But that was a while ago. Clearly the new less-than-one-year limitation on investigating crime retrospectively came in after 2017.
Funny that none of us ever heard of it, though…
Still, we know the answer Hoyle will hear – right?
So the Met Police won’t be investigating druggie MPs.
If it does launch a probe, then the failure to investigate the Downing Street party will be a serious breach of procedure. But we know that already, too – right?
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Shamed: keep your eyes down, Keir – otherwise you’ll read another tweet taking you down.
Earlier this week, members of the public were scandalised to learn that former Labour General Secretary candidate Pamela Fitzpatrick is being threatened with auto-exclusion from the party, because she gave an interview to now-proscribed organisation Socialist Appeal.
She did it more than a year ago, when it was not proscribed and she had no reason to believe it ever would be.
Obviously, Labour’s position is ridiculous. The threat against Ms Fitzpatrick should be dropped and a fulsome apology issued. The party has put itself in yet another humiliating position.
But critics have decided that it’s not bad enough, and have provided their own contribution to the debate. Let’s enjoy some of them.
Today I was notified that I am being formally investigated by the Labour Party following the emergence of my membership of the Tufty Club in 1976.
If This Writer hadn’t been kicked out of Labour for being an impartial political journalist, I might be worried.
They can’t get me on the Blockbuster rap but I fear my record on Rolos, and membership of the Tufty Club, may have mitigated against me.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Homeless: The Bedroom Tax has forced the eviction of an ever-growing number of social tenants. How many people have been evicted because of Local Housing Allowance?
It seems every debate on the brutal Tory Bedroom Tax has lately been overshadowed by some ill-informed commentator claiming that the Labour Party cannot oppose the measure because it imposed its own version of the same thing on the private rented sector, years ago.
Such a claim was made on the Vox PoliticalFacebook page yesterday (Thursday) and Yr Obdt Srvt promised to seek out the facts.
Thanks to today’s debate on the Affordable Housing Bill, there was no need to look very far.
As mentioned in the debate, Labour imposed the Local Housing Allowance in order to stop private tenants from abusing the Housing Benefit system by moving into accommodation that was larger than they could afford – remember, private rented accommodation is more expensive than social housing – and forcing the taxpayer to fund the difference.
Labour’s measure was imposed only on people moving into privately rented accommodation after the LHA law was enacted.
So, for example, a single person might choose to take a place with two bedrooms. Before LHA was brought in, they could claim housing benefit on the property and rely on the taxpayer to stump up for the extra space. LHA means they get the money required for what they need – and they have to pay for the extra space. This is fair because moving into the larger property was their choice.
As with ordinary housing benefit, if a tenant’s circumstances change for the better, the amount of benefit payable is reduced. Why should a private tenant expect preferential treatment?
It seems that private landlords, who have been charging more than they should, have been angered by the imposition of the LHA and have chosen to wage a propaganda war against it, claiming that it is the Bedroom Tax by another name. Note that they are not against the Bedroom Tax, because it drives social housing tenants to the private sector.
Compare that with the Bedroom Tax. The Tories have imposed a charge on people who are living in social housing that was allocated to them on the basis of their need and the accommodation that was available; it is not the tenants’ fault if the only available accommodation was larger than they needed (more appropriate dwellings had probably been sold off under a previous Tory government’s ‘Right To Buy’ scheme).
The Conservative Bedroom Tax was imposed retrospectively – that is, it affected people who were already sitting tenants rather than those moving into accommodation. It was not intended to combat abuse of the system but was simply a way of robbing social tenants of help that they needed.
And the Bedroom Tax was imposed in the knowledge that the amount of alternative accommodation available to social tenants who needed to downsize in order to avoid the charge was only a fraction of what was needed. These people were trapped by this cruel legislation and driven into debt – in stark contrast to the Labour legislation which only affected people choosing to move into accommodation that was larger than they needed.
There is a huge difference between the Local Housing Allowance and the Bedroom Tax.
Any claims that they are similar must be rooted either in stupidity or in politically-motivated malice.
Criminal: Iain Duncan Smith has made the UK government into a criminal regime, illegally victimising its most vulnerable citizens.
Iain Duncan Smith took an metaphorical slap in the face from the High Court today when Mrs Justice Lang said his retroactive law to refuse docked payments to jobseekers was not legal.
The Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013 was rushed onto the statute books after the DWP discovered the rules under which it had docked Jobseekers’ Allowance from 228,000 people, who had refused to take part in Workfare schemes, were illegal.
The ruling does not mean that everyone who was penalised for refusing to take part, or for leaving the scheme once they had started it and realised what it was, may claim back the JSA that had been withdrawn from them.
But anyone who appealed against a benefit sanction on the basis of the previous decision will be entitled to win their appeals and be repaid the withheld benefits – as Vox Political advised at the time. That payout could be as high as £130 million.
The judge said retrospective application of the 2013 law conflicted with the European Convention on Human Rights and “interfered with the right to a fair trial” of all those affected.
This is the latest twist in a legal challenge brought by Cait Reilly, a graduate who fell foul of the scheme, in 2012. She demanded a judicial review on the grounds that being forced to give up voluntary work in a museum (she wanted to be a museum curator) to stack shelves in Poundland breached her human rights.
Poundland no longer takes part in mandatory work activity schemes run by the UK government.
