“The first line of defence…..”

“Local government (is) in essence the first line of defence thrown up by the community against our common enemies – poverty, sickness, ignorance, isolation, mental derangement and social maladjustment”

I sometimes use the above quote from Winifred Holtby in presentations to local authorities. One local authority director appreciated the quote but stated that, at the present time, it felt like they were fighting with one arm tied behind their back. He obviously wasn’t feeling the ‘freedoms’ that central government have promised to local authorities in the name of localism and de-centralisation.

Last week, we saw evidence of what this ‘first line of defence’ could look like in the region when the Leader of Darlington Borough Council, Bill Dixon, declared that there would be no evictions in Darlington as a result of the bedroom tax’ and he warned that the tax – or spare room subsidy – was ‘in danger of destroying families’. Other local authorities across the country, including Islington and Brighton and Hove have made similar commitments and a campaign group called No Bedroom Tax NE are calling for other local authorities in the region to make similar pledges.

This may appear to be a political (or moral?) position but one could also mount a fairly strong case for adopting this position on financial grounds as well. Evicting people for arrears, especially families, is rarely a progressive or helpful stage in their lives, it isn’t cheap and it can be a fairly lengthy process, with few benefits for anyone. If the tenants evicted are made homeless, the local authority still has certain responsibilities and (re)housing people in temporary accommodation is a lot more expensive each week than the cost of an unpaid ‘spare room subsidy’. Pledging not to evict people because of arrears relating to the ‘bedroom tax’ could even be construed as an ‘efficiency saving’…..



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