Z2K tackle Camden Council’s maladministration

Z2K has been helping a disabled person, Mr D, suffering from Crohn’s disease to address his council tax debt. In 2011, Camden Council decided to pursue Mr D for debt accrued from around 2006. Initially they said the debt was £118 – after calculating it and telling them that we had arrived at quite a different result, they decided the debt was in fact £39.84.

We asked them to write the debt off as it was causing Mr D an undue amount of stress, and he was in no financial position to expected to pay the amount. Regrettably Camden initially refused. However upon requesting them to conduct an internal review of that decision, they decided that it was quite inappropriate to pursue such a vulnerable person for such small amount of money, and the debt was written off. They even apologised, and said that our request ‘should have been highlighted to a senior staff member’.

We strongly condemn Camden council for initially miscalculating Mr D’s arrears and refusing to waver the debt once this error was brought to their attention. Many vulnerable people  are in no position to check and challenge erroneous calculations and decisions by local and central government.  It is not known how much money is unfairly and unjustly collected from other people in similar situations to Mr D.

Having said this, we are glad that after Z2K’s pressure Camden eventually admitted their mistake and wavered the debt. We hope that this unfortunate chain of events will inform future practice.

Marmot: new data on the link between wealth and health inequalities

This morning Sir Michael Marmot published data showing how unequal health outcomes are between the richest and poorest parts of the country. Life expectancy and time spent in good health are shown to be heavily linked to social standing.

Some key point picked out by Randeep Ramesh in today’s Guardian are:

  1. 60% of five-year-olds in some of Britain’s poorest areas do not reach a “good level” of behaviour and understanding – double that found in wealthier suburban parts of England.
  2. Marmot, a public health specialist and author of Fair Society, Healthy Lives, said: “Education and child development are key for health. It is the educated who stop smoking … we know the key driver of teenage pregnancy is not getting early child development. You are not going to get pregnant as a teenager if you develop as a child.”
  3. There was also an alarming health gap opening up within areas. Marmot pointed out that in [Z2K’s home borough of] Westminster the average life expectancy of male residents was 83, five years longer than the English norm, but this masked wide disparities. The poorest in the London borough could expect to live 17 years less than the richest.

This evidence futher supports the need to support a minimum income standard across the UK so that people can afford to feed them selves and thier children a healthy diet, heat thier homes and while staying out of debt. The to the UK of failing to do this are currently  unpriced but likely to be large. The government already predicts that mental health (which is strongly linked to debt) costs the economy £105 Billion a year.

We must hope that the Welfare Reform Bill, due for publication next week, recognises the negative implications for everyone of imposing poverty incomes on the poorest.