And so it begins.
From today (1 April) the Government will begin do to things; it will give a tax cut averaging £100,000 to each of the 13,000 people in Britain earning over £1m a year and it will launch the most concerted an ferocious attack on the incomes and dignity of poor people ever seen in this country. As Polly Toynbee recently wrote ‘An avalanche of benefit cuts will hit the same households over and over, with no official assessment of how far this £18bn reduction will send those who are already poor into beggary.’
First, the link between benefit levels and the cost of living has been abandoned and the increase in benefit levels has been limited to 1%, despite the fact that inflation is running at 2.8%.
Second, ‘benefits cap’ which will limit the total benefit payable to families to £500 a week will start to roll in. By the end of the year at least 80,000 adults and 190,000 children will be affected and the average family hit by the cap will lose £93 a week, with 20% losing more than £120 a week.
Third, around 3.2m people who are unemployed or on very low wages will have to pay council tax for the first time. A typical single parent with children in childcare who works part time for the minimum wage faces increases ranging from £96 a year to £577. A typical couple with children, with one parent working full-time work for the minimum wage, will see a rise of between £96 and £304 a year.
Fourth, 660,000 households will be hit by the bedroom tax, with each losing an estimated average of £14 a week.
On top of all that, Disability Living Allowance is, from today, being progressively converted to Personal Income Payment and new Atos medical tests on all applicants have a target of ‘discovering’ that 500,000 people aren’t disabled after all.
And from today, legal aid has been removed for advice on benefits, housing, divorce, debt, education and employment. Oh, and the budget of Citizens Advice for such cases has been cut from £22m to £3m.
However, perhaps the Tories, blinded by hubris and self deceiving belief in the spiteful lies they tell about the poor in the golf club bar, have gone one vicious step too far. They may have thought that by targeting not just the poor but the most vulnerable of the poor they would avoid the organised dumb insolence of the Poll Tax revolt that led millions to refuse to pay and the eventual downfall of Thatcher.
Local authorities have conceded that up to 84% of people on low incomes will refuse to pay council tax – or will simply be unable to do so – and that there is little they can do about it, since the costs of recovering such relatively small sums (on average a little under £5 a week) from very large numbers of people will be too high. Similarly, for many poor families, finding an additional £14 a week (and much more for some) is going to be just out of the question. Thus, over the next few months tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of the poorest families will be forced into utter destitution and will be forced to tell their local councils that it is genuinely a case of ‘can’t pay, won’t pay’ and thus be at risk of eviction. It is at that point that organised resistance by the rest of us has to begin.
In order for such resistance to have an effect it has to concentrate on the weakest points in our enemy’s lines. There are two. The first one is that the Tories are going to have to rely on Labour councils up and down the country to collaborate with them. The second is that they have to rely on the continuing ignorance of most working class people about the human effects of these policies on their neighbours in order for their PR strategy to work.
So first we need to put pressure on Labour Councils to publicly refuse to evict tenants. That won’t help tenants of Tory or Lib Dem councils of course, nor housing association tenants, but a rash of refusals to act as agents of government policy by a significant number of Labour councils would both undermine the confidence of the Government and boost the confidence of it’s opponents. While a frontal attack on Milliband and Byrne to come out in favour of a policy of defiance – even though such a policy would be perfectly legal and could save councils money – is unlikely to produce results, more targeted pressure could. At an anti bedroom tax meeting two weeks ago, the Deputy Leader of Islington Council was forced to make a public statement saying that evicting tenants ‘would make no sense’ and that he ‘didn’t believe’ that the Council would carry out evictions of victims of the bedroom tax.
Every Labour councillor on every council holds regular surgeries. Over the next three months we must ensure that people attend every surgery to insist that the councillor actively opposes evictions or court action for rent or council tax arrears. We must ensure that every Management Committee of every local Labour Party is flooded with resolutions from affiliated unions demanding non-cooperation with the Tories. Those of us who are members of affiliated unions must try to get them to refuse future funding to any local Labour Party that does not oppose evictions and to threaten to withhold any future donations to the national party if it does not call for defiance.
But some people are still going to be taken to court and possession orders will be granted. We have perhaps three months to organise a fast reaction network capable of getting mass pickets both inside and outside the homes of those under threat on the day that the bailiffs are due. National and local newspapers and TV news must carry pictures of mass civil disobedience day after day all over the country. This evil work of the Tories has to be done away from the public view for them to be able to get away with it. We must ensure that they have to try to do it in the full glare of public daylight.