Mrs Justice Lang said today (July 4) that “the absence of any consultation with representative organisations” as well as the lack of scrutiny by Parliamentary committees had led to “misconceptions about the legal justification for the retrospective legislation”.
The 2013 Act introduced a new “draconian provision, unique to this cohort of claimants” which was “not explained or justified” by the government in Parliament “at the time”.
Mrs Justice Lang rejected the Secretary of State’s assertion that flaws in the 2011 Regulations were simply “a technicality or a loophole”, that the 2013 Act sought to give effect to Parliament’s ‘original intention’ or that repayments to benefits claimants would be “an undeserved windfall”.
She also recognised that it would be “unjust to categorise the claimants in the Cait Reilly case as claimants “who have not engaged with attempts made by the state to return them to work”, as asserted by the Department for Work and Pensions.
“This case is another massive blow to this Government’s flawed and tawdry attempts to make poor people on benefits work for companies, who already make massive profits, for free,” said solicitor Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, who appeared for the unemployed.
“Last year the Supreme Court told Iain Duncan Smith and the Coalition government that the scheme was unlawful. In this case the High Court has now told the Government that the attempt to introduce retrospective legislation, after the DWP had lost in the Court of Appeal, is unlawful and a breach of the Human Rights Act and is a further disgraceful example of how far this Government is prepared to go to flout our constitution and the rule of law. [bolding mine]
“I call on the DWP to ensure that the £130 million of benefits unlawfully withheld from the poorest section of our society is now repaid.”
So there it is, in black and white. Iain Duncan Smith has made the Coalition government a criminal organisation, guilty of 228,000 human rights violations.
This is a serious matter; some of these people may have been put in serious financial hardship as a result of the Coalition’s actions. One hopes very much that nobody died but if they did, those fatalities should be added to the many thousands who have passed away as a result of Iain Duncan Smith’s homicidal regime for claimants of incapacity benefits.
Let us not forget, also, that we remain at the mercy of these tyrants. Iain Duncan Smith has announced he intends to waste yet more taxpayers’ money on another appeal. In the meantime, a DWP spokeswoman said the legislation remained “in force” and the government would not be compensating anyone pending the outcome of its appeal.
Several months ago this blog accused Iain Duncan Smith of being a liar and a coward because, not only had he fabricated statistics on the number of people leaving benefits because of his new benefit cap, but he had also weaseled his way out of an appearance before the Commons Work and Pensions Committee to account for this behaviour.
The very next day, we had to apologise (to readers) and publish a correction saying that the man we call ‘Returned To Unit’ would be attending a follow-up meeting in September, at which the 100,000-signature petition calling him to account for the benefit cap lies, organised by Jayne Linney and Debbie Sayers, would also be presented to MPs.
Apparently the meeting was being timed to coincide with publication of the DWP’s annual report for 2012-13.
Now it is November, and we have still had no meeting with RTU. Nor have we seen the annual report, which is now almost eight months late. Meanwhile the calamities at the DWP have been mounting up.
The latest appears in a Guardian report published yesterday, about the ongoing disaster that is Universal Credit. You may remember, Dear Reader, that the Department for Work and Pensions has admitted it had to write off £34 million that had been spent on the scheme; it subsequently emerged that the total amount to be written off might actually be as high as £161 million.
The Guardian article appears to confirm this, adding £120 million to the £34 already written off if the DWP follows one of two possible plans to take the nightmarish scheme forward.
The other plan would attempt to salvage the existing system, and is understood to be favoured by the Secretary-in-a-State. The drawback is that it could lead to an even greater waste of taxpayers’ money (not that this has ever been a consideration for Mr… Smith in the past. He’ll waste millions like water while depriving people of the pennies they need to survive).
Universal Credit aims to merge six major benefits and tax credits into one, restricting eligibility for the new benefit in order to cut down on payouts. It relies on the government creating a computer programme that can synchronise systems run by HM Revenue and Customs, the DWP itself, and employers. So far, this has proved impossible and a planned rollout in April was restricted to just one Job Centre, where staff handled only the simplest claims and worked them out on paper. Later revelations showed that the system as currently devised has no way of weeding out fraudulent claims.
A leaked risk assessment says the web-based scheme is “unproven… at this scale”, and that it would not be possible to roll out the new system “within the preferred timescale”. Smith has continually maintained that it will be delivered on time and on budget but, as concerns continue to be raised by senior civil servants that systems are not working as expected and there are too many design flaws, it seems likely this is a career-ending claim.
Is this why he hasn’t deigned to account for himself before the Work and Pensions Committee?
Is this why he hasn’t deigned to account for himself before the committee?
We have yet to learn why this man felt justified in claiming 8,000 – and then 12,000 – people had left benefits because of the £26,000 cap he introduced in April (he claimed it is equal to average family income but in fact it is £5,000 and change short of that amount as he failed to consider benefits that such families could draw). Information from polling company Ipsos Mori showed that the real number of people who had dropped their claims after hearing of the scheme was more likely to be 450 – just nine per cent of the figure he originally quoted.
Is this why he hasn’t put a meeting with the committee in his diary?
