Rachel Rolnik is a Special Rapporteur with the UN sent to the UK to investigate Westminster's bedroom tax.
One thing at a time though, what is the bedroom tax? Well, first of all, we don't want to further offend poor Grant Shapps' delicate sensibilities - Grant by the way, apart from being a bit petulant, is the Conservative Party Chairman - he prefers to call the bedroom tax the 'Spare Room Subsidy'. A lot of people think the bedroom tax is a Tory invention - it isn't. New Labour under Gordon Brown introduced it for private tenants (people in receipt of housing benefit but not living in council or housing association properties) in 2008, the Tories just extended it to all tenants in receipt of housing benefit.
How does it work? If you have one spare room, your housing benefit will be cut by 14%, if you have two or more it'll be cut by 25%. The aim is to encourage people who only require one bedroom but live in a house with more to relocate to smaller digs thus freeing up the bigger homes for families.
The trouble is, all sorts of unintended consequences are occurring; disabled people who require carers to stay over night, or require the space to store equipment (hoist & wheel chairs etc,) grand parents with familial responsibilities or those with spare rooms which are in fact over-sized cupboards but have been classified incorrectly have all been caught out. They have to fund the short fall from their already over-strained finances.
Of course, on the surface of it, it seems like a reasonable idea, I can't afford a two bedroom property and I work full time (no laughing at the back.) Turns out, its not though. Firstly, its only going to save something like £500 million, they say a 'saving' but the costs involved in rehousing, collecting rent arrears and the usual levels of bureaucracy these things attract - it isn't going to be a saving at all. Secondly, there is a serious shortfall in single bedroom properties - no one builds them any more because multi-bed dwellings are more popular and flexible.
|Nick & Margaret: We Pay All Your Benefits - from the BBC. |
Two exceedingly well off people judging the poor - how terribly Victorian.
People in receipt of benefits are an easy target, especially with a press only too eager to amplify the kind of faux outrage Westminster parties need to press ahead with their ideologically-driven policies. There are so many reasons why its such a shit idea and as usual, its not straight forward, so many people switch off thinking "well, its not happening to me so..." The thing is, it could happen to you, and even if it never does, you'll pay for the aftermath with your cash and your own standard of living
The Bedroom tax is just another facet of Westminster's race to the bottom, its never about improving people's lot, its about pitting one demographic against another and assuring the lowest common denominator becomes the new normal. I mean, of course it makes sense to remove £500 million from the poorest in the UK instead of, say, actually collecting tax due from large multinational corporations selling their crap in the UK.
But I digress.
Raquel was in the UK in her capacity as a UN Investigator looking at the bedroom tax.
"Ms Rolnik told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that she had received "hundreds of testimonies" and said there was a "danger of a retrogression in the right to adequate housing" in the UK.
She cited examples of disabled people, or grandmothers who were carers, and said the measure seemed to have been designed "without the human component in mind".
She said her recommendation was "that it should be suspended" to allow time to better assess the human rights implications, and so it could be redesigned."
Grant Shapps was miffed because Raquel didn't ask him anything, I would say, Grant Shapps probably isn't affected by the bedroom tax - sorry - the spare room subsidy, so why would she? He said:
"It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with government ministers, to fail to meet with the department responsible, to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring, and even to fail to refer to the policy properly throughout the report."Jeezo Grant, get over yourself. The bedroom tax isn't that complicated, Ms Rolnik met with a senior official from the DWP after which there was...
"...a further meeting "at which the findings were presented by the rapporteur". A spokesman said that at the start Communities Secretary Eric Pickles "popped in - it would be pushing it to call it a meeting".Eric Pickles no less. The idea of him 'popping in', consider my mind boggled.
|Eric Pickles: arguing against a spare chin tax. (Tory SoS for Communities and Local Government.)|
It goes with out saying, Shapps is pissed off because the bedroom tax is a shit idea and he didn't get the chance to spin it otherwise. Raquel Rolnik got straight to the job of finding out how it affected real people and discovered that it probably did infringe certain human rights.
The human rights issue isn't the most compelling argument against the bedroom tax, as mentioned, it'll save no money and its backward and unfair. Once again political leaders at Westminster are demanding swathes of the population comply with a certain policy, then promptly arranging things so its almost impossible to do so.
If you can't find a job they tell you to move, never for a moment thinking how much it costs to move. Even if you do find work, with so many new jobs being temporary, part time or having zero hour contracts attached; its not worth it. MP's don't understand any of that mundane crap because for them, for each of life's challenges, there is an expense to cover it.
Take Eric Pickles for example. During the expenses scandal his main home was only 29 miles away from Parliament in his Essex constituency - yet - he claimed £250 a month in mortgage interest payments, £750 a year for services charges for a second home in East London, Pickles also billed the public purse £200 for cleaning and £280 for groceries and other household bills every month, (to be fair, that last one could have been much higher...)
No doubt there is money to be saved in the UK, but taking it off people who are already struggling is wrong and inhumane, that the UK needs the fragrant Raquel Rolnik of the UN to come and tell the incumbent government does not bode well for any of us.
Meanwhile, as part of Team GB, we're racing to the bottom. The Civil service's working conditions are better than the private sector's - what to do? How about, instead of pulling the private sector up to the level of the civil service, why not drag the civil service down to private sector conditions.
Or - there are some in our society who need a wee bit extra help, do we give them that and attempt to raise them up out of the vicious cycle of poverty they find themselves in? No, lets make their situation worse by lowering the pitiful amount of money they're given and further lowering standards for everyone.
Meanwhile, Labour - who brought the bedroom tax in originally - now say they wouldn't have adopted the policy and crucially, won't say they'll scrap it if returned to government in 2015.
Well, 41 Scottish MP's voted against, whilst 4 MP's voted for.
MP's vote all the time on all sorts of things at Westminster, while the bedroom tax may not affect you directly; there will be policies that do and others that already have.
The people at Better Together love to tell us how uncertain the world is, but uncertainty & risk is inevitable, there's nothing new about that. What we should have but don't - as evidenced by the bedroom tax vote among others - is choice. Scotland has no choice in the United Kingdom, our choices are made for us by others to their own advantage, if that needlessly impoverishes Scotland then so be it.
Turns out, we do have one very special, far-reaching choice to make, one that if taken correctly will empower every other choice we make there-after. The question is, do we have the collective guts to take it?
I hope I'm not alone in saying; I really hope so.