Last Saturday, Birley Ward’s Labour councillors attended the South Yorkshire Festival at Wortley Hall, along with members of Birley Ward Labour Party.
This was a wonderful event, with many stalls from trade unions, local Labour branches and community organisations from across the region, as well as stalls selling all manner of arts, crafts and foodstuffs.
Birley Ward members and councillors had a great time in the sunny weather, fundraising and discussing with festival-goers how best to fight the cuts foisted on Sheffield and South Yorkshire by this pitiless Conservative/Liberal Democrat government.
Councillor Denise Fox said: ‘It was great to see so many people at the festival that are determined to fight for those suffering from the coalition’s policies. The cuts on local services and the bedroom tax are having a terrible effect, and it’s all thanks to the government that the Sheffield Liberal Democrats support. The message to them from today is clear: the people of Sheffield and South Yorkshire won’t stand by while you attack the most vulnerable’.
This week has seen a raft of changes that, taken together, represent the the biggest contraction in the welfare state since its foundations in the 1940s.
Millions of families – the majority being working households on low incomes – are seeing significant real reductions in their incomes. This government is committed to further real cuts in income for years to come. Bankers get bonuses, ordinary working families get battered.
The speed with which the government is moving to introduce Universal Credit is bringing considerable risks. The government had promised that the scheme was to be piloted in four areas starting this month. Now it has suddenly announced that three of those areas won’t start until July. It’s difficult to see how any lessons can be learned for a scheme to be implemented in October.
There is a very real risk that the new computer systems and software for Universal Credit will simply not be fit for purpose and, at best, there will be insufficient time to sort out any glitches. Further, the transition to Universal Credit almost certainly leaves the system more vulnerable to fraud.
Direct payment of rent to tenants rather than to landlords is almost certain to increase rent arrears, as families under financial pressure will find it difficult to resist the temptation to use their rent cash as an alternative to a pay-day loan. I don’t know of any council – of any political persuasion – or housing association which hasn’t increased its provision for rent arrears.
It is also inevitable that there will be huge confusion from the separation of housing and council tax benefits. I think people massively under-estimate the number of households and families who come in to and out of eligibility for various benefits during the course of any year. This is only going to increase as the number of temporary and short-term jobs increases.
It’s difficult to believe other than that there will be a very big rise this Autumn in the number of families who will be contacting MPs, councillors and advice bureaux wanting urgent assistance with their benefit problems.
Sheffield Lib Dems made a great song and dance about alternate week bin collections upon their introduction, which is unsurprising since they haven’t got much else to talk about (unless you count their remorseless attacks on public services as part of the Coalition – wonder why they’d want to avoid that subject?). According to Lib Dem Councillor Anders Hanson, fortnightly bin collections were something to be fought tooth and nail: indeed, he promised to ‘mercilessly attack’ the Council for moving to fortnightly collections
But not only are Sheffield Lib Dems now dropping their opposition to alternate week collections… they’re doing it on the quiet! Last week, without publicity they submitted a motion to December’s Full Council meeting saying: “it would now be extremely difficult to revert back to weekly black bin collections”. In other words, Sheffield Lib Dems’ thundering opposition to fortnightly collections has ended with a whimper; they won’t include funding for weekly collections in their proposed budget for next year.
But this flip-flopping isn’t new. Earlier this year the hapless Mr. Hanson let the cat out of the bag with his comments in some obscure publication called Lib Dem Voice: “I think it has now become almost impossible politically to introduce new fortnightly bin collections as both the opposition and the press will mercilessly attack anyone who does it. … However most people are happy with fortnightly collections when they get used to it.”
So it’s clear that Sheffield Lib Dems have been publically campaigning against fortnightly collections while admitting in their barely read in-house magazine that that the public have no problem with them! The only conclusion to draw from this is that their opposition was nothing more than cynical political opportunism, intended to distract Sheffielders from the damage their Tory and Lib Dem colleagues in Westminster are doing to our city.
An exasperated Councillor Jack Scott, cabinet member for Environment, Recycling and Streetscene said:
“The Lib Dems are the only party to break their promises even when they’re in opposition. It now looks like they have finally accepted that we had no other option but to move to alternate week collection due to the massive cuts Nick Clegg and the Tory Government are imposing on the council. “Their campaign against alternate week collections has been merciless and politically motivated, people can see through that. The Lib Dems should apologise to the people of Sheffield for making false promises yet again, they have a lot of questions to answer “With further cuts coming from their Autumn Statement it’s about time the Lib Dems started campaigning against the cuts that will affect the people of Sheffield. It is wrong that they continue stand up for their government’s decisions instead of standing up for Sheffield.”