Perhaps we should not be surprised, though – it seems that RTU has never had a decent grip on the way his department works. For example, he allowed George Osborne to cancel Disability Living Allowance for one-fifth of claimants in 2010, claiming that the benefit had been “spiralling” out of control because it had 3.1 million claimants – triple the number since it was introduced in 1992. Smith said the rise was “inexplicable” but in fact the explanation is simplicity itself, as The Guardian‘s Polly Toynbee pointed out just two days ago:
“DLA is only paid to those of working age, but when they retire they keep it, so as more people since 1992 move into retirement, numbers rise fast. There has been no change in numbers with physical conditions, despite a larger population; back injuries have declined with the decline of heavy industry. There has been a real growth in numbers with learning disabilities: more premature babies survive but with disabilities, while those with Down’s syndrome no longer die young. More people with mental illness claim DLA now, following changes in case law: there has been no increase in mental illness, with 7% of the population seriously ill enough to be receiving treatment, yet only 1% claim DLA. Psychosis is the commonest DLA diagnosis, hardly a trivial condition. This pattern of disability mirrors the rest of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, with nothing exceptional here.”
In other words, from the moment he took over this hugely important government department, with its huge – and controversial – budget, Iain Duncan Smith had about as much understanding of its workings as a child.
It seems Sir John Major was exactly right when he expressed fears about the DWP Secretary’s ability last week, claiming his genius “has not been proven”.
Is this why we’ve seen neither hide nor … head of the Secretary of State?
Finally, Dear Reader, you will be aware that Vox Political submitted a Freedom of Information request to the DWP, asking for up-to-date statistics on the number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died during a claim or while appealing against a decision about a claim – and that the request was dismissed on the indefensible grounds that it was “vexatious”. This was not good enough so the matter went to the Information Commissioner’s office and, according to an email received this week, will soon be brought to a conclusion.
Is this why Iain Duncan Smith is hiding?
Perhaps it’s time to drag him out of his bolt-hole and force some answers out of him.
Jayne (Linney), in her blog, has called on people who use Twitter to start tweeting demands for Smith to come forward, using the hashtags #whereisIDS and #DWPLateReview. This is good, and those of you who do so are welcome to use any of the information in this article as ammunition in such a campaign.
There is nothing to stop anyone writing to the press – local or national – to ask what is going on and why benefit claimants are being left in suspense about the future of their claims. People have to work out how they will pay their bills, and the continued uncertainty caused by Mr… Smith’s catalogue of calamities is causing problems up and down the country.
A short message to your MP might help stir the Secretary of State out of his slumber, also.
Victory at last: The Supreme Court’s ruling means vindication for Cait Reilly, who has spent nearly two years battling against a system that costs the taxpayer millions while failing to increase employment.
It’s a return to the drawing-board for the man we call ‘Returned To Unit’ after the Supreme Court ruled against Iain Duncan Smith’s Workfare appeal.
The five Supreme Court justices upheld a Court of Appeal decision, made against the government in February.
The case had been brought by Cait Reilly, a geology graduate who, while unemployed but volunteering at a local museum in order to gain experience towards getting a curator’s job, had been ordered by the Department for Work and Pensions to work for her benefits, stacking shelves at Poundland.
It should be remembered that Poundland is perfectly capable of employing its own workers on full wages. At the time, it ran 390 stores nationwide and made £21,500,000 profit in 2010 – enough to employ extra staff at all its branches and still make a good profit.
The amount it was saving by not paying Ms Reilly, coupled with the fiscal multiplier that adds around 60p to every pound she would have earned if she had been an employee, means Poundland could have made a £1,188.48 profit from the work she was doing for the firm at the taxpayers’ expense.
Total profit for all companies using benefit recipients on ‘Mandatory Work Activity’ between June 2011 and July 2012 (878,000 people): £894, 416, 090 – nearly £1 billion.
Loss to the taxpayer: £16,933,000 (not including payments to Work Provider companies).
Together with another claimant, Jamieson Wilson, Ms Reilly brought a judicial review against the scheme, claiming it was a violation of human rights under article 4 (2) of the European Convention on Human Rights: “No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour” – and the government lost the case.
Mr Justice Foskett stated: “Her original complaint arose from what she was wrongly told was a compulsory placement on a scheme that (a) impeded her voluntary efforts to maintain and advance her primary career ambition and (b) having embarked upon it, from her perspective, did not offer any worthwhile experience on an alternative career path. It is not difficult to sympathise with her position from that point of view.”
At the time (August 2012), the right-wing media slanted their reports to make it seem that Ms Reilly and Mr Wilson had lost, but this was soon rectified because the government appealed against the ruling, which stated that, if Ms Reilly had been properly informed of the regulations, she would not have been led to believe she was being put into forced labour.
The problem for Mr… Smith was that Ms Reilly and Mr Wilson were not the only ones to have been misled in this way, and the ruling opened up the government to claims for compensation, from thousands of benefit claimants, for millions of pounds that had been taken away from them because they had refused to take part in the ‘work-for-benefits’ schemes. The illegality of the regulations meant the DWP, under Iain Duncan Smith’s supervision, had broken the law more than 228,000 times – RTU is a criminal more than a quarter of a million times over.
In any case, evidence quickly piled up, proving that Workfare doesn’t work. During its first 14 months, only 3.53 per cent of jobseekers who took part in the government’s mandatory work activity programme – of which Workfare is a part – actually found a job for six months or more. They would have had a better chance of finding a job if the work programme had not existed.
This did not prevent the Department for Work and Pensions from appealing against the ruling and, in February, the Court of Appeal responded – by upholding the claim that the scheme was unlawful.
This meant that anyone who was penalised for refusing to take part, or for leaving the scheme once they had started it and realised what it was, could claim back the Jobseekers’ Allowance that had been withdrawn from them for non-compliance. The payout could have been as high as £130 million.
