Localism or passing the blame?
This Government, like many before it, is good at blaming everyone else for the nation’s troubles.
But it has also developed a cynical new technique: invent a reactionary policy, then under the guise of localism, make local councils responsible for implementing it.
I have spent a lot of time in the last few months working with councils who are struggling to implement grim cuts in council tax benefits caused quite deliberately as a matter of policy by the Government.
Up until now, Government has been responsible for administering a national system of allowing those on low incomes to pay less, or in some cases no, council tax. For years councils have argued that this would be better administered locally.
So, a success for localism, then ?
Because this Government has decided that the pot of money it used to pay these benefits will be cut by a huge 10% when it is passed over to councils. And at the same time, in the spirit of “localism”, it is legislating nationally that any cut must not be passed on to pensioners (who make up in many areas around 50% of those receiving such benefits). This means in practice that others might see their council tax benefits cut by around 20% – often around £4/5 per week.
At one level, this change is just another part of the Government’s welfare “reform” (for which read: passing money from the poor to the rich). But in this case it is also cynically presented as proving the Government’s “localist” credentials.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The crowning deceit in this blame-passing game is that councils also have a requirement to “consult” over any changes. I have been working with the Consultation Institute nationally to help councils do the best they can with these consultations. But it is a poisoned chalice: councils forced against their will to cut benefits of many vulnerable local residents, and then to consult them on how best to do it – ensuring they take all the flak for the cuts.
How cynical can you get ?