Council tax benefit changes 'immoral'
CHANGES to council tax benefits which could hit 10,000 Torbay residents have been branded 'immoral, unfair and unethical'.
Former Conservative councillor Matt James, who is now independent, said every person aged 18 to 64 who claimed council tax benefit would have to pay some tax from next year.
He agreed with local councils having control over council tax benefits, but slammed the Government decision to cut by 10 per cent the money coming to Torbay for the benefits.
"Once pensioners are protected it leads to a 25 per cent cut in benefits for everyone else," he told the full council meeting.
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"The poorest and most vulnerable members of the Bay will be the ones most affected by this Draconian policy.
"People on very low incomes, struggling to stay afloat, will have to fork out hundreds of pounds a year to pay council tax. As with the poll tax, many will be unable to do so and will likely refuse."
He added: "This is an immoral, unfair and unethical tax on our poorest residents. "
He urged the mayor to write to the Government to change course.
Cllr Jackie Stockman seconded the motion, saying: "Already the age group between 25 and 35 have had their benefits substantially reduced. Now another 2,000 people will be affected by council tax reforms."
Mayor Gordon Oliver pointed out that Torbay Council was facing cuts of up to £10million in its budget next year because of the economic crisis.
It has started consulting residents on the initial proposals.
He said: "For the first time I think there is a realisation how difficult the task is and the problems we are going to have, not only next year but the following year as well."
He said the Government had voted on the council tax reform.
"We have an enormous debt problem which we have to deal with. It is not going to be easy. We are facing a 10 per cent cut to help balance the books.
"This is just one of the challenges we face in the next few months. This is the beginning of two more years of extremely difficult times.
"The prediction for the future is when we get to 2015 there is another 35 per cent cut on local authority budgets.
"I think there has to be realism we have to try to make a balanced and sensible judgement and I don't believe writing a letter is going to make any difference at all. We have to look at how we can improve the economy so people have jobs."
The matter was discussed at a subsequent meeting of the overview and scrutiny board, which has no executive power but makes comments and recommendations which are debated at a later stage. The committee agreed to recommend to the mayor that a Hardship Fund be created, aimed at supporting those hardest hit .