the 2015 General Elections which can only mean that their beloved leader judgement day will cause a revolt by a leadership challenge if they get that far or many of them will begin to cross over to another political party. Whilst the coalition continues to play Judy and Punch politics with the voters it reminds me of the phrase those who laugh last laughs the best with the possibility of two leadership challenges in the pipeline. The questions for all of us will our MPs from cross party will accept the 11% pay rise after the new years and will coalition will start to build more properties for people to downside since the introduction of their Bedroom Tax .

The-coalition-cabinet-006When the coalition are enjoying their Christmas meals with their families let’s hope they will have a change of heart some people will say I say me thinks not the reasons are The government‘s assault on the poor includes abolishing council tax benefit. This is just as pernicious as the bedroom tax but has received less publicity. It came in on May 1.

Prior to this, council tax benefit was means-tested and administered by local authorities.

If you were on employment and support allowance or jobseeker’s allowance, or your income was at that level, you received 100 per cent council tax benefit, leaving you with nothing to pay.

Slightly higher incomes were means-tested, so that you could still receive some council tax benefit.

In place of council tax benefit, the government introduced a “council tax-reduction scheme.”

The name suggests lower council tax bills. It is nothing of the sort.

It is simply a subsidy from government to local authorities to replace council tax benefit.

But the big difference is that the “council tax-reduction” subsidy is only 80 per cent the amount that a local authority used to receive in council tax benefit.

So claimants who were receiving 100 per cent council tax benefit now only have 80 per cent of their council tax bill reduced, leaving them to pay 20 per cent. Around two million people are affected.

The difference between 100 per cent council tax benefit and 80 per cent council tax reduction is £400 million – that’s the amount cut by the government.

It never ceases to amaze me how this government can believe that someone who receives what the state decides is the bare minimum required to survive – and pay for food, heating, lighting and other essentials – can suddenly be asked to find extra money from that subsistence amount.

Jobseeker’s allowance was not calculated to include a 20 per cent contribution towards council tax, just as it was not calculated to include the bedroom tax.

The government’s intention is to blame local authorities for this cut.

By simply giving local authorities a pot of money equivalent to 80 per cent of the amount that they used to receive in council tax benefit, it can claim that if local authorities pass the 20 per cent shortfall onto each council taxpayer, that is their choice.

The government can say that local authorities could choose to reduce council tax by 100 per cent – on a means-tested basis – but have decided not to.

Of course, it is a fake choice. If a local authority decides to retain 100 per cent reduction of council tax, it will have to find the extra 20 per cent from its budget. So will be looking at making cuts elsewhere.

It falls to local authorities to collect council tax, and so we are suddenly back to the days of the poll tax.

Brent and Southwark councils have each issued thousands of applications for liability orders in the magistrate’s court, predominantly against people who previously received 100 per cent council tax benefit and are now being asked to find £2 to £5 per week towards council tax, even though their other benefits have not increased accordingly.

The method of challenging a council tax bill is immensely complex.

Each local authority has its own “council tax-reduction scheme,” which it should publish on its website.

That scheme sets out how the council tax will be reduced, on the basis of means-testing etc.

If you receive a council tax bill and you want to challenge it, you have to check your circumstances against the scheme published by your council.

If the council has got your details wrong and you should be entitled to a higher reduction, first of all complain to the council.

If the council refuses to change its decision or fails to reply within two months, you appeal to the valuation tribunal.

The appeal can only be on the basis that the council has wrongly applied its own scheme and your circumstances mean that you should be entitled to a greater reduction under the scheme.

The tribunal will not hear appeals arguing you cannot afford to pay the council tax.

Each council must also operate a council tax discretionary relief scheme or council tax hardship scheme and details should be in the published council tax-reduction scheme.

These are little-known provisions which give councils a discretion to reduce council tax liability in particular circumstances, usually applied to war pensioners or the very seriously disabled.

These discretionary relief schemes can help in the short-term to reduce council tax bills for those in real poverty.

If you simply can’t afford to pay your council tax but are not entitled to discretionary relief and you can’t argue that the council misapplied its own scheme, then you will eventually receive a summons to the magistrate’s court so that the council can obtain a liability order.

