Tag Archives: David Cameron

George, for goodness sake, let them raise my council tax

For the last couple of years one of the main sources of pride for local councils was the ability not to raise council tax or even to reduce it. Government proudly presented charts showing how many councils managed to do that and publicly shamed the ones which did not. It seems that the councils also took it upon themselves to partake in the PR game. My own local authority has quite recenly sent me a leaflet boasting that the council tax has been frozen for 8 years.

I must say that I find that almost as impressive as shocking. Undeniably budgets of local authorities have been significantly affected since the conservative government came to power. David Cameron often emphasises that he wants councils to become more efficient and make ‘back office’ savings. However, there are only so many senior managers who can be made redundant, so many optimalisations one can make. At certain point local authirities will inevitably find themselves with their backs against the wall… and we may already be past that point! It became brutally aparent when Mr Cameron himself tried to intervene against some of the cuts in his consituency (more on that – here). Loss of over 40% of funding (as it was the case in Oxfordshire) will mean that not only those evil ‘back offices’ will be affected, but also some (lots of?) crucial frontline services – a children centre, womens’ refuge, day centre for people with dementia, anything which does not need to be legally provided by the council is under risk of being shut down.

The ability to protect the services, more – to deliver a high quality services to its inhabitants should be a source of pride to the council; that and nothing else. I very much welcomed the indication that Geoge Osborne may allow councils to raise their local tax by 2% to gather extra funds for social care. However, I think that everyone needs to accept that more may be needed and that we should be all prepared to contribute more to keep the services we and those who live around us need.

That said, we now come across another problem. Many families are already struggling financially. An increas of even few pounds will create additional strain on their budgets. Especially that for the last few years even individuals or families on welfare benefits need to contribute to their council tax.  Therefore there is no way to increase the council tax in a way which only affects those who can actually afford that.

The way in which properties are allocated into diffent bands (which in turn tells you how much to pay) perfectly symbolises just how backward this tax it. Band allocations actually use property valuations from 1991! So if your property in 1991 was valued at under £40 000 you’d be in band A, between £40 000 and £52 000 B, and then it goes up to H which is over £320 000. I’m not quite sure how this is calculated for properties which were not around 24 years ago. Well, it is not like a lot is being built in London anyway, so at least that is not a problem.

Especially in London linking amount of tax you must pay with value of your property seems highly unfair. Prices of many properties sky rocketed in the last decade or so. Some of them surely are inhabited by low earners who would struggle if council tax was increased. There is also a lot of people who would be able to contribute more, but currently live in properties of a lower value.

A great start to differentiating prices of the council tax for high and low earners would be an introduction of voluntary top up. An addition to the council tax which one could subscribe to and which would go only and directly to front line services.

The spending review tomorrow will surely bring more cuts and thefore more hardship. Maybe, just maybe, through allowing councils to raise the tax it will also open up discussion about the need, cost and value of the local services and the ways to save them.

 

Individual vs Society – What are the makings of long-term unemployed?

Many read biographies of rich and successful to find out what are the makings of the great. What do I need? What do I lack to become one of them? We are all in never-ending pursue of success and money searching for any tips, routines, things that we should or should not do to get any closer. But does anyone ever think what are the makings of long-term unemployed?

 

It seems to me that often the common understanding is that the unemployed is someone who does not want to find work. A person too lazy to grab multiple opportunities laid in from of him/her by employers and entrepreneurs. As a society we ‘help’ people into work by forcing them to volunteer and cutting or freezing their allowances. David Cameron wants to eliminate youth unemployment not by creating more jobs, but by scrapping benefits altogether for people under certain age. In the end, all that those lay-abouts need is a push in the right direction; an incentive to get up from the couch and get on with their lives, isn’t that right? No, it’s not!

 

It is neither nudge nor incentive they need. Unemployment is nothing like long holidays. It is dreadful, often depressing, embarrassing and demeaning, it is nearly a medical condition – chronic unemployment.. There is no magic switch that makes a person with a history of years or even generations of unemployment go back to work; just like it takes your body time and right kind of treatment to recover from a disease it takes time and a hell lot of work for a long-term unemployed to successfully join the labour market.  In my own opinion it all boils down to a situation into which a person is born. One may say that countries like US, UK or any other EU member are a land of opportunity. We should not fool ourselves. A person born in a household with issues ranging from long-term unemployment to substance misuse will have by far higher risk of becoming long-term unemployed themselves than a descendant of middle class parents. Even when the education is free and available a child needs encouragement, support and parents’ supervision to get through it. How many are there not getting any of it? And then there is social housing – a scheme meant to help, I suppose. but sometimes strikingly resembling ghetto’s for people we would rather not see on day-to-day basis. Estates or even whole districts often become a land without opportunity, producing more and more people damned to join the ranks of long-term unemployed. And then in the end, after all the denying of opportunities, marginalising and belittling all we have to say to those is – This is your fault! How is that fair?

 

For those looking for anthropological take on how we force people into black market economy I strongly recommend ‘In search of respect: selling crack in El Barrio’ by Philippe Bourgois