Monthly Archives: March 2013

Dinner with Tom Watson

Hall Green CLP is holding their annual fundraising dinner on April the 25th and are very pleased to confirm that Tom Watson MP will be joining us. Tickets are now available and for those wishing to be part of the Hall Green Branch delegation, tickets can be purchased via Sam or Kerry. All funds raised will be put towards the 2014 campaign.

Welfare changes founded on Tory rhetoric

The government is about to implement the biggest overhaul of the benefits system since the creation of the welfare state. These reforms have been heavily criticised by 17 charities and non-profit organisations in a report to Birmingham City Council which says that the reforms make child poverty targets “unachievable” and the Chief Executive of Birmingham CAB has warned of “social meltdown”.

Iain Duncan Smith purports that the main purpose of these welfare changes is to provide a greater incentive for people on benefits to work and that these changes will make the welfare system fairer, but fairer for who?

The government’s Universal Credit (UC) will be a new single payment for people who are looking for work or on a low income and will, the government say, help claimants and their families to become more independent.

The government plans to launch UC in April, starting with a number of pilots in parts of the north-east England and then it will be introduced nationally for new claimants from October 2013. Existing claimants will be transferred to the new system in stages until 2017. It will replace the current system of tax credits and benefits for working age people with a new single payment which is paid monthly rather than the current system of weekly or fortnightly payments.

The main differences between Universal Credit and the current welfare system are:

  • UC will be available to people who are in work and on a low income, as well as to those who are out of work
  • most people will apply online and manage their claim through an online account
  • claimants will receive just one monthly payment, paid into a bank account in the same way as a monthly salary
  • support with housing costs will go direct to the claimant as part of their monthly payment.
  • There will be a benefit cap in line with the average weekly wage

There will be a maximum cap on benefits that a household can receive based on the average earnings of a working family (this includes other benefits such as Child Benefit). The benefit cap is designed to make it impossible for anyone to receive more on benefits than the average weekly wage after tax and national insurance.

  • For couples and lone parent households the cap will be £500 a week
  • For single adults the cap will be £350 a week

The benefit cap will be brought in nationwide in April 2013 and reductions will be made to housing benefit payments until universal credit takes over in October 2013.

The benefit cap will most certainly hit larger families and those who live in comparatively wealthy areas the hardest, and Mumsnet suggest that this “may result in ghettoisation of poorer working people and some people being forced to leave their homes.”

Other concerns include fears that UC will result in harsh assessments of people with disabilities and those who are currently unable to work because of illness as well as there being unrealistic expectations for lone parents with young children to go out to work.

Estimates from Disability Rights UK have suggested that 67,000 households will be affected in 2013-14 and 75,000 in 2014-15, with 54% of these being households in Greater London.

Other concerns raised refer to how Council tax credit will be administered by local authorities. The Instititute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) has predicted there will be problems with this because local authorities have been given less funding to administer the credit, which may lead to crude fixes and arbitrary means-testing. The IFS predicts poor families will end up paying 19% of their council tax.

Claimants will have to sign a claimant commitment form to get UC (apart from some groups of people who are excluded such as those with caring responsibilities). If you’re out of work this form sets out what you must to do look for work, such as preparing a CV or registering with a recruitment agency. If you don’t stick to the agreement, your benefit may be reduced or withdrawn.

Mumsnet argue that this commitment will tie in to the workfare schemes, where people will have their benefits cut if they are unwilling to work unpaid for six months. This is called the community action programme or ‘support for the very long-term unemployed’, but critics say it could be an easy way for companies to get free labour and take advantage of people who have been unable to find work (not to mention the fact that it would essentially remove paid jobs from the labour market by converting them into ‘free placements’).

Claimants with limited capability for work-related activity (as defined by a work capability assessment); Claimants who receive the carer element; Those who are responsible for a severely disabled person for at least 35 hours a week or a lone parent with a child aged under one are exempted from this commitment but there are concerns.