There are some technical arguments here – is the amount on the summons the correct amount, has the council applied the right time limits?

But, again, if the only reason why you are not paying your council tax is because you can’t afford to, the magistrate’s court has no discretion but to make a liability order. Poverty is not a defence.

In many ways, this is the new poll tax. Its aim is that everyone, even the poorest, should contribute to council tax.

It is implemented by local authorities – which may or may not have agreed with the cut depending on their political composition – and so local authorities take the political blame.

But, unlike the poll tax and much more like the bedroom tax, it is a tax on the poor.

It is a tax on people who were previously assessed as being so poor that they should receive 100 per cent discount on their council tax, through council tax benefit.

Garden Court Chambers, where I work, has launched Legal Action on Council Tax.

Our website contains detailed legal information as to how to appeal to a valuation tribunal and what happens when you are summonsed to the magistrate’s court.

No legal aid is available and so applicants have to represent themselves. Our hope is that the dissemination of information will give applicants the tools to make the argument and do just that.

Perhaps the best hope is that, like the poll tax, the collecting authorities and the courts will become so overwhelmed that government has to give in.

I’m delighted to learn that Parliament agrees with hard-working public servants deserve decent pay. Now we just want the idea extended beyond MPs’ own ranks.

Never mind the manufactured row over MPs’ 11 per cent pay rise. It seems likely the “independent” pay body Ipsa has been leaned on to propose the outrageous figure so that frontbenchers on both sides can make a great show of rejecting it.

The real pay scandal is the million public-sector workers whose shamefully low wages have been hacked back even further during three-and-a-half years of Con-Dem cuts.

It’s these workers who should be the focus of our fury at politicians over pay. They are the ones – disproportionately women – who toil day in, day out to feed our schoolchildren, care for our elderly and vulnerable and perform a hundred other vital jobs.

They have suffered terribly as the result of a deliberate campaign against the public sector aimed at dragging down pay and conditions to match the very worst that can be found in the private sector.

Combined with the cost-of-living crisis – caused largely by profiteering energy companies and money-grubbing private landlords – it means that some of our most valuable workers are being rewarded with grinding poverty that suggests we value them at almost nothing.

This is an entirely deliberate move by the Tories. They want to devalue public service, to punish those who perform it, to drive away competent and committed workers.

They say public services can’t work – so they have to destroy public services which do work so that the facts don’t contradict their dogma.

It’s also vital for the Tories to wreck the public sector so that it can’t put the private sector to shame.

Bosses have long been forced to up their game or risk losing their workers to a public sector where workers enjoy gender equality, strong trade union protections and collective pay bargaining.

The more the Tories hack back public services, the more the way is clear for bosses to join the race to the bottom on pay and conditions, to go back to Victorian-style exploitation, to play divide-and-rule with their workers and to widen the already huge gender pay gap.

The Tories and their media friends love to bleat on about public-sector pay as if these vital workers really were all taking home MP-sized salaries – and as if they didn’t deserve it.

If anyone is worthy of an 11 per cent pay rise it’s the public servants who do so much irreplaceable work to keep this country running and are rewarded with so little except falling pay, rising workloads and a constant barrage of lies from the Tory press.

It’s great to see Jack Straw admit that decent pay is vital to attract talented workers. Now let’s see Labour apply that principle not to MPs but to our much-slandered public servants.

Ed Balls needs to admit he was wrong to back a Tory pay freeze which had nothing to do with financial prudence and everything to do with sabotaging the public sector.

Labour needs to pledge to reverse council budget cuts, end outsourcing and ensure that every one of our public servants earns the decent wage they can expect from one of the world’s wealthiest countries.

Councils have been driven to embark on these firesales of valuable property by recent Con-Dem cuts which have left huge holes in their budgets.

But those are just the latest in decades of disastrous Tory housing policy.

Tony Blair’s Labour shamefully failed to reverse Margaret Thatcher’s attacks on council housing or her abolition of rent controls. And today – not just in London but in cities all across Britain – we are paying the price in soaring rents, ever-growing overcrowding, misery, squalor and homelessness.

The Tories aren’t just failing to confront those problems – they are actively encouraging them.