Smith wasn’t going to have any of that! He launched emergency legislation to reverse the outcome of the decision and change the regulations retrospectively, making it impossible for benefit claimants to demand payouts of between £530 and £570 each for decisions made while the illegal rules were in force.
Lawyers and campaigners branded the DWP’s move as “repugnant” and “unbelievably disgusting”, saying it undermined the rule of law. This blog concurs with that assessment. It is an appalling abuse of governmental power.
But the government succeeded in undermining the rule of law after all but a few members of the Labour Party allowed it to pass, having negotiated a few “safeguards” that have proved to be useless in practice.
Fortunately, some people have a little more backbone and Ms Reilly and Mr Wilson took their case to the Supreme Court. It is from this body that today’s – final – judgement has come.
Now comes the nitty-gritty.
After the introduction of the emergency law, the solicitors Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), who represent Reilly and Wilson, lodged a judicial review accusing RTU of conspiring to undermine basic human rights by enacting the retroactive legislation. They say they will continue to pursue that judicial review after their success in the supreme court.
A spokesperson for PIL said: “Following today’s judgment, any… jobseekers can object to sanctions that have been imposed and seek the repayment of their benefits. It is truly staggering that Duncan Smith has found himself in this position even after fast-tracking emergency retrospective legislation through parliament. We intend to work with advice organisations to ensure that, following this ruling, affected individuals have the right information and assistance.”
It seems the firm believes the retrospective part of the Jobseekers (Back to Work Schemes) Act 2013 is no longer valid. That means all 228,000 Workfare victims who were penalised by the DWP will be able to claim their compensation and force the £130 million payout.
Not only that, but it seems reasonable that a legal penalty should be imposed on ‘RTU’ himself. Not only did he enforce the schemes under the illegal regulations, but he also imposed a lengthy and costly legal battle on those who stood up against it, even though it had been found to be wrong in law.
Who knows how much hardship this has caused to people who were already on the breadline before his brutal sanctions were imposed?
How much despair has he caused to people who had no other means of support?
Has anybody died because of this – through health problems, mental health issues leading to suicide, or for other reasons?
It is time for the people who have been most seriously affected by this to get together and start talking to lawyers – Public Interest Lawyers might be a good place to start – about getting restitution from the man who caused this mess.
The taxpayer may well have to foot the bill for the illegal benefit sanctions, and that is only right. They should never have been imposed in the first place and this will only set matters straight.
But the individual minister who caused this should not get away without paying a personal penalty.
Let’s have some accountability in government, Mr… Smith.
The Tory Faraway Tree: By the power of very bad image editing, David Cameron, Iain (RTU) Smith and Grant Shapps have replaced the protagonists. Careful, Mr Shapps – your panties are showing! How unusual that they aren’t on fire!
Do any British readers remember what it was like to live in a country where the government respected the law, and accepted facts without making up silly little stories about them?
What an amazing place that must have been.
Sadly, we’re all trapped in Tory-Coalition purgatory for the next 19 months at least, and have to endure the relentless procession of nonsense associated with it.
Yesterday (Friday) we were provided with two glowing examples.
Firstly, the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, was treated with extreme prejudice by the Tories and their poodles in the right-wing press, after she announced she would be filing an unfavourable report after investigating the effect of the bedroom tax on the British people.
Tory chairman and ‘Michael Green’ impersonator Grant Shapps then wrote to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to complain about the Special Rapporteur’s behaviour. A reply has now arrived and, rather than give it the due consideration it deserves, Shapps seems to have handed it straight to The Sun.
That newspaper reported that the UN had “slapped down” Ms Rolnik for her behaviour. Shapps himself told the paper: “People expect the UN to be neutral, yet on this occasion a former Workers Party politician came with a clear agenda” – a bizarre claim, when the letter itself creates a completely different view.
It states: “Ms Raquel Rolnik is one of 72 independent experts appointed by the United nations Human Rights Council – the lead UN body responsible for human rights – on the basis of their expertise and independence, and following a competitive selection process. As in the case of all mandate holders, Ms Rolnik serves in an independent capacity and in accordance with a Code of Conduct adopted by the Council. She is not a staff member of the United Nations, is neither accountable to nor appointed by the Secretary-General, and does not receive any compensation beyond a daily allowance when engaged in mandated activities.
“Among other activities, Special Rapporteurs are mandated to undertake country visits to assess human rights enjoyment on the ground. The United Kingdom is one of 94 Member States which has extended a standing invitation to mandate holders thus indicating that it is open to the visit of any Special Rapporteur. Country visits are governed by rules and procedures set out in the Code of Conduct referred to above and the Manual of Operations adopted by Special Procedures. Ms Rolnik’s visit was planned and organised over many months in consultation with the Government in compliance with these rules and procedures.
“As in the case of all country visits, Ms Rolnik’s visit concluded with a press conference and a press statement, provided to the Government in advance, which indicate preliminary findings and recommendations. The final report on the visit will be submitted to the Council’s twenty-fifth session which will take place in March 2014 in Geneva.”
Reading between the lines, we can piece together the gist of Shapps’ correspondence – and it’s clear that he made a lot of mistaken assumptions. Firstly, it seems likely he wrote to Ban Ki-moon demanding that Ms Rolnik be fired from her position, in the belief that she is a hired hand and that the Secretary-General can hire and fire her as he pleases, the way Tories would like to run the UK. She’s just ‘the help’ in Shapps’s eyes. He must also have made a claim about her remuneration – possibly that she receives too much money from the UN or that, as a Socialist, she must be pulling pennies out of the public purse like there’s no tomorrow. Both claims get short shrift.
