Island Labour Chairman and councillor for Cowes North
There are 39 councillors on the IW Council and, largely, we manage to keep party politics out of things. In fact, you’d be surprised at how much we agree on. Housing, poverty and the economy (topics for future issues, if Ed will allow me).
Something that has brought politics into local governance is the £20 cut in Universal Credit (UC). “It was temporary and the government can’t afford it,” was MP Bob Seely’s (the sixth person to be an MP in his family) cry on Newsnight recently.
Despite his party claiming to be the party of economic competence, the cut is economically illiterate. If he looked, he’d find that there are 11,822 people needing to claim UC on the Island, 43 per cent of them are employed, including nurses, HGV drivers and shop workers – the people we clapped for not so long ago. Taking that £20 from our heroes represents a £12 million a year reduction in spending in the Island’s economy.
This places further stress on small businesses, but also council finances as council tax defaults will no doubt rise. It will leave a bigger hole in the council coffers, when it is already facing a further £1.5m cut in social care funding and £3m a year savings to make a balanced budget. So the £20 reduction doesn’t just penalise those in receipt of it, it punishes the Island as a whole.
Government finances are not like household finances. Households tend not to own their own bank – governments can borrow over a period of 50 to 100 years, largely from the bank they own if they wish. Households can’t. The job of government is to spend when times are bad and not spend as much when times are good. You’d have to have pretty rose-tinted specs to say times were good at the moment.
Bob uses the argument “it was temporary”, as if that makes it law. The London Eye and Gareth Southgate were also ‘temporary’ so let’s not be too hasty.
The other thing about governing for the good of the population is changing your mind when the situation changes. Over the last three weeks, we have seen how the situation has changed with queues for fuel, empty shelves and the near-doubling of utility bills for many households.
Those in receipt of benefits are often accused of poor money management, spending on the wrong things, yet they aren’t offered the luxury of claiming the cost of the County Press and milk for their tea back on expenses. An MP’s salary is £82k pa. More than 2½ times the average UK income, yet Bob’s colleague Peter Bottomley MP said “it’s grim” for many MPs. Maybe they need the same lecture on money management and spending on the ‘wrong things’ that those on Universal Credit get. Most people don’t have a problem with people being rich, they just don’t think people in one of the richest and most advanced countries in the world should be so poor.
We are currently in the middle of a housing crisis here, with a lack of properties and sky high rents if you can find one. I challenge Bob to explain how his stance on the cut to UC helps resolve that situation.
So rather than sitting in front of a log fire in his rented Island property (paid for by you), maybe Bob could do something useful for the Island and vote against his government on the topics he claims to care most about. Either that or just be honest and start his next appearance on Newsnight with: “I’m alright Jack; pull the ladder up.”