Saturday, 16 July 2011

Reading Labour play politics with Welfare - again

It's disappointing to see that less than two months into the job Labour's new Lead Member for Housing, Cllr Eden, seeking to make political capital out of Welfare in Get Reading this week, a tried and tested tactic of her Party.
A lead councillor in Reading is calling on the town’s two MPs to oppose plans to put a cap on housing benefit.

Councillor Rachel Eden, lead member for housing and neighbourhoods, said Government welfare reforms could make 40,000 families homeless and put a huge burden on council finances.

The reforms cap the level of housing benefit which would mean in expensive areas, the benefit may no long meet the actual cost of rent.

Cllr Eden said: “Here in Reading we’ve known for months that the Government’s proposals would be likely to strain the council’s resources, while causing problems for many residents. I am calling on Reading’s MPs to meet with us and to withdraw their support for these proposals .”
The issue of changes to Welfare is an important one and we should be concerned about.

I and many other Liberal Democrats have real concerns about the impact some of the changes to welfare policies families and vulnerable people.

I and others have raised these issues with our MPs and Ministers and they are well aware of the need to get them right.

Labour councillors and MPs, on the other hand need to face facts: they went into the last General Election planning to cut welfare and pledging specifically, to cut housing benefit.

The way to address genuine concerns about these changes is to engage properly with MPs and to champion these issues in Parliament as a number of Lib Dem MPs such as Jenny Willott and John Leech have continued to do.

The way not to do as Cllr Eden has done is via cheap newspaper headlines which seek to spread concern amongst some of the poorest people in our community.

When I was Lead Member I worked hard to build good relationships with both Reading MPs because I felt strongly, and still do, that the the needs of residents should come ahead of party politics.

The approach I and other Lib Dem councillors took led to increased funding for a number of key housing projects including the regeneration of Dee Park and building of much needed extra-care homes on the former Avenue School site in Katesgrove.

Cllr Eden, in her failure to articulate a) her Party's real position and b) accept her Party's responsibility for the financial crisis that has led to a need to reduce public debt so dramatically does nothing to to move the debate forward or help those who may be affected.

I'm sure this is a well intentioned error by Cllr Eden who is new at her role and as such does not shoulder the entire blame for this mistaken position.

Hers is simply the latest in a long line of hypocritical attacks by Reading Labour politicians.

Last November, when I wasLead Member for the same area and proposed reforms to housing benefit were announced Cllr Pete Ruhemann, the Labour Group's longstanding 'official press spokesperson' took to the airwaves claiming that London Boroughs were already block-booking rooms in Reading as a result of people being forced to move out of London due to benefits changes.

He did not have the imagination to think up this line it was being spun by the Labour Party nationally too: I was rung up by the Daily Mail on the back of this story and when I investigated with officers at the Council it proved to be whollywithout foundation.

All Cllr Ruhemann's comments did was to increase fears amongst people living on some of the lowest incomes in Reading.

Which is just what Cllr Eden is doing.


Let's be clear, these attitudes are expounded by councillors from a political party that was committed to making £44 billion pounds worth of cuts going into the last general election.

Ex Welfare Minister James Purnell admitted Labour planned to make cuts to Welfare and he wished he had gone further.

And both Cllr Eden and Cllr Ruheman come from a Party which fought the last General Election on a platform of pledging to cap housing benefit.

So, in future, when it comes to Welfare a bit more honesty, a bit less piety and a lot less politicking from our Labour councillors would make a nice change

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