Next, Shapps is likely to have reasserted his claim that “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.” The UN response is the same as Ms Rolnik’s own statement in her preliminary report.
And the final paragraph seems to be a response to his further claim that it was out of line “to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring.”
Taken at face value, then, this is a letter that entirely supports Ms Rolnik, both in her position within the United Nations and the way she carried out her role in the UK.
But that wasn’t enough for the United Nations, whose higher echelons clearly wanted to ensure there can be no doubt about the way this – let’s face it – international incident is being viewed.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Huffington Post: “The Sun‘s take on it – that ‘The United Nations has slapped down’ Ms Rolnik – is pure spin. There was no such intention whatsoever.
“In the face of a blizzard of misinformation and personal abuse of Ms Rolnik, published in one or two other UK tabloids during and immediately after her visit, the letter to Mr Shapps simply corrects the factual errors that have been asserted about her status and her role as an independent UN expert, or ‘Special Rapporteur.’
“Ms Rolnik’s visit was planned and organized over many months in consultation with the UK Government in compliance with these rules and procedures.
“As in the case of all country visits, Ms Rolnik’s visit concluded with a press conference and a press statement, provided to the Government in advance, which indicate preliminary findings and recommendations.
“The final report on the visit will be submitted to the Human Rights Council’s session next March in Geneva.
“In short, there was nothing unusual or untoward about Ms Rolnik’s visit – apart from some of the reactions to it.”
No doubt Mr Colville will have drawn his own conclusions about the current UK administration from that Sun article – conclusions that, one hopes, will be included in that final report next March.
The New Statesman reckons the Tories have an “antipathy for evidence” and presents a theory regarding why this should be so: “If all the facts are against you, your best tactic is to make stuff up and hope you can shout the other person down (changing your mind obviously not being an option).”
Alternatively, we return to V for Vendetta territory. The graphic novel’s writer, Alan Moore, referenced Enid Blyton’s novel The Magic Faraway Tree several times. For an anarchist like the story’s protagonist, the Land of Do-as-you-please would be very attractive – but here in reality, it seems the Tories think they’ve taken the ladder to that land and can do and say whatever they want – and facts don’t matter.
For more evidence of this, let’s turn to our second example: The Department for Work and Pensions and its reaction to a benefit tribunal in Scotland, who ruled against Fife Council, saying that a room of less than 70 square feet should not be considered a bedroom for the purpose of the bedroom tax. This led the council to call the tax “unworkable” and demand its reversal. Since then, a disabled gentleman has won a ruling against Westminster Council, after he claimed that a room used to store equipment that helps him manage his disability was not, and never has been, a bedroom.
In his decision notice, the judge wrote: “The term ‘bedroom’ is nowhere defined [in the relevant regulations]. I apply the ordinary English meaning. The room in question cannot be so defined.”
Perhaps we are to assume Iain Returned-To-Unit Smith believes that, having achieved one retrospective law via the normal legislative route, he can now ordain such rulings willy-nilly. He’s wrong.
His Department’s demand that “when applying the size criteria and determining whether or not a property is under-occupied, the only consideration should be the composition of the household and the number of bedrooms as designated by the landlord, but not by measuring rooms” is worthless.
If he wanted that to be the case, he should have written it into his silly little Bedroom Tax Bill (or whatever it was called).
For the moment, Shapps and RTU can get away with their bizarre pronouncements – although they can’t expect to be believed – because the Conservatives are in office.
But they won’t be in office forever.
In the meantime, let’s all keep supporting the opposers, wherever they turn up. If you are being subjected to the Bedroom Tax – appeal. And write to the UN, supporting Ms Rolnik and her findings against the tax.
You have a chance to prove that the Land of Do-as-you-please is a very small place.
And, as in the book, the return to normality involves a very, very long descent.
A liar revealed: Grant Shapps, chairman of the Conservative Party (not ‘Michael Green’, as his name-badge suggests). The assertions he made this morning were proved wrong this afternoon.
Oh, so she wasn’t invited by the government and she didn’t visit government offices, did she?
And did she really not use the proper terms for government policies like the bedroom tax?
The press statement by Raquel Rolnik, UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, on her mission to examine the effects of the bedroom tax on the people of the UK suggests otherwise. In no uncertain terms.
Once again, Grant Shapps is exposed as a liar.
He is the chairman of the Conservative Party, the organisation that tells us it is running the country, and you can’t believe a word he says.
From 29 August to 11 September 2013, I undertook an official visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the invitation of the Government. My visit included various cities in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I also had the opportunity to meet Government office from Wales in London.
The main objective of my visit was to assess the country’s achievements and challenges in guaranteeing the right to adequate housing and non-discrimination in this context, in accordance with existing international human rights standards. The assessment includes legislation and policy frameworks as well as the consideration of concrete outcomes from those policies, examining how they respond to the housing needs of women, men and children, with a particular focus on those most vulnerable and disenfranchised.
