07/07/2013 Sunday Politics South West


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families being chased for unpaid council tax. The women following in


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the footsteps of those who won them Politics in the south-west. The


woman following in the footsteps of those who won them the right to


vote. And for the next 20 minutes I am joined by Adrian Sanders and the


leader of the Labour group on Devon County Council, Richard Westlake.


This week saw the bill for a referendum on EU membership passed


its first test in Parliament unchallenged. It will be the later


stages with the battle will be fought. The Prime Minister heard it


introduced but Labour said the debate was a political stunt and


advised its MPs to stay away. You going to vote for this bill when it


gets to the more crucial stages? I will. I will vote in favour a


referendum. That is unusual. You the only Liberal Democrat who's going to


do that? I think some colleagues will join me. There are Liberal


Democrats right across the country who feel strongly. A lot of us want


to land this boil and start the campaign to remain in the EU and I


will be in favour of us staying in the EU once we have got the


referendum up and running. Richard, this is a mess for Labour. Do you


risk being an anti-referendum party? This is a political stunt.


They have got UKIP and they are losing votes. The Liberal Democrats


recognise they are in trouble. What is happening is you are seeing this


go through Parliament. We need to sort out Europe. We need to sort out


what our position is. We cannot pussyfoot around. Should you not


vote for the referendum? You could have a referendum, but you want to


know what you are going to vote about. It seems to me, you will have


a referendum without the real debate, which we will need, and


certainly after the next Parliament, which is after 2015, and the effect


that will have. We do not know what the economy will look like after


2015, so we do need a debate, but if you rush into something, we could


get an answer that may be detrimental to the country. We will


see. It is three months since the government's welfare reforms kicked


in. Figures obtained by the BBC show the changes to housing benefit and


council tax benefit or already pushing people towards debt. In


Torbay, over 1000 families have been sent final notices changing --


chasing unpaid council tax bills. The situation in Cornwall is


similar. It is what the government wants. Janet Mandeville has swapped


a two-bedroom house for one-bedroom flat. Since April, social housing


tenants with a spare room have had housing benefit cut. She was getting


behind on her rent. It has worked out in the end. I did not


particularly want to move. It is because it did what I needed it to


do, which was to stop the stress about worrying about money. I am


already worried about money, because benefits are not that high. �20 a


week, it was making me ill. Ministers say the reform is designed


to do this. It will free up social housing stock and make the system


fairer. Janet says that is fine in theory, but there are not enough


properties around. I was lucky. I can feel for the people who cannot,


who want to, but cannot. Cornwall Council says four out of ten tenants


affected by this charge or behind on their rent. Other housing


associations are reporting an increase in arrears. It is repeated


for around 20,000 households who are having to pay a chunk of council tax


for the first time since the changes came in. Around one third are in


arrears. Susie is currently on benefits because of illness and she


is now on the brink of becoming a statistic herself after recently


getting a large bill. I got the electric bill last Friday. That is


how close I was. We walk a fine line. You can never tell if it will


be you next. Local authorities have been passed responsibility for the


tax benefit, but with less money. In Cornwall, the funding gap is being


plugged by working age people. are happy to take on more


responsibility but we cannot do so without any money and I am worried


it is being passed on to the poorest families who cannot afford it. Our


job is to make representations to government to say if you want to


trust councils to do more, we will be happy to take on that role, but


we need the money. The recession is hard. Cornwall Council has funds in


place to help the most honourable, like Janet who is getting some help


with their council tax payment. The government says the reforms will


save taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds a year and give councils


