Cold comfort for 30,000 victims of the cost of keeping warm

Today’s official statistics reveal that excess winter deaths rose by almost a third in 2012/13 compared with the previous winter, while the UK’s biggest energy giants enjoyed a huge surge in profits.

The charity Age UK describes the 31,100 winter deaths as ‘shameful’ and ‘preventable’ and wants the Coalition Government to take action on energy bills so that the most vulnerable can keep themselves warm in winter.

Energy firms profits

The UK’s biggest fuel suppliers made nearly £1.3 billion during 2012/13. That figure is nearly double their 2011 profits of £681 million

Source: energy regulator Ofgem

Steve Booton, Weoley Labour candidate, has been speaking to the residents of Weoley and week in, week out they have been telling him that they are bearing the brunt of the Tory-led Coalition cuts.

Steve said, “During our street canvass last Saturday, we spoke to a disabled women who cares for her mother. She has had her disability benefit stopped while she waits for yet another Atos assessment and may face a further reduction in benefit if she has to pay the Bedroom Tax.

“On top of this, the average energy bill rose by £168 in 2012. The public are already struggling and the Big Six energy companies are bleeding them dry.

“The Tory claim that ‘We’re all in this together’ has proven cold comfort for the tens of thousands of people who were last year’s victims of the rising cost of keeping warm.”

If you have any issues you would like us to help you with or you want to meet Steve and the Weoley Labour team, you can contact us as follows:

  • call Steve on 07830 945754
  • come and sign our petition to freeze energy bills at our street stall on Saturday at 12 noon outside the Co-op on Weoley Castle Square
  • go to our Contact page to send an online message
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Prices are rising, temperature’s getting low

Weoley candidate Steve Booton joined MP Richard Burden on Northfield High Street to talk to local residents about their energy bills and to find out whether they support Ed Miliband’s call to freeze gas and electricity prices until 2017.

Steve said: “There was overwhelming support for the campaign with many people very keen to sign our petition calling on David Cameron to freeze energy bills and tell us their stories about how the high price of gas and electricity is affecting their lives. One woman swore she’d never vote Lib Dem again and said she’d never expected them to betray working people and make them pay for a crisis they didn’t create. Another told us how her and her husband just go to bed early so they can turn off their heating and lighting.”

Steve Booton campaigns for a freeze on energy prices

Calling for a freeze on energy prices: Steve Booton [2nd left] and
Northfield MP Richard Burden [right] are joined by Amy Watson and
Cllrs Andy Cartwright, Brett O’Reilly and John Clancy

Should Ed Miliband freeze gas and electricity bills?

Since David Cameron took office, the cost of gas and electricity has risen by £300 for the average household. The latest round of price hikes is forcing some families to make a stark choice between heating or eating, because they face a cost of living crisis, and having an adverse effect on small businesses.

You can sign the petition at the Weoley Labour Party stall every Saturday outside the Co-op on Weoley Castle Square from 12 noon. If you have any issues you want to raise with us or just want to chat, please come and see us.

You can also sign the Labour Party’s online petition at http://action.labour.org.uk/page/s/david-cameron-freezethatbill.

Labour reveals local councils unable to help 96% of people affected by bedroom tax

Hot on the heels of Weoley’s bedroom tax meeting last month, the Labour Party has revealed that 13,557 Birmingham households are affected by the tax but there are just 368 suitable properties they could downsize to.

Birmingham MPs Jack Dromey and Richard Burden join Weoley's Steve Booton to discuss the hated bedroom tax

Birmingham MPs Jack Dromey and Richard Burden join Weoley’s Steve Booton to discuss the hated bedroom tax

More than 96% of people hit by the tax have nowhere to move to, forcing already vulnerable people to food banks and loan sharks. There is now a serious danger it could end up costing Britain more than it saves as tenants are forced into homelessness or the expensive private rented sector.

Steve Booton, Weoley candidate, said: “The bedroom tax must be scrapped and more affordable homes built for people to rent; creating jobs, giving young people training opportunities, and putting money back into the economy to get this country on its feet again.

“Week after week, we meet people on our street stall who are victims of the Tory bedroom tax. They can’t move because there aren’t the properties available to meet their needs, yet they’re being made to pay for a crisis they have not created. The local Tory councillors might talk about Labour shedding crocodile tears, but those tears are feeling increasingly real: research shows that the disabled are among the most victimised under this unfair and unjust tax.”

