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Rimmer: Council cuts and welfare reforms a 'devastating combination'
2:00pm Thursday 7th March 2013 in News
THE leader of St Helens Council accused the Government of launching an “attack on families” as she predicted a devastating combination of cuts in council funding and welfare would plunge thousands more local families into poverty.
Marie Rimmer likened the Coalition’s austerity measures to “social engineering” as she echoed warnings from other council leaders in the North about the threats faced to ordinary families this year.
She told the Star that “with every single council service – from libraries to street sweeping - under review” it was inevitable that the public would witness significant changes in services.
As previously reported by the Star, Sutton pool has already been mothballed to save money and there are proposals to reduce library opening hours.
And - after a workforce has been depleted by more than 1,000, possibly another 200 because of further redundancies - more departments will suffer.
Councillor Rimmer fears further woe will come from changes to council tax and housing benefits that will hit working families in some of St Helens’ poorest communities. She said national media portrayals that welfare cuts would simply hit the “workshy” were a manipulative move by the government to create divisions in society. Instead, she insisted that thousands of St Helens families, already reeling from rising costs of living and wage freezes, would bear the brunt of reductions in benefits.
She said: “We will have to review every single service that the council provides. I want to explain that it’s not just council funds that are concerning me. We will have lost £50million over four years and this year we will see the localisation of the council tax and changes to housing benefit.
“That is just a mechanism of making central government cuts and getting local government to do it. They are cutting the finance to people who need it. It equates to a 15 per cent cut that is falling on working age families.
“Every working age family will have to pay 20 per cent (towards council tax) and so that affects people not paying anything now.”
She added that 3,000 families in Helena Partnerships accommodation alone will be hit by housing benefit changes as part of the so called “bedroom tax”, which will affect people with spare rooms.
She added: “Some of them will be losing up to £24 a week, some £11.50, and there is nothing we can do about that. This is social engineering. They are trying to turn people on each other.
“The council workforce has dropped from 8,299 to 7,328 – that is an 11.7 per cent reduction. In that time the council was the biggest employer in the borough.
“You can only imagine what the public reaction would have been had a major company in the town been allowed to do this.
“And there is more as we are reviewing every single service to find this remaining £12million.
“There have been people made redundant and there will be more – we cannot do this without it.
“There will be some reductions in delivery and location of services. For example we are reviewing libraries – even the way we sweep the streets will be looked at.
“What we are aiming for is to try and keep services as local as we can – but there may be some reductions in hours of service.”