The new way of assessing fitness to work for people with disabilities has shown a ‘tick-box’ approach that doesn’t consider individual needs and may disregard ‘hidden’ disabilities, such as autism and mental health problems.

It is also feared there will be targets for private companies who carry out work capability assessments, which will reward them for declaring more people fit to work. This was the subject of a Channel 4 Dispatches programme: Britain on the Sick.

Claimants will have to meet degrees of conditionality in order to receive UC and claimants for the basic part of universal credit will be divided into different groups:

  1. No work-related requirements – because they may already earn enough or they may not be able to work at all.
  2. Work-focused interviews only – designed to keep people in touch with the labour market. This group would include a lone parent of a child between the ages of one and five.
  3. Work preparation group – claimants need to prepare to move to work or better paid work and may include people with a limited capability for work.
  4. All work–related requirements group – need to be looking for and available to do any type of work, usually full time. There will be concessions for parents of children aged 5–13 (where work hours would be limited to school hours), although it appears there may be concessions regarding work hours for parents who care for children aged 13–16, too.

There will be a three-month period where claimants will be able to look for work in a specific area and at a level of pay they have previously had, after which they must be willing to accept anything.

These requirements may be designed to help people into work, but the tough sanctions (fixed period sanctions of 91 days for the first failure; 128 days for the second failure, if it occurs within 52 weeks of the first; and three years for third and subsequent failures, if they occur within 52 weeks of the previous failure) mean that people will be forced into low-paid jobs.

Further sanctions will be applied if:

  • There is a failure to undertake mandatory work activity without good reason
  • There is a failure to apply for a particular vacancy without good reason
  • There is a failure to take up an offer of paid work without good reason
  • Paid work ceases by reason of misconduct, or voluntarily without good reason
  • Pay is lost by reason of misconduct, or voluntarily without good reason

If a claimant starts work, some of their earnings will be disregarded before there are any deductions to their UC payment. Once these disregarded earnings have been taken into account, UC will be withdrawn at a rate of 65p for each £1 of net earnings. So, after the disregard, claimants will be £35 better off for every £100 they earn. Not a great target for aspiration.

The government plan for UC is that it will be managed online with the notion of paying benefits monthly to reflect the world of work. The reality of this being that those receiving even a low income will likely have more monthly income left at the end of the month that those relying solely on benefits, further proliferating the dependency of ‘pay-day’ loans.

The Chartered Institute of Housing states that 400,000 of the country’s poorest families – among them those in poverty and on the minimum wage – will have less income in 2015 than they did in 2010, despite ministerial assurances that no one would lose out under its plans. The CIH calculations show that “the government’s aim for households to be better off in work than out of work under universal credit is not the case for all families.” They report that households that earn £247 or less a week will see a fall in real income in 2015, and lone parents with up to three children will always be worse off if UC remains in its current form.

There has been widespread concern about managing UC online with major concerns about the IT capabilities of the new system which is supposed to work alongside PAYE tax details, and employers are supposed to feed payment details into the system to make the benefits system ‘dynamic’. Reports suggest the system is not ready and there have been large delays in processing information. The system relies on real-time information being provided to track claimants’ earnings. All employers are supposed to submit wage information, but it may prove difficult for smaller companies to do so.

Other concerns focus on the assumption that all claimants can manage accounts online, with the Citizens Advice stating that “The new universal credit system risks causing difficulties to the 8.5 million people who have never used the internet and a further 14.5 million who have virtually no ICT skills,”.

Further concerns are stated in full elsewhere regarding the implications of UC being paid monthly and being paid to one member of a household, and the gap that may exist when the current system is phased out and the new one starts.

George Osborne is fond of saying, “where is the fairness…for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next-door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits?” And the Cameron has often talked of the benefits bill “sky-rocketing” while “generations languish on the dole and dependency”.

