by Jackie Andrews
Are we ready for this? Because we have no choice but to stand and actively oppose those on low incomes being hit hard by a possible 15% increase in Council Tax in Walton and Esher and beyond. The fight that Surrey County Council have just initiated by announcing a referendum in May on whether we pay it or not is one that reportedly could be duplicated right across the country if local authorities copy Surrey in a rush to make up shortfalls in their vastly reduced grants from central government. Any proposed council tax increase over 3.9% has to be put to a referendum. If we vote no to paying the increase SCC will make even more cutbacks in order to pay social care for children, adults and those with learning disabilities.
Tory SCC leader David Hodge said on Channel 4 news last week that he won’t make more cuts in social care because he has a responsibility to his constituents to supply it. There was no money left in the SCC kitty for social care, he whinged, because his fellow Tories at Westminster had cut his annual grant by £170 million since 2010. Just for a second it seemed that someone had the moral integrity to stand up to the Tory Leader. Fat chance. If the referendum result is a “No”, he went on to say ,he will make further budget cuts to plug the funding hole.
Earlier this month SCC farmed out essential respite care support in a deal with two local care charities though, puzzlingly, the council won’t reveal how much this will save them. There has been an air of secrecy over the state of SCC’s finances over the last few weeks as it tried to avert this crisis of the Tories’ own making. In December, David Hodge sent out a letter to Tory MP’s in Surrey, including Philip Hammond, outlining their budget problems but he refuses to share the contents of that letter, according to indignant Lib Dems SCC leader Hazel Watson. Just before Christmas Elmbridge Lib Dem Coalition Councillors themselves voted for an increase in their allowances but also raised meals on wheels charges for the elderly, excusing this moral lapse by blaming it on the SCC slashing their budget, just as David Hodge blames his fellow Tories in Parliament for slashing theirs. Not our fault. It never is is it? Of course, we will be reminding local voters about that in the forthcoming SCC election campaign later this Spring.
Some people who live in Surrey will never need to ask for social care support. People like Chancellor Philip Hammond who lives just up the road in Weybridge. Neither will Jeremy Hunt who reportedly sold his education company last week for a £15 million profit. But over 32000 less fortunate Surrey residents did have to apply for SCC social care funding in 2015/16, yet only a quarter received it.
Our Welfare State, built up over the past hundred years by socially responsible governments, most notably Labour in 1945, to provide a safety net for the young, elderly, weak and disadvantaged, is now continually being worn down and we have to keep up our efforts locally and nationally to halt its decline. The huge problem of funding social care to cope with an ageing society should have been sorted out a long time ago by central government. Indeed, haven’t there been numerous government commissions and private studies which have looked at new ways of financing social care, including increasing national insurance for the over 40’s and merging NHS and social care to help end bed blocking and cut hospital waiting lists? Why does all this consultation seem to come to nothing? Theresa May and the Conservative Governement have cut the social care budget by £4.7 billion since 2010. In answer to this, Jeremy Corbyn demanded that she reverse her equally outrageous £7.5 billion proposed cuts in Corporation Tax.
Mrs May has perhaps decided she has enough on her plate extracting us from the EU and decided to let councils do a temporary fix until she has time somewhere down the line to do the job properly. A bit like the SCC’s attitude to fixing potholes in Elmbridge. If we all hold firm she may have to change her mind about that and face up to her own responsibility instead of passing it on to her fellow Tories at SCC, and, ultimately, us.
Labour SCC councillor Robert Evans last week commented: “This shows how badly Surrey Conservatives have mismanaged the county’s financial affairs. Council tax is an unfair and unbalanced tax, which hits the poorest hardest. Presumably they think Surrey people will back them in a referendum. I think not.”