Housing shortfall for those affected by bedroom tax

Housing shortfall for those affected by bedroom tax*

Steve invited Shadow Housing Minister Jack Dromey MP and Northfield MP Richard Burden to speak to local Weoley residents about the hated bedroom tax in July. Jack Dromey, also a Birmingham MP, told residents that the tax was not based on sound economics but built on an inhuman narrative of ‘them and us’.

He said: “We’ve had a housing crisis for 30 years. We don’t need people now to be forced into expensive private sector houses that will increase the housing benefits bill further. What is driving the increase in benefits are high rents coupled with in-work benefits paid to people on low wages.”

Richard Burden said: “The truth is there aren’t enough smaller homes for families to move to – at least not at a price that people can afford. Many now can’t afford to stay in their home but can’t afford to move.”

* Fellow Birmingham MP Liam Byrne made the Freedom of Information requests that show that local councils are unable to help 96% of tenants affected by the bedroom tax due to a major shortage of available housing.

In 26 local authority areas, 99,079 households have seen their benefits cut due to having a spare room in their home. These new figures reveal that there are just 3,803 one and two-bedrooms homes for them to move to.

Spending Review 2013: pain without gain for Birmingham residents

Sir Albert Bore

Sir Albert Bore: ‘pain without gain’

While some are out finding out whether locals think “we” are on the right track after the Tory Chancellor announced a further year of even larger cuts, Sir Albert Bore commented this afternoon that the government’s austerity project has failed to regenerate the economy and thrown the coalition promises of 2010 completely off course.

Chancellor George Osborne this afternoon unveiled a further £11.5bn of cuts to public spending in his 2013 Spending Review for 2015/16.

Responding to news that local authorities face a further two years of the council tax freeze imposed by central government and a 10 per cent budget cut, Sir Albert, Birmingham City Council Leader, said: “In the Comprehensive Spending Review of 2010, the Government planned to implement cuts up to 2014/15, by which time they thought the budget deficit would be under control.

“The Spending Round and further cuts to public services in 2015/16 have happened because there has been little growth in the economy, throwing these forecasts completely off course.

“Instead of bringing the deficit under control, it has been very similar for the last two years and actually increased slightly in 2012/13. This is because of the lack of growth in the economy. So we have had the pain of the cuts but not the gain of sorting out the deficit.

“Local government has already endured the biggest cuts in funding ever seen. It will have been cut by a third, whilst the average cut across government departments is 12 per cent.

“Councils have achieved astonishing efficiency savings and shed around half a million staff very quickly, with many more redundancies to come. In Birmingham, we have already saved around £275m and are making a further £100m of savings this year. We have lost around a quarter of our workforce since 2010. We now anticipate £80m of grant cuts in 2014/15, growing to £151m in 2015/16.

“But the scope for efficiency savings is rapidly disappearing and councils are already cutting front-line services and having to consider bigger cuts in the next year. The further year of even larger cuts will make it even more difficult to maintain vital local services.

“We do welcome the additional money that will be received to help fund social care, although at this stage the details are unclear.

“However, the logic of the Government’s approach is that cuts will continue at this pace for another two years at least – leading to the Jaws of Doom scenario in which we lose over 50 per cent of our controllable budget between 2011 and 2018.

“This is an unsustainable approach that will have dire consequences for local communities and threaten the viability of many councils. Instead, the Government should work with us to rewire public services and ensure that they can be provided in the years ahead.

“This requires opening up departmental budgets, localising them and pooling them under more local control. The Government must be much more radical in this respect: the crisis is now – not in a decade’s time.”

Birmingham City Council wins extra funding for council tax support

Council tax benefit claimants in Birmingham will have the impact of one of central government’s welfare reforms softened after £2.1m extra funding was secured by the city council, following successful negotiations with the government.

This additional Council Tax Support funding means that 47,000 working-age claimants will now have to pay a maximum of just 8.5% of their Council Tax in 2013/14 – rather than 20%.

When setting this year’s budget, the council projected that £1.5 million of savings would need to be made elsewhere to ensure that the liability was just 8.5%.

However, following a decision to freeze Council Tax and further negotiations with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) for extra funding, this is now feasible.

Cllr Ian Ward, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council, said: “We have always wanted to protect the most vulnerable in our city, but the government’s localisation of Council Tax Support means we have less money and our finances cannot stretch to support people as we have in the past.

“It is pleasing that we have successfully argued our case for extra funding, but we have to be clear this is a one-off grant – only for one year – so we are going to face some very tough decisions again in the future.

“We will continue to argue Birmingham’s case in respect of the impacts of welfare reform, but we have to be realistic about likely future scenarios.”

Full details on the backdating of the enhanced support to 1 April 2013 will be made available in the near future.

Reproduced from Birmingham Newsroom