Council Tax Benefit Cuts Hit Plymothians Hard, Plymothians Hit Back Harder

Plymouth City Council (PCC), which is a Labour-run council, chose to implement a 25% cut to Council Tax Benefit on April 1st despite sitting on reserves of £31.3 million when the cut was implemented. As a result of choosing to safeguard their reserves rather than some of Plymouth’s most poverty-stricken, nearly 8,000 Plymothians have gone into arrears as a direct result of cuts to Council Tax Benefit. PCC issued a mass summons of Plymothians for non-payment of Council Tax on Friday 16th August, the second mass summons since the cuts were introduced.

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The court hearings were listed for 14:00 and I’m sure the council officers were expecting just another day at the office. What they instead witnessed was a defiant message from people who are just starting to see the benefits of fighting back against these barbarous cuts.

Plymouth Against Benefit Cuts (PABC), the local campaign group set up by Socialist Party members to oppose the Bedroom Tax and cuts to Council Tax Benefit, organised a demonstration outside the court starting from 13:30. More than 25 people gathered outside the Magistrates’ Court in protest, including the local Unite Community Branch, a strong Socialist Party presence, campaigners involved with PABC as well as general supporters and the local press.

However, this was only the beginning as 6 campaigners, 1 of whom had been summonsed, went into the Magistrates’ Court to speak to others who had been summonsed. Campaigners encouraged those summonsed to speak out rather than accept that they should plunge themselves further into poverty to pay their council tax, which the Council Officers were more than happy to bully them into doing.

The Council Officers, who refused to identify themselves by name, were telling people that they could avoid the court costs if they made an arrangement to settle with the Council Officers outside the courtroom (It has since come to my attention that some of these Council Officers were actually Unite members so I only hope that these Council Officers can work in solidarity with us in the future to oppose these cuts). This would seem like a merciful gesture if it weren’t for the fact that the Council were the ones responsible for dragging these people to court in the first place, instead it has clearly been used a way of intimidating people into paying up.

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However, when one Socialist Party member who had been summonsed demanded to see the Magistrate others quickly started demanding the same. Not only that but thanks to some leaflets provided by Unite the Union, people were encouraged to use Unite’s payplan service. This is a service provided by Unite to give advice and help for those in debt. By using a debt management service like this, court proceedings have to be adjourned for 30 days which Council Officers were not too impressed about.

Many of those who attended court expressed an interest in PABC and want to come along to the next meeting to organise against these cuts. PABC, Plymouth’s Unite Community Branch and the Plymouth Branch of the Socialist Party have all vowed to return every time people are summonsed to court and are prepared to make the implementation of these cuts completely unworkable. Moreover, all 3 groups will be taking the fight to the Council next month as a lobby of the Council will be taking place on Monday 16th September.

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If Labour do not listen to this outburst of anger now, they are likely to be punished in the polls as the Socialist Party is organising a TUSC meeting in September in preparation for next year’s council elections. The Plymouth Branch of the Socialist Party is working with the RMT union as well as anti-cuts groups and is aiming to put forward 18 TUSC candidates in the May 2014 elections who will oppose cuts. If Plymouth’s Councillors will not listen to the outcry of those affected by the cuts they have chosen to make then maybe they will start listening as they begin losing their seats in the council.


A Victory Against the Bedroom Tax

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Plymouth City Council has demonstrated, at least in principal, that it understands the concerns of the people of Plymouth and is not completely out of touch, unlike the government of millionaires. This government keeps saying that we are all having to do without and yet while the rest of us face austerity measures, millionaires have just received tax cuts.

These measures are ideologically driven by a group of self-servatives who have naught but their own interests at heart. They are using divide and rule tactics to pit public against private sector, Brits against immigrants workers and workers against benefit claimants. The real issue is that the government’s heavy-handed and ideologically driven approach has led to a triple-dip recession. They are incompetent, inconsiderate of the deepening poverty levels that their austerity measures are causing and are only out to line their own pockets.

Plymouth City Council has spoken and voted 34 votes to 20 to scrap the bedroom tax. They will now be calling on Iain Duncan Smith and Plymouth area MPs, as will I. The spare room subsidy/bedroom tax and cuts to council tax benefits do not affect me personally. I just know that the policy is brutally targetting the poorest and most vulnerable and my conscience cannot allow this to pass.

This is a great victory on our part but we cannot allow ourselves to get complacent just yet. The important thing now is to remain focussed; The Council have moved to call for the scrapping of the policy but that does not make it go away. We now need to focus our efforts on lobbying Iain Duncan Smith and our Plymouth MP’s, particularly as Gary Streeter MP and Oliver Colvile MP voted for the Bedroom Tax (verified by

We also need to be mindful that though it is now Plymouth Policy to scrap the Bedroom Tax there is still much to be done to mitigate its effects. We can now try to push for the Council to write to housing associations advising them to reclassify their social housing as a way to get around the Bedroom Tax. We can also write to the housing associations directly to ask that they do so.

There is one other point that must be remembered. Cuts to Council Tax Benefits will affect far more than the bedroom tax and requires that people reduce their minuscule budgets even more to accommodate for the extra cost of paying it. This is something that was barely discussed in the full council meeting (dated Monday 22nd April 2013). However, we were informed that the council is willing to use bailiffs to evict those who accrue debts from non-payment of Council Tax. This is a serious issue which needs to be challenged at every avenue. The Labour Councillors spoke out against the injustices and hardships faced by those having to pay the Bedroom Tax. We now need to pressure them to act on their fervent words and expose and oppose the cuts to Council Tax benefit which they have chosen to impose.

I would like to remind you all that there is a Plymouth Against Benefit Cuts meeting tonight (Wednesday 24th April) at 19:00 in Plymouth Social Club (on Tavistock Place, behind the Central Library) and I hope that many of you can attend, as much to celebrate a victory as to plan our next steps!

My thanks go out to all those who have helped to see this campaign through to this point and I hope that with this, our first victory, you’ll be encouraged to help us see these brutal reforms completely and utterly reversed.

Here is an article about the Council lobby organised by members of Plymouth Against Benefit Cuts and members of the Socialist Party:

To see the Council lobby and full debate on the bedroom tax, check out this webcast:

Questions start at 19:15

For the Full Bedroom Tax Debate skip to 3:33:15

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