Barrie Grunewald: We must end this hated tax

St Helens Council leader Barrie Grunewald
St Helens Council leader Barrie Grunewald

The cruel and unfair bedroom tax isn’t quite dead yet - but after last week’s vote in the House of Commons it’s certainly on life support.

The Liberal Democrats joined forces with Labour to back a private members bill that excludes disabled people and families who are not found smaller homes.

An exemption would apply under the bill if a tenant needs an extra room for ‘genuine medical reasons,’ or if a property has undergone substantial adaptations to help people living there.

Hopefully this is now the beginning of the end for the bedroom tax. Labour has been consistent in its opposition - and is committed to scrapping it if we win the election next year.

g Like other councils across the country, St Helens now has responsibility for public health matters. A big part of this involves encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles.

And of course one of the main issues that we have to tackle is smoking. Obviously the most important aspect of this is improving the health of our residents – we don’t want anyone to die young or fall ill when both are avoidable.

But last week our public health role – with regard to smoking - was thrown into even sharper focus from a financial point of view. New figures from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) show that councils in England are paying at least £600m a year to help people with smoking-related illness to live in their own homes supported by domiciliary care.

The study shows that St Helens Council is likely to pay an additional £2.6m in care costs because of smoking. In addition, local people pay almost £2 million every year themselves for social care due to smoking.

It’s the first time anyone has tried to estimate the cost of smoking to the social care system. It reveals that current smokers over 50 are twice as likely to need help with day-to-day living and on average need care nine years earlier than non-smokers.

They are sobering figures and show that an awful lot of money is spent – by both councils and individuals - unnecessarily on social care every year in England a result of smoking.

g This weekend provides us with that annual opportunity to take a look behind the scenes at some of our best-known buildings.

Heritage Open Days take place between Thursday, September 11 and Sunday, September 14 and give us a chance to celebrate the sights and sounds of a bygone era.

This year’s event is bigger than ever - and will see a number of venues open up to the public completely free of charge.

Heritage Open Days are a national initiative that celebrate architecture and culture by allowing visitors free access to properties deemed to be of interest – which are either not usually open, or would charge an entrance fee.

Town centre buildings like the town hall and Central Library will be open, along with the Citadel Arts Centre and Masonic Hall. Elsewhere there will be guided tours of St Helens and Newton Cemeteries and Victoria Park, while several churches will also be welcoming visitors.

For more information, go to the news section of the council’s website (

g We’re supporting Good Morning Britain’s ‘Just Read’ campaign, which encourages parents and carers to spend ten minutes reading with their children every day.

Our Chester Lane Library will be giving away 50 copies of bestselling book Diary of a Wimpy Kid to local children this Saturday (13 September).

It’s one of 200 libraries across the UK taking part in the ‘Just Read’ giveaway which is supported by national charity The Reading Agency and children’s publisher Puffin.

The campaign comes as leading charities, teachers, parents and businesses have come together to form a coalition called ‘Read On. Get On.’ The coalition has launched a national mission to support parents and teachers to get all 11 year olds reading well by 2025.