I wish to start this statement by expressing my gratitude to the various Government Departments, for the cooperation and hospitality extended to us during the organization and throughout the development of this fact-finding visit. I have had the opportunity to meet with numerous Government officials, including some Ministers. In England I met with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Department of Work and Pensions, the Homes and Communities Agency, the Department for International Development and the Manchester City Council. I also met with officials from the Department of Housing and Regeneration from the Welsh Government. In Scotland, I met with the Scottish Government, including the Housing Services and Regeneration, the Housing Supply, the Homelessness and Equality Policy Departments; and with the Scottish National Housing authorities and Planning and Architecture Division. In Northern Ireland, I had the opportunity to meet with the Department for Social Development, and with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive. I am also grateful for the opportunity to meet with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, including a representative from Wales, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and with a wide range of civil society organizations, including housing charities, human rights organizations, housing federations, housing associations, campaigners, researchers, litigators and academics.
Lastly, but most importantly, I am thankful for the opportunity to visit housing estates, local areas, Gypsy/Traveler sites and homeless centers, which took place in London, Basildon, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Great Manchester. I was able to hear first-hand testimonies and insights from residents of all ages, and witness living conditions. I wish to thank all those who took the time to meet with me, to travel to join meetings and hearings, and to offer their personal experiences to help me better understand the situation. Without their involvement, support and cooperation this mission would not have been possible.
As I have said throughout my visit, the United Kingdom has much to be proud of in the provision of affordable housing. It has had a history of ensuring that low-income households are not obliged to cope with insecure tenure and poor housing conditions, and can be well-housed. Some of the policies and practices that have played a role in providing social housing include the construction and further regeneration of a large social housing stock as well as a welfare system which covers housing as part of a social safety net. These can serve as an inspiration to other parts of the world. There are also specific efforts to prevent and address homelessness, and the Scottish Homelessness Act abolishing a priority needs test deserves mentioning. These, and others, must be commended and recognized as good human rights practices to be sustained for present and future generations, both by the Central Government as well as the devolved Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
At the same time, I wish to suggest that the United Kingdom’s Government revisits some policy decisions with direct and indirect impacts on housing as a human right. I will limit myself to a few preliminary and provisional remarks on some of the issues of special concern. These along with other topics will be explored in more detail in my official report to the United Nations Human Rights Council at its 25th session in March 2014.
In carrying out my assessment, I am guided by relevant international human rights law, in particular by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, articles 2 and 11. The United Kingdom ratified this binding instrument on 20 May 1976 without reservations. According to it, the United Kingdom has obligations to take steps to ensure and sustain the progressive realization of the right to adequate housing, making use of the maximum of its available resources. Progressive realization represents a strong presumption against retrogressive measures in the protection and promotion of human rights. State parties cannot move backward without offering a strict, evidence-based justification of the need to take such measures and without having weighted various alternatives. Most importantly, Governments must put in place effective safeguards to protect the most vulnerable sectors of society if such decisions are made.
Some of my main preliminary findings indicate signs of retrogression in the enjoyment of the right to adequate housing. It is not clear that every effort has been made to protect the most vulnerable from the impacts of retrogression, indeed much of the testimony I heard suggests they are bearing the brunt. Housing deprivation is worsening in the United Kingdom. Increasingly, people appear to be facing difficulties to accessing adequate, affordable, well located and secure housing. The numbers of people on waiting lists for social housing have risen, with reports indicating waits of several years to obtain a suitable house.
The trend has been to give priority to home ownership in detriment of other forms of tenure and to encourage a private renting sector with flexible tenure arrangements. Today, in England, approximately 17.4% of the population is renting in the private market and social housing renters provides for 17.3%. Figures of social renters are slightly higher in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but considerably lower than two decades ago everywhere in the UK. Furthermore, private tenancies can be as short-lived as six months and significantly more expensive than the social rental sector.
Home ownership has provided housing for more than one generation and it is deemed a common aspiration for many. However, the takeover of the housing sector by the financial sector has exposed many households to a highly volatile market, with skyrocketing prices during the boom years and, since 2008, a credit crunch that has essentially paralyzed access to credit. Various stakeholders have warned of potential risks once the interest rate on mortgages starts to claim back. In Northern Ireland, repossessions due to mortgage default continue to be one of the issues of concern.
In England the Government and most stakeholders report that there is a clear shortage of housing due to a mismatch between supply and demand. For example, estimations range around 221,000 new homes needed in England per year, with less than 50% of this need actually being met (approximately 110,000). In view of the Government, this shortage is due to two main factors: the lack of available financing for the housing sector and planning constraints which lead to lack of available land for housing development.
In order to respond to this critical situation, the current Government has launched several initiatives contained in its 2012 Housing Strategy in England, and has created various schemes for investment such as “Help to buy equity loan” and the “Build to Rent” to support private house buyers and developers. A smaller funding allocation is provided for grants for affordable housing under this same package of initiatives. In devolved Governments, various schemes have also been created. For example, in Wales, the “Houses to Homes” initiative aims at bringing long term empty homes back into use.
A second element of this strategy is a significant reform to the planning system which, among other aspects, aims at reducing long and cumbersome administrative processes, by eliminating the regional level planning and pre-defined benchmarks for local councils to provide housing. In turn, this means that local authorities have more responsibilities as well as more direct and autonomous decision-making power. In Scotland, regional level planning has been retained in the four largest cities. A third aspect of the strategy involves the unlocking and selling of public land for housing development, through auctions in the private market without any conditionality.