The assumption then that everyone is online and able to update their ‘account’ simply based on this Tory contemptuous rhetoric of the ‘benefit scrounger’, living an ‘idle’ and indulgent lifestyle spent watching Jeremy Kyle on their 50” plasmas and updating their FB pages.

The reality of course is far different – The benefit scrounger is the bogeyman of British politics, stalking the corridors of Westminster.

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Time to stand up and be counted

In the midst of a media frenzy that focused on the Leveson-inspired Royal Charter for press regulation you could be excused for not being aware that MPs on Tuesday were debating a piece of emergency legislation that could set a dangerous precedent and threaten civil liberties.

For Labour MPs, the vote should have been very clear, very straightforward, very simple as the Tory led government had been defeated in the courts because quite simply, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had been found to have broken the law.

Workfare and the spurious ideology that underpins it has been exposed by the ongoing activism of community campaigning groups such as Boycott Workfare, and came to the fore as a result of action taken by a young woman from Birmingham, Cait Reilly, who refused to work for free in Poundland as this prevented her from undertaking voluntary work at the Pen Museum in Hockley.

This brave action, standing up against the Tory rhetoric of ‘scrounger v striver’, and against an aggressive right wing press who have determinedly portrayed our growing army of young unemployed people as workshy scroungers lacking any real aspiration or initiative, Cait took the Tory Government to the courts, and the courts found in her favour.

The Court of Appeal ruled that the DWP had illegally sanctioned unemployed people who had been forced to work for free. The Court noted that the ‘Workfare’ scheme itself was not breaking the rules; but ruled that the DWP had not given sufficient legal information to those on workfare about what they were required to do, and their rights. As a result of violating the law, the Court of Appeal awarded damages of between £530 and £570 to jobseekers who had been illegally forced to work for organisations such as Poundland for no pay.

The response of the DWP was to immediately table the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Bill.  This bill, effectively reversing the Court of Appeal’s decision in order to “protect the national economy” from the claims of the other 225,000 participants in Workfare and similar schemes whose cases might result in compensation claims for the government of over £130 million.

This response was not surprising; with the Tory led government seemingly declaring themselves as being above the law and pushed through legislation rushed through Parliament on the quiet, to initiate proposals to change the law retrospectively.

Tuesday’s vote should not have been clearer for our Labour leadership, in the knowledge that a Tory Government had been defeated in the courts because it broke the law.

The vote should have been clear for our Party, being the one organisation that avowedly supports ordinary people, and at this juncture in Britain’s history, is needed more than ever to rescue working people and hard working families from the savage austerity foolishness that this Tory led Coalition is espousing.

Our Party surely would not bolster the Tories, assisting them with their onslaught against some of the poorest in society and allowing them to ride roughshod over British law?

43 Labour MPs (including Hall Green’s Roger Godsiff) stood by the true tenets of the Party, standing up for core Labour values of decency and justice, breaking the whip of abstention and voted against the proposal.

Our Party, formed in unity to provide a collective voice, and to improve the living and working conditions of the working classes have seemingly let us down.

Have those who we put our trust in, to represent our interests and our Party values lost touch with their founding roots and have the ‘ordinary’ working classes been abandoned?

Like many party members out there I am struggling to understand what went so very wrong and believe that those involved in the decision to abstain on the bill, and those who espoused the party line should not only face up to the ire of us all but be held accountable for their actions.

Labour is in a strong position to win the next election but only if it continues to confront the coalition on basic issues of social justice. Our Party must not make this mistake again.

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Osborne’s budget will offer cold comfort to ordinary people in Hall Green

george-osborne-image-2-306799915The Chancellor, George Osborne, has just delivered his annual budget statement to the House of Commons. It is his fourth budget since the government came into power in 2010 and, in the words of Ed Miliband, ‘one thing unites them all; things are always worse than the last time around’.