incentive is to get people back into work. To discuss this we are joined


by the Conservative MP George Eustice. What is your message to


these people who are in arrears? think there are a number of things


that they can do. Different councils have approached this in different


ways. Some councils decided to absorb the full cost of the


reduction in the council tax support, some like Cornwall tried to


pass it on to working people, but alongside that, a �1 million fund to


support people, and I met the council a couple of months ago to


discuss this, my message is that if people are struggling, do not wait


until you go to court, approached the council and put in an


application to get some support to help you adjust. We are talking


about 20,000 families. interesting thing is that when I


spoke to the council they said they have not had as many people


approaching them as expected, even though they wrote to everyone and


made clear at the funds were available. There are lots of funds


to help people. There is one that the government put in place. It will


not be there next year, will it? They are temporary. What will people


do them? In a year's time, Cornwall Council will be in a better position


to design something that is better tailored. Why will it be in a better


position? We will have seen which people need support. The principle


of this is the right thing to do. It is councils that understands council


taxpayers and they can tailor solutions that work for them, so


they can find the savings more efficiently. Some people will have


full support for council tax, but in a time limited way. It may be that


some of them have 90% or 60%. After one year of running this, when they


have people approaching them for support, they will have a better


understanding. In the meantime, a lot of people will have gone to


court. It is creating a divided society, with some of the wealthiest


people are still having a lot of money despite the recession, and the


poorest people are facing legal challenges. Crime the government has


passed it onto local government but it given them an amount of money


which is shorter than what is required. People who qualify for


this benefit are amongst the poorest families. We said we would be fairer


and we would not hurt those most in need. This policy is doing that and


the government needs to look at this again. There are further cuts in


government funding next year, so the councils will be even less able to


do their own package to help people who are in need next year. You have


to look at this again them. Councils have to look at what works for them


and some councils decided to absorb the full cost. Cornwall Council


decided it could not. Other councils approached it differently. Are we


all still in this together? Yes we are. The point is that there will be


people watching who do not get any council tax support, but might also


be in arrears. If you're going to claim some contribution from people


who have never paid it before, it is inevitable that some people will go


into arrears. I could point to lots of people who are working very hard,


but do not qualify for the benefit and they also struggle to pay these


bills and many of them will also have court summonses as well.


bring in Richard. Would later reversed this? We would look at it


and see after 2015, what the current state is. That is neither a yes or


no. We do not know what will happen in 2015. We would have a fairer


distribution. What we are looking at is local government not getting its


fair share and as Adrian said, we are seeing in the next two years


through the Chancellor's Autumn statement, another severe cut to


local authority spending. Are you gaining support from people who are


having benefits cut? We are gaining support in membership, but I do not


want people to join a party because they find that the -- that there are


benefits have been cut. Especially when it was Labour who left a note


to say there was no money left. cannot argue with that. We need a


shift. I was at a conference in Manchester and it was interesting


that Michael Heseltine was saying that central government should be


looking now to transfer more money to local government so that they can


help those most in need. I want to come back to George. The Bishop of


Truro spoke out and said the benefit changes are driving people to food


banks and it is a scandal that we have them at all in the


21st-century. That is your patch, what do you say? I have got food


banks in my area and it is worth noting the important work they do.


Should people have to go to charity? The use of food banks has been


growing. It increased under the last government. This government has for


the first time allowed job centres, where they think it is appropriate,


to refer people to food banks. There is greater awareness of them and


greater use. The changes we are making are right. We have put a cap


on the total amount that people can claim in benefits in a year at


around �26,000. That is the average for working families. It is wrong


that we are paying more to people on benefits than what working people


get. People are being driven over the edge. There is still a benefit


system there. People still get housing benefit and council tax


benefit. The benefits are still there. They are under pressure


because national finances are under pressure. There is still support.


Fight you for joining us. 100 years ago, women campaigning for the right


to vote were marching through Devon. Various events are being held


to commemorate their journey. We sent Johnny Robert the -- Johnny


Rutherford along. Their dream was for equality and for women to be


given the to vote. In 1913, women marched to London to have their


voice heard. On July three en route to London they passed Plymouth,


exactly 100 years to the date and women once again marched through the


streets, this time in celebration of the great suffrage pilgrimage.