Simultaneously, the Government has also taken fiscal austerity measures in the context of the economic downturn in efforts to curve spending. The Welfare Reform Act of 2012 which applies UK-wide, includes some measures that have particular impact on the housing benefits, including the housing benefit cap, reductions in legal aid, and in council tax benefit.
Especially worrisome in this package is the so-called “bedroom tax”, or the spare bedroom under occupancy penalty. It came into force on 1 April 2013, without having been previously piloted. It essentially means a reduction in the amount of benefit paid to claimants if the property they are renting from the social housing sector is considered under occupied. The Government has argued that this policy reduces dependency and will make available a stock of under occupied homes.
Fiscal austerity measures include budget cuts in local Government expenditure, as well as significant reduction on the grants available for housing associations to provide social and affordable homes. This implies that social landlords will be required to reach out to the private financial markets in order to fund their building activities. As a consequence they will be pressured to increase their profit-making activities, potentially being forced to increase rent and reduce the stock made available to social renters.
Let me briefly examine how these measures are in line with the right to adequate housing and their impact on the lives of individual people. Allow me to explain.
It is true and I fully share the view of many stakeholders that house building is essential for the economy and for creating much needed jobs. I also fully share the view that there is a shortage on the supply side of the equation, especially in some high demand areas like London or other main cities. However the right to adequate housing compels Governments to look beyond aggregated general figures of supply and demand in order to place housing needs – and not housing markets – at the center of the decision-making.
The right to housing is not about a roof anywhere, at any cost, without any social ties. It is not about reshuffling people according to a snapshot of the number of bedrooms at a given night. It is about enabling environments for people to maintain their family and community bonds, their local schools, work places and health services allowing them to exercise all other rights, like education, work, food or health.
Some researchers argue that the “Help to Buy” scheme can intensify the pressure on prices, which are already high in a number of places. Also, according to recent trends in the housing market and taking into account the high prices of land, market builders have moved towards the higher end of the market. This will not increase the supply for the ones who are struggling to pay their rents or who linger for years in the social housing waiting lists.
Historically, access to affordable housing has been sustained by two main policies, namely, development of social housing with public funding and a needs-tested welfare system including housing benefits and other services that have been directly or indirectly been linked to housing for low income households.
I would like to refer now to the package of welfare reform and its impact on a number of human rights, but especially on the right to adequate housing, such as for those seeking to live independent and dignified lives with physical and mental disabilities. The so-called bedroom tax is possibly the most visible of the measures. In only a few months of its implementation the serious impacts on very vulnerable people have already been felt and the fear of future impacts are a source of great stress and anxiety.
Of the many testimonies I have heard, let me say that I have been deeply touched by persons with physical and mental disabilities who have felt targeted instead of protected; of the grandmothers who are carers of their children and grandchildren but are now feeling they are forced to move away from their life-long homes due to a spare bedroom or to run the risk of facing arrears; of the single parents who will not have space for their children when they come to visit; of the many people who are increasingly having to choose between food and paying the penalty. Those who are impacted by this policy were not necessarily the most vulnerable a few months ago, but they were on the margins, facing fragility and housing stress, with little extra income to respond to this situation and already barely coping with their expenses.
Another aspect that deserves some comments is the reform of planning policies in England, gives local level authorities expanded responsibilities. The power dynamics of a particular local council may not allow for a forceful negotiation with developers, to speed up delivery, and this situation may last for years despite the urgent need for additional housing stock. In fact, several documents and assessments acknowledge that land with permits has increasingly become the asset in itself, rather than an asset for the social well-being of the community. Similarly, it is also of concern that there is no property tax on land, including dormant or vacant land for years. Land value, including in the financial circuits, has escalated in the last decades, yet it is still mostly regarded as a private matter, hence for-profit. I would recommend that the Government sets a regulatory framework to avoid this kind of speculation.
Similarly, on the land and planning strategies let me say that selling public land to private developers for the best price can mean that a valuable public resource is not being used as a means to increase the availability of housing for those who need it, in times of housing stress. A significant part of the existing social housing stock in UK was built on local council and other public land. In times of pressure on affordable housing, the mobilization of public land can be an important tool, so I recommend that the Government releases public sector land only for social and affordable housing to be built.
Planning systems reforms are also being considered in Northern Ireland, devolving powers to Local Councils, which will also be territorially redefined. In this context, I want to express my concern at the potential that this decentralization may have for increased sectarianism and discrimination.
In closing, let me also mention that during my visit I have also received multiple testimonies on the shortage of sufficient, adequate and safe sites for Gypsy and Traveller communities across the United Kingdom, many of whom feel this is part of the stigma and discrimination they regularly face from Governments and society as a whole. Despite multiple efforts and policies put in place to address this situation, it is fair to say that leaving local authorities to make their own decisions with no accountability and national process to reconcile the Gypsy and Traveller communities with settled communities remains a source of concern. Gypsy and Traveller communities too should engage more in the political debate and make efforts to ensure that their situation effectively changes.
Other population groups, highlighted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2009, which continue to face inadequate access to affordable housing are Catholics in Northern Ireland, specifically in North Belfast. The current allocation scheme was created to be fair and open, and to allocate accommodation on the basis of meeting the housing need of people. Despite the efforts of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, I remain concerned that full equality has not been achieved yet.
I also received information and testimonies about discrimination in access to housing by EU citizens, migrant workers and their families, refugees and asylum seekers. I am especially concerned with the policy which places the responsibility (backed by the threat of a fine) on landlords to check residence status of tenants, which I have heard often pushes undocumented people into the most insecure, worst quality and poorest located housing.