Growth has been downgraded yet again to just 0.6% this year, borrowing is up again, but despite this and the bad news that just keeps coming from the Treasury, Osborne refuses to change course. Every sign of failure he takes as a vindication; every time it is proved that the plan is not working and is hurting ordinary people, Osborne the ideologue becomes more determined to see it through. Rather than trying to make things fairer for the many, not the few, the downgraded Chancellor remains ideologically committed to giving a tax cut to the richest in society in just two weeks’ time, at the same time as ruthlessly cutting welfare and implementing the incredibly unfair and deeply flawed bedroom tax. This is a Chancellor convinced he can recover our economy by squeezing the poor and easing the burden on the rich. He is wrong.

The truth of this budget is that ordinary working people will suffer while those at the top remain untouched. The few concessions that were made, such as the scrapping of the fuel and beer duty escalators, will have negligible impact while the overall cost of living continues to rise due to inflation. The continuation of the 1% cap on public sector pay increases, well below the rate of inflation, means that many people will struggle to afford a decent standard of living over the coming years; on average, private sector wages also continue to increase at a level significantly below inflation. Raising the income tax threshold to £10,000 should be welcomed, but the Chancellor should go further by reducing the basic rate. A cut in VAT back to 17.5% would also encourage growth and give people more spending power with the money they do earn. A plan for jobs and growth, something which Labour has consistently outlined, should have been at the heart of this budget. It was notably absent.

The confirmation of the £72,000 cap on care costs is another example of Osborne’s ignorance of the needs of ordinary people. The reality is that the cap is set so high that it will make little difference to most people who are forced to pay for care for themselves or for their elderly relatives. Today George Osborne could have taken the opportunity to listen to advice from Andrew Dilnot, who wrote the Government’s report on funding social care, amongst others and implemented a considerably lower cap, but he refused.

The budget has proved once more that the government is not on the side of ordinary, hard-working people and families. A downgraded Chancellor who stubbornly sticks to his failing plan is hurting those who most need help while continuing to curry favour with those who need it least. While bankers in the City of London have never had it so good, ordinary people in Hall Green and across Birmingham suffer the consequences of the Chancellor’s failure.

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Cllr McKay’s response to our open letter…

Thank you for your letter of 28th February.

I absolutely agree that the views of residents need to be taken into account when decisions are made over how the wheelie bin scheme will operate.  As you may know, we have now started a City-wide consultation with residents around the best way to roll out the wheelie bin scheme.  This will involve an open-access online questionnaire with paper copies available in libraries and neighbourhood offices, and consultation with specific groups, such as tenants, conservation areas, and disability organisations. The survey can be found here: www.opinionresearch.co.uk/birminghamwheeliebins

Based on experience in other local authorities, we estimate that 90-95% of households will be able to use wheelie bins.  The consultation process will help us to understand where exceptions need to be made.  We have already said that the sort of exceptions that we would need to think about include: major problems with rear access; and where the physical features of the homes make such bins impractical.  Also, we will be continuing with assisted collections where people are unable to manage their bins. The results of the consultation will give us much better understanding of these issues, but the central message to send out is that we are very aware that one size does not fit all.

The City-wide consultation will let us shape our policies for the roll-out.  However, this will need to be translated to the household level, prior to roll-out, in every neighbourhood in the City.  That is why we will assess the suitability of every property prior to roll-out, and then write to every householder, opening up the opportunity for a further conversation around suitability.  This will happen before bins are delivered to households.

With respect to the proposed charges for green waste collection, this needs to be set in the context of the scale of the budget cuts the City is facing.  We were forced to cut more than £100m from the budget last month, with hundreds of millions more to come in future years.  If Birmingham only faced the same reductions per head of population as everywhere else, with the pain equally shared across the country, the cuts to services would be far less severe.  But the Government has not chosen to apply this logic, and the people of Birmingham will see their services heavily impacted as a result.

