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Over the last  few weeks Leeds City Council has sent out consultation forms to tens of thousands of residents in the city who receive Council Tax Benefit. From April 2013, the Con-Dem government is abolishing the current Council Tax Benefit scheme, and instead councils will have to develop their own schemes.

Leeds Socialist Party reporters

The really insidious part comes in the fact that the government is reducing the amount of funding for the new schemes by 10% – letting local councils decide who they want to let pay more. Further to this, if unemployment increases, then councils will not receive more funding. Already, under pressure, the government has exempted people of state pension age from the changes, which means that even less support will be available to working age claimants.

From the figures that Leeds City Council releases about who claims this benefit it is easy to nail the lie being spun by the right-wing press that it is only benefit scroungers living in huge houses that claim this benefit. Almost half of the 76,000 claimants are working age people living in the smallest housing available, band A properties with over a quarter more being pensioners living in the same size housing. Yet many of the people in government who are now passing on these cuts claim for a second house through parliamentary expenses, many people will no doubt question who are the real scroungers.

These measures will reinforce many poor and working class people’s views that this government is one only interested in the welfare of the rich and be damned with the rest of society. People who the governments cuts programme has already cost their jobs will be amongst those who feel the brunt of these proposed changes.

Council Refuses to Fight for Leeds Residents

In spite of raising some objections over the question of the ‘bedroom tax’ on people who need live-in carers or single parents who only have their kids over for weekends, Leeds City Council have broadly accepted that these cuts can’t be fought. Instead, the council have opted for the Brighton Green Council method of getting those you are about to inflict cuts on decide which one of them faces the axe. Their consultation document states ‘We want to hear from you to decide what to do about the funding shortfall and who should be protected.’

They then go one to outline two options – one where the council immediately passes on the cuts which could mean cuts in Council Tax Benefit of up to 30% for working age people, or the second where council limits the cuts to 10% but for one year only before implementing the full up to 30% cuts. The council claims that choosing option 2 will cost it between £3.8m and 5m which in their words ‘is money that could be spent on other services’, thereby implying they would make more cuts to provide money for this.

Yet according to the Department for Communities and Local Government, Leeds City Councils projected reserves for the year 2012-13 is £35m, up £4m from the previous year. As even a rudimentary measure under their own flawed proposals, surely they could use money from their reserves for this one year rather than using that as a justification for further cuts to their own battered services.

Yet in the opinion of the Socialist Party this would be nowhere near enough. People are stretched as it is, many working people have had no pay rise for several years, whilst those on Job Seekers Allowance get told when they receive it that what they get is the amount determined that they need to live – yet such cuts would mean it no longer would provide even a minimal standard of living as even in a Band A property they would have to sacrifice £16.29 of that per month.

The Socialist Party is opposed to all cuts that attack the living standards of working class people and the public services that they rely upon. Why in a world where the PCS (civil servants union) estimates that £120bn each year goes uncollected or evaded in tax from wealthy individuals and large corporations, should the poorest suffer such a reduction in their living standards?

Instead of doing the Con-Dems dirty work, Leeds City Council should be refusing to implement their cuts and instead setting a budget to meet the needs of ordinary people in the city and organising a mass campaign to fight for the resources off the government to carry it out, using its reserves and prudent borrowing powers in the meantime. This would mean organising public meetings in every part of the city to discuss the campaign, as well as amongst trade union branches and other representative organisations (ie Leeds Tenants Federation) to discuss how to take a campaign forward, and organising demonstrations in the city to rally supporting. It would mean appealing to other councils to do the same and link up in a unified challenge against the government’s austerity agenda.

In such a situation, if Eric Pickles (the Communities and Local Government minister) attempted to suspend the council and send in commissioners, the council trade unions could organise the council workforce to refuse to work with them, paralysing the Con-Dems attempts to inflict their misery upon our city.

We stand ready to fight alongside any councillor that would adopt such a principled position and vote against the cuts as we have done elsewhere in Lambeth and Southampton.

At it next meeting, Leeds Against the Cuts will be discussing issues around housing, hopefully with participation from Leeds Tenants Federation, YFJ’s Young Tenants Fightback and other campaign organisations. We believe that Leeds Against the Cuts and the other groups there should organise a lobby of the council over this issue and send a deputation to argue the case against these and other cuts on the lines presented above.