At this festive time, it’s customary to look back over the last twelve months, and to look ahead with renewed optimism for the new year ahead.
But it would be fair to say it hasn’t been the best of times for our community here in Tameside. The decisions that this Tory-led government have taken have had a massively negative impact right across our borough. We only have to look at the recent Chancellor’s Autumn Statement to see the devastating effect their policies are continuing to have on the UK’s economy, and on the lives of people I represent in Audenshaw, Denton, Dukinfield, and right across the borough.
Tameside isn’t a rich area. In fact it is classed as the 34th most deprived area in England and the combined cuts to our local authority means that the council are losing £110.39 for every man, woman and child. Meanwhile, David Cameron’s much more prosperous West Oxfordshire local authority is only going to be £34 per head worse off in funding, meaning the cuts there will be far less drastic. So much for us all being in this together!
And is all this financial pain working?
Well not according to the independent Office of Budget Responsibility who admit that the government will now be forced to borrow £212 billion more than planned, partly because their policies are pushing ever more people onto benefits.
So the government’s answer has been to cut benefits to the most needy in a savage and mean way. And before the government starts spinning against those ‘shirkers’ – the so-called ‘undeserving poor’, 60% of their benefit changes affect people in low paid work – doing the ‘right thing’ as the government puts it – but who rely on extra benefits, such as council tax relief, housing benefit and tax credits to help make that work pay.
And these are the people who will be hit the hardest by cuts to housing benefit, the extra bedroom tax and cuts to tax credits. And few will even be aware of the impending changes to council tax relief until they get presented with an additional bill to pay in the new year.
At the same time, the government has chosen to give a £3 billion tax cut to the very highest earners, gifting an average of £107,000 to people earning over £1 million. Not bad if you can get it. But I doubt very few – if anyone – here in Tameside will benefit. Meanwhile, for those families struggling to make ends meet, and doing the right thing, there sadly isn’t likely to be that much Christmas cheer.
I will continue to do all I can in 2013 to oppose many of these measures and do my upmost to ensure Ministers hear the voice of Tameside people loudly and clearly on these unfair policies that are hitting our communities so very hard.
This article was written for the ‘Westminster Weekly’ column in the Tameside Reporter and Glossop Chronicle.