What that inevitably means is that many services in Birmingham will have to either be completely transformed, or stopped altogether.  The garden waste collection service began in 2001 in Birmingham, and was fully rolled out by 2007. However, we can no longer afford to run the service as it currently stands.  At the moment it operates at a large subsidy, and the changes we are introducing will move it towards a cost-recovery basis.  But I do of course totally agree with the general point, these cuts will have consequences, and that is what we are saying again and again to Government.

With all best wishes,

Cllr James McKay
Harborne ward
Cabinet Member for a Green, Safe and Smart City

A Bleak Future for Families

A Bleak Future For Families, new research published by the TUC demonstrates how low wages, welfare changes and taxes will push down living standards for 690,000 more children in the next two years.

Tax and welfare reforms alone – both existing and future changes – will be responsible for nearly half a million more children living below the breadline, says the TUC.

The TUC report based on analysis by Howard Reed of Landman Economics – examines the current and future impact of various benefit and welfare changes, including Universal Credit, direct and indirect tax changes and real wage growth since 2010 on the incomes of different households and family types.

The research finds that the cumulative impact of government policies and slower than forecast wage growth over the course of this parliament will mean that 690,000 more children will be living below the minimum income standard – the level of income needed to achieve a minimum acceptable standard of living in the UK – by 2015.

Minimum income standards (MIS), widely accepted and established by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2008, vary by family type. For example, the current MIS for a single pensioner is £12,623, rising to £23,992 for a single parent with two children and £24,643 for a couple with one child.

Tax and welfare changes, including tax credit cuts, the VAT rise and the increase in the personal allowance, will have the biggest net impact in terms of increasing the number of children whose families are struggling to make ends meet – pushing 460,000 more children below the breadline by 2015.

Slower than initially forecast wage growth over the course of this parliament pushes another 170,000 below the minimum income standard, while the pay freeze and cap for public sector workers will see 80,000 more children falling into hardship.

When all these changes are taken into account, Universal Credit – the government’s flagship welfare scheme designed to tackle poverty and make work pay – will only lift 20,000 children above the MIS, says the research.

The research shows that an extra one million families will be living below the minimum income standard by 2015, compared to where they would have been under the policies and forecasts the government inherited in 2010. The majority (54.4 per cent) of children will be living below the MIS in two years time, says the TUC.

A Bleak Future For Families shows that nine in ten families will be worse off by 2015, with only the poorest ten per cent of households better off – and then only by a measly 57p a week. A middle income household will be nearly £1,200 a year worse off by 2015 – a 6.6 per cent cut in their income – with the biggest single loss as a result of tax credit cuts (-£505).

The research shows that while all bar the top ten per cent of households are net gainers as a result of changes to the personal allowance and the primary threshold for national insurance, all these gains are wiped out by the VAT rise in 2011. The poorest ten per cent of households gain just a penny a week from direct tax cuts but lose £3.38 by the VAT rise.

While the government has justified welfare cuts by saying that they target those out of work, working families are also hit hard by government austerity policies, says the research. Working lone parents are set to lose the equivalent of 8.2 per cent of their total income – far more than the median household loss of 6.6 per cent – mainly as result of tax credit cuts.

Households in Wales (-7.2 per cent) and Yorkshire and the Humber (-6.9 per cent) will suffer the sharpest loss in incomes. This is partly due to the higher than average concentration of public sector workers in these regions, who are facing the biggest real terms cut in their wage packets.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Families are suffering the tightest squeeze in their living standards in nearly a century. On top of wages that do not keep up with prices, government policies are making life even more miserable for millions of low to middle-income families through tax increases and cuts in benefits and tax credits.

‘By the 2015 election, the majority of children in Britain will be living below the breadline. For any civilised society, that should be shaming.

‘But while the Prime Minister says there is no alternative, the truth is that support is growing for a new approach. The Budget should start from recognising that what Britain faces is a growth, jobs and living standards crisis. Rather than targeting tax cuts at millionaires, cutting VAT would benefit everyone, and would help poorer households far more than raising the personal allowance.’

