13/01/2013 Sunday Politics North East and Cumbria


Andrew Neil and Richard Moss with the latest political news, interviews and debate. With Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

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In the North East and Cumbria: And other benefits bombshell. The


unemployed and low income families have to pay council tax for the


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2535 seconds


Hello and a belated happy New Year. Welcome to your local part of the


show. Joining me around the table, the Labour MP for Washington and


Sunderland West, Sharon Hodgson, and the Conservative MP for


Carlisle. Coming up, did a �9 billion public health scheme really


help people in Middlesbrough get any fitter? The decision to limit


the increase in benefits for the next three years. Benefits like


jobseeker's allowance, Working Tax Credit and maternity play would


normally go up with inflation but now they will be capped to 1%.


Sharon Hodgson, like most of the Labour Party he voted against these


plans, but a lot of people believe it is right to cut the welfare bill.


It is right to cut the welfare bill and we need to do that by getting


more people into work and higher- paid jobs so that the tax credits


Bill comes down, but it is the unfairness of it. It is much easier


to swallow one % rise which is in effect a cut when you're working


and getting a salary than it is when you are on benefit because you


have no capacity within the benefits. You say it is easier to


swallow but a lot of public sector workers face this pay cap and their


taxes are going to pay for benefits which you wanted to see operated by


3%. When you're working, you have that capacity, that bit more money.


Not everyone would agree with you. If you are talking about you only


have �70 a week and you have to take a cut on that to see if you


have only got �300 a week, it is easier on �300 a week to swallow a


cut down on 70. John, this is hitting the poorest people in the


pocket for three years to come. have to accept the backdrop of this.


We have a budget deficit that is huge. But you are picking on the


poorest people, that is the accusation. We are back -- asking


people in the public sector to take one % increase in the next three


years. It is only reasonable to ask people on benefits to do the same.


Those in benefits in the last few years have received a 20% increase


whereas those in employment have only received a 12 % increase.


lot of people who will be affected are not working. Those who are in


work, what we have done with that is increased their personal


allowance. For those 2 million people now are not paying income


tax because of the increase in personal allowance, on top of that,


those on the minimum benefit have seen their tax half. We will come


back to the issue of benefits because another bit of a change is


about to take place, the abolition of council tax benefit. That is the


help make available to those who cannot pay their full council tax.


There will be 10% less money from central Government to fund it. It


is now up to local councils to decide who will qualify for


exemptions. That could mean some unemployed people on low income


families have to pay a share of their council tax for the first


time. The Meadow Well Estate in North


Tyneside, high unemployment, high dependency on benefit. So many


people here do not pay council tax. From April that could change. The


council is protecting that for every one of working age, they pay


at least 20% of their bill, or �200 a year minimum. Do I am already


struggling. As you can see, that is already worrying people who get


council tax benefit. People like part-time worker Denise and


unemployed single parents colic and Philippa. Everyone has to take


their fair share but this feels like another thing. When is it


going to end? What is next? It makes people feel very vulnerable.


I am a single parent with one child and that is asking not just me to


live on less than what I am physically able to live on, but


asking my child to do the same. People will struggle to pay and end


up going to court and all the areas they will have to pay mean it is


extra money on top of that. But the council says it needs to find a way


of bridging the gap between the benefit bill and the money given it


by the Government. It says unless everyone contributes, including


those who have never played before, there will have to be cuts to


services. There is a �1.8 billion gap to be found. If it does not


come to this -- from this scheme it will have to come from other


services. We have already done a lot of work to save money and


responses from residents indicated that the majority feel people


should make some contribution and a higher percentage felt that there


should be a scheme which fits within the finances that are


available. North Tyneside will not make a final decision on their


council tax benefit regime until the end of January but others are


looking at other solutions. Hambleton and Richmondshire in


North Yorkshire are looking for residents to pay a minimum of 8.5 %,


as are Newcastle, but other councils still believe they can


prevent the poorest from paying any council tax. That includes Durham.


It is managing to protect people who qualify for council tax benefit


by removing discounts for second- home owners and raising the charge


to 150 % on some empty hands. used to receive �55 million in


grant funding from the Government. We now have a short for. If we pass


that on to the working age households, they will have to find


an average of �250 a year. This is money they have not got. So we


thought for the first 12 months we would protect them. The council


says it can only guarantee that support for one year and with many


expecting even less Government funding in the future, it seems


likely that more and more of the poorest will be asked to pay more


and more council tax. Monica Burns is from the National


Housing Federation which represents housing associations, many of the


tenants of which will have to pay council tax in the future. If they


do, what sort of impact will that have? Huge. We are talking about


people whose incomes are already really stretched. It is actually


the lowest paid, some are working, on benefits, but they really do not


have much disposable income and flexibility within that. This is


yet another thing that is asked of them. It is on top of the bedroom


tax which we are very concerned about, which is going to be a huge


thing for a lot of people. People in over occupancy of homes, three


bedrooms when there is only one of them. Court Two bedrooms when there


is only two of them. That is deemed to be under occupying. People are


asked to pay extra per room. reality is the Government needs to


save money and we need to share the pain, that is what they say.