Intriguingly London Mayor Boris Johnson’s carefully cultivated buffoon persona conceals a cold-eyed neoliberal delighted by the sight of hundreds of ordinary Londoners driven from their homes to clear the way for private profit.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is more interested in destroying communities than defending them. And meanwhile at a national level Tory housing policy, like Tory economic policy, is so foolish and destructive it’s impossible to tell if the government is acting out of malice or incompetence.

It was always obvious to anyone with half a brain cell that George Osborne’s help-to-buy scheme would be a disaster for the people who actually need help with housing.

All it does is pump more air into the ever-inflating bubble – putting home ownership even further out of reach of most people.

It’s an obvious bribe to wealthy Tory voters in the run-up to the 2015 general election.

But what has Labour got to offer instead? Millions of people are crying out for a return to the days when decent, affordable council homes were available to all who wanted one.

Ed Miliband needs to be bold and stand up for those millions. No mealy-mouthed talk of “social housing” or housing associations, no half-hearted gestures like requiring a handful of “affordable” homes to be tacked on to vast developments aimed squarely at the super-rich.

But a massive programme of building good-quality council homes right across Britain, publicly owned, democratically controlled and at rents that undercut the private-sector profiteers. Only that way can we beat the Tories’ efforts to bring back the Victorian slum to 21st-century Britain.

Whilst on the other hand the average British household could eventually end up paying an extra £8,000 for its gas and electricity if George Osborne succeeds in delaying vital action to make Britain greener, the Government’s official climate change advisers warn.

Postponing decisive action to cut carbon emissions by 10 years to 2030, through measures such as a widespread shift to renewable energy sources, will add at least £100bn to Britain’s collective household energy bills between 2030 and 2050, according to the independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC). This works out to £4,000 per household.

The increase is because Britain would need to take even more drastic action to make up lost ground to ensure it hits its legally binding target of reducing carbon emissions by 80 per cent from 1990 levels.

And if fossil fuel prices soar to the top of the range of realistic forecasts, the bill to remedy the delayed switch to a low-carbon society could reach £200bn, or £8,000 per household, according to the committee’s calculations – the first time a figure has been put on the cost to the UK of postponing action.

The report rejects claims that renewable energy subsidies and other green levies are bad for households because they will accelerate increases in energy bills. The committee concedes that consumers will pay more in the short term to fund the transition to a greener economy, but will be handsomely rewarded in the long term as price increases are curbed.

Lord Debden, chairman of the CCC, said: “This report shows the clear economic benefits of acting to cut emissions through the 2020s. This provides insurance against the increased costs and risks of climate-related damage and rising energy bills that would result from an alternative approach to reduce and delay action.”

The report comes ahead of a key review in the spring of Britain’s carbon emission targets for the 2020s that David Cameron personally approved in 2011. The review was secured by Mr Osborne, who is concerned that the agreed emissions reductions might be bad for the economy and would reduce his scope to build dozens of new gas-fired power stations.

But the committee finds that watering down the carbon emissions targets would be far more costly than pressing ahead with the agreed cuts. It also argues that by fiddling with previously agreed energy targets, the Government could undermine the confidence of potential investors in energy projects.

This view is shared by a coalition of 100 parties, including Sainsbury’s, Asda, Ikea, O2, Sky, Nestlé and the consumer goods giant Unilever, which today calls on the Government to stick with its previously agreed plan to substantially reduce carbon emissions.

Speaking for the group, Lord Adair Turner, a former director-general of the CBI, said: “The majority of the business world is clear that ambitious and stable action to tackle climate change makes business sense. A stable policy environment is critical to attracting investment in the low-carbon sector.”

Lord Debden added: “The Government should confirm the [2020s carbon targets] as a matter of urgency. This would remove the current uncertainty and poor investment climate. It would provide a boost to the wide range of investors who stand ready to invest in low-carbon technologies.”

The CCC report comes at a time when consumer confidence in the so-called “Big Six” energy companies is low, following a series of inflation-busting price hikes that have greatly increased their profits. An estimated 10,000 people died in the UK last winter in connection with cold homes.

In the week after the Chancellor sought to knock £50 off household energy bills by watered down green levies, it emerged that only two of the Big Six have so far passed on the saving to their customers. They are British Gas and SSE – formerly known as Scottish & Southern Energy. MoneySuperMarket, the price comparison website, yesterday said some of the firms were “getting away with green murder”.

