Bradford on the eve of the Spending Review and Autumn Statement is a nervy place.
This is tax credit central. More people claim tax credits here than any other city in the UK.
One of the 57,000 households that do are the Habib family. Shakira and her husband, Ansar, have four children and claim working and child tax credits worth nearly two thousand pounds.
They both work – Ansar as a legal advisor and Shakira as an outreach worker. They see themselves as “strivers not scroungers” to use the Chancellor’s own words.
Everything they do is for their children, whose school prizes line their book shelves, and who tell me they want to grow up to be doctors and dentists.
For the Habibs, tomorrow will tell them if the Chancellor is on the side of the working poor as he promised he would be. If he doesn’t reverse his tax credit reforms, the Habibs will feel that he isn’t.They are comforted by the fact that he has said he is ‘thinking things over” and may reverse some of the planned changes, but tense ahead of tomorrow. They reckon – if the chancellor doesn’t back down – they could lose nearly two thousand pounds a year.
If the Chancellor does back down its still likely he will get the savings he wants (£4.4 billion) from somewhere in the welfare budget. Housing allowance and Employment Support Allowance seem likely targets.
So the working poor may still see their benefits cut, and those unable to work for health reasons may all see their benefits squeezed. With pensioners protected, it is working and non-working younger people who are likely to be most directly affected by tomorrow’s cuts. In Bradford, it’s the working poor who are bracing themselves to see what happens to tax credits.
The Government maintains that their changes to provide free child care, increase tax thresholds, and introduce the new National Living Wage will compensate for cuts to the welfare budget, ending a“merry-go- round” of handouts for low-income families.
The Spending Review will also cut budgets to local Government, so there is nervousness at the town hall, which has already seen £170 million cut from its budget and had more than 500 redundancies this year.
Basic services have been trimmed to the bone already, says the Labour Council Leader David Green. He describes the government’s plans to shrink the state as like “taking a sledge hammer” to it.
We wait with trepidation for the cuts which we fear will be so deep they will hit the vulnerable
But the Government wants local councils to think smarter and for businesses and volunteers to step in to take their place where they withdraw non-essential services. Tomorrow will be another step on their journey to re-shape Britain witha smaller state infrastructure at its core.
The other group waiting nervously for the Chancellor to take to the dispatch box are the elderly of Bradford. One in 10 of those in this town are aged over 65 and many, like Sheila Hobson, live alone, totally dependent on the goodwill of neighbours and friends or the professional help of carers.
She is 87 and told me she felt life was now “terrible” because she felt so vulnerable and unsupported. She has just come out of hospital after a fall and is struggling to arrange the care she now needs that will enable her to stay safely in her own home permanently, a cottage she has lived in for 48 years.
According to local government and the care industry, there is now such a shortfall in funding in the system that the standard care for people like Sheila is now at risk.
It is expected that the Chancellor will address this funding crisis by giving councils the freedom to increase council tax to raise extra money to pay for the social care. There is none coming from central Government.
Bradford has already had a council tax rise of nearly two percent this year. Nothing comes for free. But as one disabled pensioner, Trevor Oldroyd, told me: “When we ask for help we get the distinct impression from those we ask that we are ‘not their problem’. So I’d like to ask on the eve of the Chancellor’s statement – just whose problem are we?”