Labour anger as West Sussex Tories target lowest paid earners’ incomes to pay extra for their care, as “Minimum Income Guarantee” is cut
Labour councillors have reacted with outrage and concern as the Tory leadership at West Sussex County Council revealed plans are coming forward to cut the minimum income guarantee for working age adults who receive county council arranged care, which will reduce the money they receive by nearly £275 a year for single people and £418 for couples.
Councillors will be asked to consider the proposal together with how the public consultation will be conducted, at the forthcoming Health and Adult Services Committee on Thursday 27 September (tomorrow). This additional proposal comes on top of items already due for consideration at that meeting’s agenda that will also hit those on the lowest income, including stopping all funding for homelessness hostels, and reducing the Local Assistance Network which helps those in financial distress with vital household purchases, by three quarters.
- Working age adults are entitled, if they need care arranged by the county council, to retain some of their earnings, even if the cost of their care greatly outweighs the amount they earn from whatever full or part-time job they may have. This amount is called the “Minimum Income Guarantee”.
- West Sussex County Council used to set a different “Minimum Income Guarantee” from the statutory minimum permitted by the Government and is now proposing to move to that absolute minimum. The Tory leadership claim in the report that “this concession can no longer be afforded”. The council estimates it will save approximately £300,000 a year from this measure.
- Currently in West Sussex the Minimum Income Guarantee is the equivalent of the current rate of Income Support plus a 30% ‘buffer’. This move will mean the buffer is reduced to that rate of benefit, plus a 25% ‘buffer’. So a single person will lose £5.28 a week, and a couple will have £8.04 a week taken off of them, to disappear into the council’s coffers.
- There are 1700 people receiving county council arranged care of working age, who are expected to be affected. This will therefore disproportionately hit those in work with Learning Difficulties, Physical and Sensory impairment and Mental Health issues.
Labour County Councillor Michael Jones (Southgate and Gossops Green) condemned the move: “This is such a mean-spirited move. The Tory leadership in West Sussex is threatening to take this money every week from people, for the cost of their care and support, that they currently have to spend on their own living expenses. It seems particularly cruel because all these residents affected are earning their money, and having to overcome adversity, to go out and do an honest day’s work.
“We aren’t talking major sums, but the individuals and couples affected are already on very low incomes. Once more this Tory leadership is clawing money back from those who have virtually nothing, to make their savings.
“There’s no thought for anyone being hit by this plan. How can they afford this reduction? The costs of food, utility bills and travel are going up all the time.
“We also live in an area where we all know the cost of living is well above the national average compared to other parts of the country, which is one of the reasons the Minimum Income Guarantee wasn’t set at the statutory minimum in the first place.
“It’s another example of how the Tory Government’s austerity programme is condemning people everywhere to lives of poverty. I am also worried about vulnerable people like this and the risks of them getting into debt if this money is taken off them.
“Winter is approaching, and if this is changed, I can see many more of those receiving county council arranged care next year having to make decisions like whether to heat or eat, if they live on their own. Shocking and disgraceful.”
Labour County Group Leader Councillor Sue Mullins (Northgate and West Green) criticised the previous years’ financial decisions by the Tory leadership which have led to this crisis situation at the council, where they are cutting so indiscriminately saying: “This is yet another example of West Sussex County Council attacking the most vulnerable residents in the community. Residents who have little, or no voice, or influence, over decisions being taken, which fundamentally affect their lives and standard of living.
“Council Leader, Louise Goldsmith, cries crocodile tears over having to take these drastic steps, to make the budget balance, when it is her enthusiastic support of her Government’s policies, over the years, which have led us to this state of affairs.
“This Tory administration has presided over a litany of failed projects, inept decisions, inefficient contracts and wasted, God only knows how much of public money, on pursuing the failed policies of outsourcing and privatising vital services. They spent a lot of time crowing about freezing council tax for five years, but now there is no money left in the purse, it is the most underprivileged and needy that are paying the price.”