Brighton and Hove has suffered the second biggest reduction in council spending power in the south east, a Green councillor said this evening (Thursday 28 February).
It has also endured the worst cuts per person in the region, Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty told the budget meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council.
Councillor Mac Cafferty, the deputy leader of the council, spoke about the dire state of the economy and the impact of benefit cuts on the poorest.
He contrasted their predicament with a cabinet minister claiming a six-figure sum for his second home just 16 miles from his main home valued at £1.3 million.
He said that there had been a 42 per cent increase in underemployment with the biggest want for work coming from the youngest across the country.
“Youth unemployment stands at 22.2 per cent while we have horror stories from across the country of thousands of young people applying for hundreds of jobs.
“The number of women unemployed is at a record 25-year high. Women’s unemployment is up by 18 per cent since start of recession.
“Men’s unemployment is up by 1 per cent. But women typically start off poorer, they tend to earn less, own less and have less financial security than men.
“Of any unitary council in the UK , we have had the second biggest reduction in spending power and we have been hit with the worst cuts per head in the region.
“The economy has flatlined and the country’s credit rating has been downgraded.
“What a shame we cannot downgrade George Osborne (the Chancellor) from useless to utterly useless.
“So much for doing what’s fiscally responsible.
“It’s more like, man crashes car while drunk, hurts passengers. Man blames passengers, resolves to drink more and drive even faster.”
Labour councillor Les Hamilton also referred to the loss of Britain’s AAA credit rating, saying that the Conservative Chancellor should be given a ZZZ rating.
Councillor Mac Cafferty added: “From 1 April the cruellest April fool’s joke will be millionaires getting a £42,000 tax cut while 660,000 households will have to pay bedroom tax or move.
“The bedroom tax is a cruel measure from a government that is intent on punishing the poor.
“Over two thirds of those affected are likely to be people with disabilities, with the National Housing Federation estimating that 100,000 tenants who live in homes specially adapted to their needs are set to be affected.
“This while ministers like Chris Grayling lives in a £1.3 million home while claiming for a second home 16 miles away at a cost to the taxpayer of £127,000.
“There is a perfect storm of housing and council tax benefit changes which will mean that many vulnerable people aren’t going to be able to get the help they need to keep a roof over their heads.
“The devastating report from Barnardo’s, in Brighton Kemptown, child poverty is now at an appalling level – nearly one in three children.
“That is 50 per cent higher rate than the UK average.
“This while the city’s Tory MPs vote to cut benefits which will push children into poverty
“While they voted against a proposal to reduce fuel poverty despite the fact that too many parents are already making the choice between eating and heating.
“And despite the tragic increase in the number of people reliant on food banks, Mr Kirby and Mr Weatherley voted against proposals to provide more transparency over food pricing.
“These three things alone will have a significant impact on child poverty.
“However, the Tory government continues to blame the poorest and their children for their failed economic policies.
“This government is intent on subsidising the greedy when what has been needed more than ever before is helping the needy.”
Councillor Mac Cafferty said after Labour and the Greens voted to put up the council tax by almost 2 per cent: “Mike Weatherley, the Conservative MP for Hove, describes our council tax proposals as a ‘tax hike’ which doesn’t even make sense given that it is less than the rate of inflation.
“However, if we look back we soon see that former Tory leaders of the council have hiked tax to much higher levels.”
He said that under Brian Oxley council tax went up 4.8 per cent in 2007-08 and under Mary Mears it went up 3.9 per cent in 2008-09, 3.5 per cent in 2009-10 and 2.5 per cent in 2010-11.
He criticised a Conservative amendment to the budget to cut funding for trade union officials, saying that they had saved the council tens of millions of pounds in employment tribunal and court settlements.
He said: “A cut aimed at our trade unions underlines that Tories don’t care about workers or their rights.
“Despite the absolute avalanche of this Tory government’s destructive and myopic cuts to our budget, our commitment to some of our city’s most marginalised is intact in this budget.
“Among the proposals are extra funds to help families struggling with government cuts to council tax benefit and housing benefit, and wider welfare reform changes, which will see approximately £2.6 million stolen from local residents’ pockets by April this year.
“£1.7 million has been written into our budget to minimise the impact of the government cut to council tax benefit upon the least well-off families in the city
“While an extra £300,000 will go to advice organisations trying to help people through difficulties.
“And our administration is putting together detailed work on financial inclusion so that we work with the other organisations in the city to help them survive the hurricane that the Tories have set on some of the least well off in our city.
“It is for these reasons that, despite how tough the government have made our times, we are trying our hardest with what we have left.”