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Why the Recent Council Tax Rise Is Not Yet the 'New Poll Tax'

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This week, news emerged of the millions of low-income households to be hit by as much as a £600 rise in their council tax beginning in April of this year. The Huffington Post recently reported that around "74% of local authorities in England are planning to increase their demands on families whose council tax is currently discounted or even covered in full by the Government."

This rise in council tax, being dubbed the 'new Poll Tax', is part of a wider government agenda to slash the deficit, of which welfare payments have taken a big hit. Already, many households have seen their housing benefits capped, making this council tax rise an even greater burden on low-income households.

Attacks on poorer households such as this, however, are not new. As many will undoubtedly recall, the controversial poll tax, implemented in Scotland in 1989 and unsuccessfully in England and Wales in 1990, sparked one of the largest and most violent protests Britain had ever witnessed. As many as 200,000 protesters filled Trafalgar Square in a stand-off that eventually caused John Major to scrap the tax, replacing it with the council tax we have in place today.

The parallels between the previous Conservative government and the current Conservative-led government are clear: further taxes are being imposed on those who are least able to pay them. But where today's situation is different is in the public's response.

Admittedly, since David Cameron entered No. 10, there have been a number of protests in response to the coalitions's attack on the welfare state. In March of 2011, for instance, between 250,000 and 500,000 people marched through the streets of London demanding an alternative to the harsh spending cuts being imposed by the coalition government.

More recently, in March of 2012, thousands of NHS employees rallied through Westminster specifically calling for the coalition government to reverse its policy of what some are calling the privatisation of our healthcare system.

Yet, although many have been out on London's streets protesting, in reality, these protests have done very little to convince this government to reconsider its policy of dismantling of the welfare state, and the lack of obvious opposition towards the coalition's cut in subsidies towards council tax serves only to suggest that we will not see such widespread uproar as we did in 1990.

What has been lacking in the public's response, and is a reason why the council tax rise is not yet the 'new Poll Tax', is the spontaneity of mass protest. One of the defining factors in the success of the Poll Tax riots was the extent to which neither the police nor the government were unable to prepare for the size and violent nature of the protests. What we need today, if we are to demonstrate that there is an alternative to huge government spending cuts, is a movement that is willing to protest through ways in which the government cannot suppress their demands nor silence the debate.

Only when protest is frequent and spontaneous, convincing the coalition they need to be receptive to the damage policies such as council tax rises are doing, will there be a true 'new Poll Tax.' But until then, the coalition will continue to have a free hand in slashing public services and valuable welfare payments such as those towards council tax.