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Impact of real wage growth, tax and welfare changes on number of children under the Minimum Income Standard by 2015

Policies Change in number of children below MIS
Tax, tax credit and benefit reforms (except Universal Credit) +460,000
Wage growth to 2015 +170,000
Wage growth restrictions for public sector workers +80,000
Universal Credit -20,000
Total +690,000

Baseline for government policies is May 2010. Real wage growth compared to Office for Budget Responsibility forecast from June 2010 with the 2012 Autumn Statement.

Open letter to Cllr James McKay

Dear Cllr McKay,

I am writing to you in my role as Campaigns Co-ordinator for the Hall Green BLP to seek some reassurances and also pass on some concerns that have been raised by some of our party members and residents within the Hall Green Ward.

We are of course aware that as a result of winning government funding, Birmingham Council will be moving towards the introduction of wheelie bins over the next two years. We are also aware that the consultation has begun and will continue for some time, but that a preliminary report will be compiled in two weeks time based on the initial responses.

Although we realise this move to a wheeled bin service will prove beneficial in that it will protect weekly collections and provide funding to upgrade the fleet, we are concerned that the views of all residents are taken into account before decisions are finalised of how such a scheme will operate.

We are therefore seeking assurances from you that serious consideration will be given to potential issues that may arise in respect of problems related to rear access, or where the physical features of the homes make wheelie bins impractical. This will need to be done on a neighbourhood by neighbourhood basis, and in cases where problems are identified, we are asking that the council does not impose wheelie bins on residents who cannot manage them and seeks other ways of supporting residents where such problems might arise such as through the use of assisted collections.

We are aware that the newly adopted Council Budget includes proposals for the introduction of an annual service charge of £35 for green waste recycling from February/March 2014. Residents will be required to ‘opt in’ to this service and will be provided with a 240-litre wheeled bin.

Some of our concerns regarding this are similar to those outlined above in relation to the management of such a bin which will require similar reassurances.

We are concerned that many who live in Hall Green, whose glories are their gardens and the trees that are on the public spaces, also have to clean up leaves that block sewers and cause potential problems for pedestrians. It is alas, a fact, that council sweeping is being cut.  These civic minded individuals are doing a public service to their community and should not be penalised for the trees planted many years ago.

It is of concern that many of these services are Internet only facilities and many people in this ward (amongst them keen gardeners and supporters of the environment) do not use the Internet and would never ever dream of posting their personal details on a website. They are concerned and worried and we request that you please examine methods to allay their fears and concerns.

Although we fully support the Council’s commitment to recycling and your personal objective for Birmingham to become one of the leading green cities, we are concerned that as an optional service, many who might wish to take advantage of it may not be able to as quite simply, they may not be in a position to afford the charge.

We are therefore requesting that you reconsider the implementation of such a charge.

If a charge is enforced, we ask that you explore other ways to ensure that all residents can participate in such a scheme despite their financial position.

I am posting this open letter on our website so that all members and viewers of it can comment.

I appreciate these concerns may appear parochial to many but they reflect a concern that the ‘Centre’ may have not appreciated the depth of feeling within this community.

Yours sincerely

Kerry Jenkins,
Campaigns Co-ordinator,
Hall Green BLP

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Planning Application For Proposed Aldi Site Withdrawn

Victory for common sense and working together as a community

Local Labour Party activists, working with local residents in Wycombe Road, have secured the withdrawal of a Planning Application for the proposed new Aldi Store on the junction of Wycombe Road & Stratford Road [the old Renault Garage site].

Local Campaign Co-ordinator Kerry Jenkins from Hall Green Ward Labour Party, working with Local Ward Councillor Barry Bowles secured the withdrawal of the application when they highlighted a number of flaws in the consultation.

Local residents contacted the Labour Party and as a result those concerns were addressed directly with the developers. Following lengthy discussions over the concerns the application has now been withdrawn.

