COUNCIL tax benefit claimants in York will see their support cut by up to 30 per cent next year in a move that has been criticised for hitting the city’s poorest people.
Following a heated debate, councillors voted to go ahead with capping council tax at 70 per cent after Whitehall funding to the authority was cut by £1.3 million next year, as a new Council Tax Support (CTS) scheme replaces the current benefit system.
About 12,500 people in York currently claim council tax benefits. However, 6,500 pensioners are protected under the funding plans. The remaining 6,000 people are due to have their council tax benefit cut by up to 30 per cent in 2013/14 in order to make the savings.
Speaking at the debate at Guildhall, Labour councillors said they felt their hands were tied by the scale of Whitehall funding cuts but they criticised the coalition Government for a raft of benefit cuts and reforms which consistently “attack” the very poorest people.
Conservative councillors abstained from the vote as they said they did not have long enough to prepare, but they were loudly criticised by opposing councillors who said they had six weeks to prepare and called “shame on you”.
Labour councillor Janet Looker said: “I would say no party which I would be part of should make choices which should seek to make all their savings by attacking the poorest”. She said she was deeply concerned about the future of the city as the support networks people had always thought would be in place were being “cut away”.
Council leader James Alexander said: “This is an attack on the working poor.
“It’s wrong to attack peoples’ spending powers to get the economy moving.”
An amendment put forward by Coun Andy D’Agorne, of the Green Party, to cap the cuts at 8.5 per cent through making savings in council services and creating a hardship fund for those worst affected was lost after it was questioned where the money would come from.
Liberal Democrat Nigel Ayre said that reasoning was flawed, as funding to give council workers the living wage was also coming from an “unspecified place”.
Conservative Joe Watt said: “I don’t know a single councillor who would wish any more hardship on the poor and needy.”
But, he added: “We have to live within our means. We cannot over burden with taxation.”
Speaking after the meeting, Coun Julie Gunnell, cabinet member for corporate services, said there would be a “safety net” of financial assistance for the most vulnerable people with the York Financial Assistance Scheme due to come into action next year.