Exactly, and we feel that people are being asked to share too much


of that pain. We have talked to many people. People are talking


about going without food, heating, a lot of people are already relying


on food banks and that is before these cuts to come in. So we are


very concerned about the impact. Does it worry you that this will


vary from place to place, different schemes and different councils. In


neighbouring areas you can have one place where you pay council tax and


another way you do not. Yes, and it will be difficult for housing


associations to get on top of it as well because they may have stock in


different areas and people in different areas will be eligible


for different amounts of money. It will be difficult for us to


manipulate. John Stevenson, this really is yet another cut to some


of the poorest people, effectively. The councils have to try to take


the flak. There are two issues, localism and the financial aspect.


I welcome the decision because localism is important, allowing


local authorities to decide what is right for their own communities. It


is interesting to hear that innovation is coming from Durham


council compared to the other councils. It is up to individual


councils to decide what they do. It is up to the councils to decide


what their priorities are. They can move resources if they wished so


that there is no change or they can do other things. The road has been


pulled from under them by a cutting the funded by 10%. For a lot of


councils there is no choice, that either cut services or they start


to raise council tax on the very poorest people in society. There is


a variety of things they can do. Some councils are increasing second


home council tax. In Carlisle, they have decided to retain the present


system but they are increasing the council tax for second homes. So it


is up to individual councils to decide. The reality is actually


that when North Tyneside asked people, they said they thought it


was right that people made a contribution, whatever their income.


I am sure some people would think that but I cannot help but think


what a mess this is, to be honest. It has Eric Pickles all over of it.


-- all over it. I am sure he must not speak to Iain Duncan Smith at


all because my understanding was we would get universal credit which


would put all benefits under one system. For some reason they have


left council tax benefit out of it. They have set to councils, we are


going to give you a grand but only 90% so you have to find 10% from


council tax. But they can find other ways of doing it. When you


talk about the layering of the effect of all these changes on


people, the poorest people, there is also the same effect on the


council. They have had huge cuts to their budget and this is another


one on top. It is also ludicrous. For the last two years we had


something called a council tax freeze. They said, we are not


putting the council tax Cup, to help people. Now they are putting


it up 10%. Different councils doing different things. Sunderland, a


Labour council in your area, will charge a quick 5% minimum. Another


council says people should pay 30%. It is just going to be confusion.


Your viewers watching this today probably have not heard that this


was going to happen. They might have heard about bedroom tax and


universal credit. For some it will be the first they have heard of it,


and the panic that will ensue. People will think, shall I move?


For full Cannes people who do not have that option, what will they


do? There will be some big problems for councils. They are asking for


money from people who are likely to default. It is up to local councils


as to what they want to do. There is an argument to suggest that if


people are making a contribution to council tax, however small, they


will take a much greater interest in the day-to-day activities of


that council and want to see the services of that council improved.


In this case, why has the Government decided to exempt goal


that people from this, who seemed to keep their benefits almost all


the time. -- exempt all the people. We have said that elderly people


will be protected. Why are they more vulnerable than a single


parents? They are elderly and have different issues. But for people in


work, we are helping those and at the lower end it is up to councils


to decide what is the right policy for their area.


This week, the Government announced an increased budget for public


health, badly-needed despite good progress in reducing smoking and


other long term illnesses. Four years ago the Labour Government


thought it had part of the answer. It launched an initiative to try to


change behaviour, but what long- The a core is the cruellest month,


then January is surely the toughest, forcing gardeners out when it is


dead cold. This garden sits in the middle of an Easter side housing


estate, created through the healthy town programme. It helps me keep


involved. It is a social thing as well. It gives me a lot of self-


esteem. There are vegetables at the end of the day. We harvest and,


sell them on. The difference is phenomenal. In terms of physical


health, they are getting out doors, fresh-air, different activities. In


terms of mental health, well-being the increases. Without this


programme we would not have had the resources. Along with the fresh


fruit and vegetables produced on an urban farm like this, money from


the scheme is also used to great sporting opportunities in


Middlesbrough. �3,472 helped create a fencing club. A roller hockey


club got �5,000 worth of equipment, and �750,000 bills a cycling centre.


