9:16 pm - January 21st 2009
Luke Akehurst reports that Hackney Council has decided for the fourth year in a row not to increase their council tax, one of three Labour-controlled London boroughs to do so.
No one likes paying council tax, particularly when times are tough economically, and Hackney is also investing more money in frontline services, rather than paying for tax cuts by cutting the services people rely on. But if you were a Hackney councillor, would you vote for a tax freeze? Or are there other options which would do more to promote liberty, freedom and social justice?
According to their tax booklet, Hackney council raised £91.8 million in council tax in 2008/9. So each 1% rise in council tax raises roughly £900,000, while costing a band D household an extra £9.98/year.
Let’s take the example of a 2.5% tax rise. This would give councillors an extra £2.25 million to spend, while increasing tax of just over £2 per month on a band D household, rising to an extra £4/month for people living in the most valuable houses in the borough and falling to a total of £0 extra for the poorest residents who receive council tax benefit.
Now £2.25 million would not solve all of Hackney’s problems or meet all the needs and fill all the gaps in current services, but it is enough to make a real difference:
It could be spent on hiring more social workers to support families and protect the most vulnerable children (I know this is so last month and the mee-ja has moved on to other things, but hey).
It could mean helping people who are keen to work but can’t get a job to find meaningful work, with all the benefits for themselves, their families and the local economy that brings with it. Or good quality, affordable childcare so that parents can afford to go and work rather than having to pay more in childcare costs than they get in wages.
It could mean a massive expansion in activities for young people, to make sure that they have enjoyable things to do. And it’s not just they who would benefit. On some estates where councils have funded holiday activities where previously there were none, levels of crime and anti-social behaviour dropped by half or more.
It could mean that more disabled people get the adaptations to their homes so that they could live in dignity, or older people getting the social care that they need.
It could be given to local community groups which help people with debt and housing advice, or who work with the most disadvantaged.
Or, indeed, through participatory budgeting local people could be empowered to decide together how best to spend the money to benefit their community.
I’d have thought that there are decent liberal and leftie arguments that any of those would do more for people in Hackney than freezing the council tax. And the evidence from places as varied as Glenrothes and Oxford suggests that given the choice, people often don’t like it when councils try and keep local taxes down at the expense of services for those who need them most.
The easy answer is that these services should be funded in other ways, and/or council tax should be reformed or abolished. Which is fine, but that’s not an option open to local councillors right now, and I’m particularly interested in where people stand on this specific scenario of freezing taxes versus increasing them and spending the money where it could do the most good to the people who need the services the council provides.
If I were a councillor in Hackney or any of these other boroughs, I’d be in favour of getting those who are better off to pay a bit more council tax to pay for better services for the kids and disabled people who rely on the services which the council providers. What say you?
Don Paskini is deputy-editor of LC. He also blogs at donpaskini. He is on twitter as @donpaskini
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