were hoping for an end to sighted Labour, hoping for an end for


children being that having to work. It took 15 years after the March


before women were given an equal vote in 1928. They got us the vote


and they thought this would solve all that. Here we are, 100 years


later, and we are fine, largely? Women are a long way from political


equality but much progress has been made. The south-west provided the


first woman MP and she took up Parliament seat in 1919. She lived


in Plymouth and gave her house to the city as a residence for future


Lord Mayers. Today the Lord Mayor is Vivien Pengelly. We have always had


lady members of Parliament, we have had the likes of Joan Vickers. They


were all well respected members of Parliament. She was the first woman


to lead the city council. My meeting set the standard of how we discussed


the debate. I stuck to my guns. I stayed focused. I was determined to


do what I thought was the right thing for Plymouth. We present our


appeal. Our demand in response to the government's claim that women do


not want the vote! By re-enacting the speeches made a century ago,


these women hope to highlight outstanding campaigns on equal pay


and the cost of childcare. They say they are unlikely to achieve those


goals until there are as many women in politics as men. We are facing an


economic crisis, an environmental crisis, we keep going to war, there


are wars all over the place. It is not going well, guys, we need women


on board and it needs to be half and half. We want half the presence in


the corridors of power. Mary Lidgate ending that report. We are joined by


Rhea Brooke from the Fawcett Society. It is striking watching


that footage how far we have come from the long dresses and stern


faces. Do you agree with the women, although we have come a long way, we


have not come far enough? Apps lately. If you look at the number of


female MPs, the number of women who are counsellors, and you start


looking at council leaders, just over 2.5% of police and crime


commissioners, women do have a long way to go until there is parity


within political life. What can be done? It is about recognising why


women engage with politics and recognising the barriers. If you


think about the role of a councillor, where the expectation is


they will be attending meetings and events in the evenings and at


weekends and look at the cost of childcare, they are in a dilemma. Do


they pay out for childcare, which is incredibly expensive, or do they


attend and do what is expected of them, in terms of their roles as


councillors? Actually, if they claim expenses because they need childcare


in order to carry out their role, that gets played out in the press.


Does participation vary? It does. If you look at London and the number of


councillors there, there are significantly more. The further away


you move, there are fewer MPs. That might have something to do with the


balance between political life and the need to be in Parliament until


late at night and a family life, where you need to go home, and that


balance is hard. Tony Benn suggests that the system needs to be change,


and male and female MP for each constituency. It is a novel idea.


Changing the electoral system to a single transferable vote, would


ensure a better balance of candidates. That would be the


easiest and surefire way of getting more women and people from ethnic


minorities reflecting Britain as it is in Parliament. 100 years on, the


Cabinet is still made up of wealthy males. We have got four females


compared to 27 men. My party cannot claim to be good at this. We have


been looking at how we can attract more women. One of the biggest


barriers is finance. Most men who engage in politics, it is their


hobby that becomes part of their life, that they fund out of their


higher earnings. For women, it is very difficult, with all the other


responsibilities that they take on, if they have children. What about


the paid? I do not think that would have impact at all on the number of


women that would come in, except at the margins. What you need is the


support that she was talking about, support with childcare, which we


tried in Parliament and we have a creche, but we need more women to


fill it up. It is getting the women in in the first place, but having


the facilities there once they get elected. Is there anything that can


be done? These problems do not just exist in politics. You look at


teenage girls and there seems to be more of the cult of the celebrity


rather than someone that you look up to in politics? Politicians, when it


comes to their popularity rating, are well down the list. It is not


something that someone would go into to become popular. I think the


Labour Party has gone a long way to trying to make sure that there is


equality, so that women have opportunities to go for seats and


seats that you can win, not just the seat she cannot. I think she was


right, one of the things we have to look at, being a politician, whether


an MP or a local politician, the call on you is substantial. Today, I


have done a lot of work and when you have got children, you have a


responsibility in the household, it is how we balance that by making


sure that there is equal opportunity. We need to close time


on that discussion. It is time for our regular round-up of the


political week in 60 seconds. The fire service in Devon and Somerset


said it needed to save a further �2.5 million. We continue to make


representation to the government to ensure that the needs of the public


are fully reflected in future assessments, but we need to operate


but the funds made available to us. And mother called on the government


to ban legal highs after her 16-year-old daughter used one and


collapsed. They need to be made illegal and in the meantime, we need


to educate the parents and children about how dangerous they can be.


Duchy of Cornwall was asked to come clean about its tax affairs by a


Cornish MP. The Duke pays income tax voluntarily and perhaps we need to


explore where else we can balance the books with his assistance.


the decision on whether a pink Devon cottage will have to be repainted it


was put on hold. Let us look at the cuts to the fire service, because


that affects Plymouth and Torbay. Is this something which you have been


campaigning against? Yes. I think the issue for the Fire Authority


members, they will have to explain why 20% of the cuts are to


front-line services and only 5% to back office. There are nearly 19,000


people in Torbay engaged in the consultation progress and they said


no to this proposal because they are concerned about public safety.


do you make of that? The general public want to see no cuts to


front-line services. They feel that. The other message is to government


is when you are making cuts to local governments, you are also now


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