Brighton pensioner jailed for non-payment of council tax

Bill North, Socialist Party, and former chair of Brighton and Hove Anti-Poll Tax Federation

In 2011 Brighton and Hove became the first local authority in Britain to be run by the Greens. The Green manifesto looked forward to “a just and equal city where everybody is treated with kindness, respect and dignity”.

On Thursday 26 July Brighton and Hove city council successfully applied to have Josephine Medhurst, an 80 year old pensioner, jailed for ten days for non-payment of council tax. Family members told the Socialist Party that the bill – around £3,000 – was incurred by her deceased husband over a decade ago.

Green voters might well be asking: “Where’s the dignity in that?”

At an earlier hearing magistrates found that Mrs Medhurst’s non-payment was due to “culpable neglect” and told her to pay the totally unrealistic amount of £20 a week. When she couldn’t make the payments they jailed her.

A council spokesman claimed that “repeatedly over a number of years” the council had tried to help; and no doubt Green councillors will point out that the case was started by the previous (Tory) administration. But that is completely irrelevant. Mrs Medhurst is in prison because of the actions – or lack of actions – of the Green-led council which could have stopped the court case at any time over the last year.

So what has been achieved by jailing Mrs Medhurst? She doesn’t have the money, her family don’t have the money and the council doesn’t have the money. Once a debtor has been imprisoned there’s no further action the council can take to enforce payment. The most that the council – to its shame – could expect to gain was to frighten her and her family.

Benefit cut

All this has happened during the same month that the Green council has published its “preferred alternative” to the coalition government’s plans to abolish the national system of council tax benefit.

Con-Dem plans would mean a £2.5 million cut in council tax benefit locally. The Green’s “preferred” response would mean that everyone below pensionable age would be charged at least 10% of the council tax.

In one way this is worse than when Thatcher brought in the hated poll tax at the end of the 1980s. At least then the Tories brought in a token increase in benefits, pretending it would compensate the poorest in society. The Greens have come up with their proposals at a time when benefits are actually being cut!

There can be no doubt that more people would fall into debt. How many of them would the Greens be willing to put in prison?

Before last year’s council elections Brighton and Hove Socialist Party warned the Green Party that by refusing to challenge government cuts they would be forced into attacking local services. We rejected their argument that the best they could do was protect the vulnerable (although even we did not predict that they would try to ‘protect the vulnerable’ by sending some of them to prison!).

We called on the Greens, and every councillor claiming to oppose the cuts, to build a movement in Brighton and Hove and help build a campaign nationally to demand a restoration of the cuts in funding.

We called on them to set a budget to reflect the needs of the city’s population, not the dictates of the cold-hearted Tories and their Liberal Democrat playthings. Instead, the Greens have allowed themselves to become licensed bullies, trying to intimidate working class people in an effort to raise council tax revenue.

  • No to jailings or punitive measures for non-payers who cannot afford to pay
  • No cuts in council tax benefits or any council services and no to privatisation
  • Build a mass challenge to this and all future governments to demand lost funding is returned to the city