A Department of Energy and Climate Change spokesman said: “The UK takes its obligations under the Climate Change Act to cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 extremely seriously. The Committee’s advice has an important role in the 4th Carbon Budget review and we agree with them that it is important to make a final decision as quickly as possible. We will consider the CCC’s advice carefully as part of our work on the review, which will be published in the New Year.”

This will get everybody’s blood boiling to learn again that the government has increased its initial write-off of a failed IT system for universal credit by £6m to £40.1m, but acknowledged that a further £90m of software is likely to be written down in its value over the next five years.

The precise loss to the taxpayer will depend on how much of the existing IT software is retained after it has been merged with a new IT system being developed by the Cabinet Office’s Government Digital Service.

Universal credit, which brings together six existing benefits, is seen as potentially the biggest change to welfare since the second world war. Ministers had to concede last week that it had fallen behind schedule and would not be completed by 2017 as originally planned.

Seeking to explain the £40m write-off, Mike Driver, finance director general at the Department for Work and Pensions, said: “There is no use for the IT code built to run the computer systems. It has no future value. It is not going to generate any future return for the department.”

 

He insisted this level of write-off in the software industry was not unusual for a project of this kind. He said it would not be possible to seek any clawback in the contract since the specifications made by the department had changed, especially over security. The code was well written and engineered, the department added.

The latest statistics were given by the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, as he denied that the universal credit timetable was slipping or that it was losing control of its budget. Asked if further write-offs could be expected, he said: “If anything goes wrong going further forward, that might be different.”

But he added: “We have had to sit for some time while a lot of bogus nonsense has been talked about huge levels of additional write-offs. This note in front of you absolutely finishes that and ends it.

“The reality is that what our estimate was earlier on, when we first put it to the National Audit Office [NAO], and this total figure are very close together.

“This has been one of the most complex and detailed assessments that has taken place either in the public or private sector. It is now signed off and will be published very soon.”

Duncan Smith said the original IT system had got bogged down because of the need to provide security and the complexity of different elements interacting in one software programme.

The DWP said it was justifiable to declare the remaining £90m as not being written off because it would be written down over a five-year period, by which time universal credit would have been introduced.

The department added that it was legitimate for the £90m not to be written off since the NAO had accepted its definition.

The DWP said was unable to state at this stage the level of other non-software costs.

A spokesperson said: “It is not unexpected that IT requirements evolve on a long-term programme of reform and that some rework was required. But we are not complacent about this loss and are working to ensure that this project continues to roll out within the budget we have been set.

“This should be seen in the context of the £38bn economic benefit that universal credit will ultimately bring.”

At a two-hour evidence session, Howard Shiplee, the universal credit director general, said a new business case would be put to the Treasury early next year.

He accepted that the software was incomplete for some claimants, including couples and those with children. He was also reluctant to commit himself to deadlines.

“This is not an IT disaster. This will be delivered in time and on budget,” Iain Duncan Smith said in September 2013.

But last week he used the cover of the autumn statement to announce that he is to miss his deadline of getting all existing and new benefit claimants on to universal credit by 2017.

He also confirmed he is having to entirely rework the IT system at substantial cost because the original IT failed to meet the needs of claimants.

“What we are talking about will have no practical effect on the implementation of universal credit, which, by the way, is proceeding exactly in accordance with plans,” Duncan Smith told MPs in March.

But in September a scathing report by the National Audit Office (NAO) said the welfare changes had been poorly managed and were riddled with major IT problems, threatening to increase costs by hundreds of millions of pounds.

The NAO report also outlined how the project was “reset” a month before Duncan Smith’s comments to parliament, following the involvement of the Major Projects Authority, which has the power to intervene on behalf of taxpayers.

Officals at Duncan Smith’s department said in October 2011 that 2 million households will get a lower entitlement to benefits as a result of the universal credit scheme.

But in a revised impact assessment, the Department of Work and Pensions said in December 2012 that 2.8 million households will get a lower entitlement to benefits.

The much greater impact was regarded as being due to factors such as the deteriorating economic environment but officials also conceded that universal credit is less generous than first envisaged.

 

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