Kerry Jenkins said “This story really demonstrates the benefits of both local activism and local engagement”.

“As soon as we became aware of the important concerns raised by local residents we immediately researched the application and found numerous loopholes in the process”.

She went on to say “It was not a question of whether the development should or should not happen as local consultation should determine this. I believe all people in the area have a right to be fully consulted in such a plan that will have a huge impact on their lives. This did not happen and the planners have failed due to all of us being vigilant.”

Kerry pointed out “It was a great help to have such a pro-active local Labour Councillor in Barry Bowles.”

Councillor Barry Bowles said “I am always available to discuss the concerns of Hall Green residents.  As a community we have the right to challenge all decisions and argue for the place we all live in. This is how democracy should work and it makes me passionate about all of the people in Hall Green; the older citizens, the disabled, the young, and all of those other hard working families who make Hall Green a great place to work and live.”

Kerry Jenkins will be working on other campaigns in the Ward to improve the area and engage with local people and address their concerns.

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Labour and the Birmingham City Council cuts

Birmingham_Council_House

The Council budget, set out by Sir Albert Bore this week, was comfortable for nobody. The harsh reality cannot be escaped; over £100 million cuts to services and 1,000 jobs lost is not something that anybody can take lightly, least of all the councillors responsible for taking the decisions on what to cut and what not to cut. Labour councillors, including our own Councillors Sam Burden and Barry Bowles, have made extraordinarily difficult choices with a very heavy heart.

 Yet we should not forget that the Council’s hands have been tied by the Tory-led government, making swingeing cuts to local government that fall unfairly on large Labour administrations such as Birmingham. Residents of Hall Green and others across the city are paying the price for the government’s economic failure and ideological determination to punish Labour councils. The Liberal Democrats are, of course, as responsible for these cuts as the Conservatives. The irony of Councillor Tilsley calling Labour’s budget ‘shameful’ will, I’m sure, be lost on nobody. His party is complicit in the failing economic plan pursued by the government that is damaging our country and our community.

There are those who claim that Labour should simply refuse to make the cuts; that setting an illegal budget would be a way of showing resistance to central government and ensure that Birmingham residents do not have to suffer the painful consequences of such deep cuts. Unfortunately, this is not a practical way forward for Labour to deal with the situation. Steve Bullock, mayor of Lewisham, outlined why this is the case for Progress in January. Failure to set a legal budget would mean that Eric Pickles’ DCLG apparatchiks would be responsible for delivering the cuts. As is the Tory way, their primary concern would not be making cuts as fair for possible for ordinary people as Labour are doing, but simply to save money, no matter how many jobs or valuable services were lost in the process.

Of course, this is not to say that all resistance to government cuts is futile; Bullock is fairly heavy-handed in his direct criticism of Len McCluskey, and trade unions are absolutely justified in their outrage at an economic plan that is hurting their workers and hurting the country. Nationally, Labour continues to articulate an alternative by opposing cuts to police and welfare budgets, the bedroom tax and tax cuts for the richest few while promising to reintroduce the 10p income tax rate. There is a fairer way, and everybody who is opposed to the government’s disastrous strategy should join Labour and the unions in making a case for an alternative that not only secures economic growth but is fairer on ordinary working people, rather than punishing them while unfairly prioritising rewards for those at the very top.

Our Labour Council is working hard to make things fairer for ordinary people in Birmingham despite the difficult financial situation. The Council is committed to a Living Wage of more than £7 an hour for all council employees. In Hall Green, Councillor Bowles is determined to continue campaigning for additional facilities for children and young people, an in particular will keep campaigning for a new playground  despite opposition from Liberal Democrats.

Plans such as this may seem small in the grand scheme of the national economic situation, but it shows that it is Labour, not the other parties, who is truly committed to improving people’s quality of life and delivering a fair deal for Birmingham in extremely tough times.

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We’re Rebuilding Britain