Summary of recommendation
As a brief summary of my preliminary remarks, I would like to highlight three recommendations: First, and foremost, I would suggest that the so-called bedroom tax be suspended immediately and be fully re-evaluated in light of the evidence of its impacts on the right to adequate housing and general well-being of many vulnerable individuals. Secondly, I would recommend that the Government puts in place a system of regulation for the private rent sector, including clear criteria about affordability, access to information and security of tenure. Thirdly, I would encourage a renewal of the Government’s commitment to significantly increasing the social housing stock and a more balanced public funding for the stimulation of supply of social and affordable housing which responds to the needs.
I hope that my visit and subsequent report will be able to assist the Governments in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales in these efforts and I look forward to continuing the constructive dialogue established during my visit.
Look at those recommendations.
Ms Rolnik has put the UK’s Coalition government in direct opposition to the United Nations. There is no way the Conservatives will accept the need to repeal the bedroom tax. The Party of Deregulation will never willingly install a new regulatory procedure and increasing social housing would reverse a policy they have been running since the days of Thatcher.
Shapps’ complaint to the UN secretary general will come to nothing because he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
And anyway – to mix metaphors – the shoe is on the other foot now.
Do not expect to see this in the right-wing mass media unless they are given no choice about it, as it shows up the Coalition government for the steal-from-the-poor-to-give-to-the-rich, money-grubbing liars that they have been all along – and that’s not part of the narrative the Murdoch press or the Daily Heil want to push onto you.
But something’s going to happen because the Coalition – and especially the Tories – are being told in no uncertain terms: Change direction or be declared an outlaw state.
The facts: United Nations special investigator Raquel Rolnik has been criticised by Grant Shapps because she has refused to allow the government to influence her report on how the Bedroom Tax has inflicted misery on families across the UK. (Picture: Daily Mirror)
What a spoilt little brat Grant Shapps has shown himself to be.
After the United Nations’ special investigator on housing told the Coalition government it should scrap the bedroom tax, describing the policy’s effect on vulnerable citizens as “shocking”, he threw a hissy fit.
He claimed that Raquel Rolnik had been biased from the start and had not met any ministers or officials, and said he would be writing to protest to the UN secretary general.
Why would an investigator, who has come to this country to see for herself the actual effect of a government policy, waste any time listening to ministers who want to overwrite her report with their own agenda?
Ms Rolnik is perfectly capable of accessing the reams of material that has already been written by the government about the bedroom tax – or spare room subsidy, as Mr Shapps (if that’s what he’s calling himself today) still insists on describing it.
She wanted to find out what it actually means to people it affects. And she did find out, didn’t she?
“My immediate recommendation is that the bedroom tax is abolished,” she said.
“I was very shocked to hear how people really feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why – being so vulnerable – they should pay for the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis. People in testimonies were crying, saying ‘I have nowhere to go’, ‘I will commit suicide’,” she told The Guardian.
Ms Rolnik told the newspaper she was “disturbed by the extent of unhappiness caused by the bedroom tax and struck by how heavily this policy was affecting ‘the most vulnerable, the most fragile, the people who are on the fringes of coping with everyday life’.”
She said that the bedroom tax should be scrapped and rapped the Coalition for damaging the UK’s record on human rights by allowing it onto the statute books. She said the UK’s previous good record was being eroded by a failure to provide enough social housing.
And she said the government’s regressive changes to social security were forcing the poorest in the country to suffer extreme hardship, just to keep a roof over their heads. The country was “going backwards in the protection and promotion of the human right to housing“.
“It’s so clear that the government didn’t really assess the impact on lives when it took this decision. The mechanism that they have in place to mitigate it – the discretionary payment that they provide the councils with – it doesn’t solve anything, it’s for just a couple of months, and the councils cannot count on that on a permanent basis.
“They don’t know if it’s going to be available next year, so it’s useless,” she said.
The UN investigator spoke to dozens of council house tenants during a two-week visit in which she travelled to Belfast, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh and London, visiting council estates, food banks, homelessness crisis centres, traveller sites and housing association developments. And she has received correspondence about the situation from people across the country.
The bedroom tax could constitute a violation of the human right to adequate housing in several ways, she said – for example, if the extra payments forced tenants to cut down on their spending on food or heating their home.
She said her conclusions should carry weight in British courts, where legal challenges to the bedroom tax are under way. “It depends on how much the judiciary here takes into account the international legislation. In principle they should because the UK has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” she said, referring to the document which defines adequate housing as a human right.
This blog could not be more delighted by Ms Rolnik’s findings – even though that may seem a strange thing to say about such universally negative results. They vindicate everything that has been said here since August last year, and provide solid support to all the evidence sent by our good friend Samuel Miller, who has been providing evidence on this matter – and others – to the UN for a considerable time.
“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,” he said.
Some might say the Tories would know all about abusing process, considering the way they pushed a retrospective law through Parliament after their government was found to be breaking the rules on Workfare/The Work Programme – or indeed with the so-called Transparency of Lobbying Bill today.
And is publication of a preliminary report not established practice in matters such as this?
As for whether it is improper to refer to the policy as a bedroom tax rather than a spare-room subsidy, let’s repeat the challenge: Would anybody connected to the government please indicate which piece of legislation enshrined a subsidy on spare rooms in law?
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