This cycling club was the star prize in the programme. It is a


place where ordinary cyclists can come and exercise safely and elite


cyclists can stop their quest to compete at the next Olympic Games.


But Middlesbrough's most recent Hulk report card show that the town


still has high rates of obesity, smoking, drug and alcohol abuse and


death from a stroke. So does the council think that spending


millions on a health promotion scheme has been value for money?


The cost of surgery for the City for one person can run into many


thousands of pounds. Treatments for diabetes, high blood pressure,


heart disease that you get as a result, and diabetes. All these


things add up. It is a very good expenditure of money. It is what we


should be spending money on. Back at the bike track, the councillor


responsible for the programme says it was �9 million well spent. But


it may be some time before its true legacy is realised. Without the


scheme we would be in a much worse place than we are at the moment. It


was the precursor of helping people to change their eating habits,


exercise habits. We have a way to go. We have to prepare to be in it


for the long term and not take our foot off the pedal.


Sharon Hodgson, the skin has clearly helped some people -- the


scheme. But it may not immediately help the problem of obesity. Yes,


and one of my new year's resolutions is to lose weight. I am


aware that I am slightly larger than I should be. One of the areas


I cover is school food and I really believe that is where we have to


start. Something called the Food For Life partnership works across


some of our schools and it is so amazing that I would ask any


cancels out there when they are spending their money to look at


this partnership. They do cooking, growing food, exactly what we have


seen, in school, and healthier school meals. It transforms the


eating habits of those children. Isn't it time, forgive the pun,


that this is all carrot activity to lure people in but don't you


actually need to tax unhealthy food? I know they have entered into


all of these responsibility deals with the McDonald's of this world


and Coca-Cola and Pepsi. I do not think they are working. Andy


Burnham this week launched a campaign saying we should do just


that and put some targets on how much salt they should be in things,


and sugar and fat. That would be a start. If people are going to eat


that food, making less fattening. That is the point, isn't it? If we


are treated obesity like cigarettes we would wrap up the tax? No one


seems to have the appetite to take on these food companies. There are


some new ideas and innovation within local authorities. On the


issues you are talking about, Government has a role, industry has


a role. But most importantly, the individual has a role. We have to


take responsibility for our own lives. Parents have a role, and the


education system does. Also, people smoke perhaps more when it was


cheaper. They did. That is one possibility, to go down the


legislative rich. I would be inclined not to. I think it is


through education and personal responsibility that you can improve


the health of a nation. The move to public health going into local


authorities I think is a good way of encouraging local authorities to


come up with good ideas that can improve the health of their local


authority. Are they doing the right thing here? The move to public


health and local authorities? Yes. I hope they use it wisely. They


might not have as much many -- money to spend as they would like


to. I have already broken my new year's resolution to be kinder to


MPs. I cannot help it. I hope you are faring better. We persuaded our


correspondent Mark to go on a cheap seat regime but now he insisted


instead this year's new year's resolution would be to squeeze even


more political stories in 260 Seconds.


The number of Sure Starts centres is falling. Darlington, Gateshead


and Redcar are among centres where they have been merged or shut down.


Protests were held in Newcastle against the plans to close


libraries. A local MP says the level of cuts face by Newcastle is


unfair and disproportionate. All I am asking is that they treat


Newcastle City Council and my constituents with the respect they


deserve and act urgently upon these concerns. It should be made easier


to switch to an elected mayor, according to a Cumbrian MP. He says


too many voters have to sign a petition before a referendum can be


helped. At present this is 5% of the electorate, a barrier that is


too high. And a big hole in the Government -- not in the


Government's coffers but here, where the road has collapsed. Danny


Alexander was there to announce superfast broadband for the town.


He promised to look into it. He hasn't got any new jokes for


2013 but Sharon Hodgson, why do you think Sure Starts centres have been


closed by its some local authorities, whereas Lib Dem and


Conservative councils in some places have managed to keep theirs?


The basic answer is the cuts. Huge budget cuts that start at around


40% across nearly all local authorities. And difficult


decisions. It is localism but it puts the cuts that central


Government has given to local Government and it blows the blame


on local Government and it is the biggest broken promise that Cameron


has made, when he said that he would protect Sure Start. The issue


of mayor's. It surprises me that people are still flocking this.


Heseltine's solution for improving growth in the region is the unitary


authorities and strong local leadership. I think people should


get the choice. That is all I am saying. I want to see more


petitions, the threshold reduced from say 5% to 1%. But then it is


up to the local area to decide if they want an elected mayor. Then we


will see is people can be offered again. Thank you Berry much. That


is it from us. There is more about the council tax changes on my block.


-- blog. Or you can follow me on Twitter. Next Sunday we will be


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