You would be hard pressed to have missed the controversy that Raquel Rolnik, UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, seems to have caused on her mission to examine the effects of the bedroom tax on the people of the UK.
Grant Shapps, chairman of the Conservative Party (or ‘Michael Green’, or whatever he is calling himself today) made assertions on the morning of 11th September that:
- Raquel wasn’t invited by the government;
- she didn’t visit government offices;
- and she did not use the proper terms for government policies.
These points were proved wrong by the afternoon in Raquel Rolnik’s press statement. In no uncertain terms.
I have been following the detail of the “tax” since the beginning; I have read her report (linked above); I have heard the governments petulant response. Far be it from me to call Right Honourable Members of Parliament liars, or even to accuse them of untruths. But let’s look at the UN statement.
At the top of her report, Raquel 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.”
Round One: Raquel (of the UN).
Straight away the report say, “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. ”
Pretty clear. But just incase you were still in any doubt:
“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.”
Round Two: Raquel (of the UN). Not looking as if the government are being all that honest so far. So now on to:
Of all the criticism of their housing policy, this seems to be the one that riles them the most. It goes something along the lines of, “It’s not called the bedroom tax! It’s called the ‘Under occupancy penalty’ (sometimes they say it’s a charge or reduction.) We didn’t call it a tax, so it’s not a tax!” An so on, ad hominem.
Firstly, let’s look at the direct point: did she use the ‘correct terms’?
“Especially worrisome in this package is the so-called “bedroom tax”, or the spare bedroom under occupancy penalty.”
So, she did use the term ‘bedroom tax’! Hang on though, she prefaces it with “so-called” and then goes on to use its Government sanctioned name. (It get’s petty doesn’t it when the government dismiss your criticism because you use the wrong name, even if it is politically charged name.) Shapps’ complaint to the UN secretary general will come to nothing because he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
Now for the detail of what this policy is regardless of its name.
The amounts of so-called “subsidy” removed from a persons benefit are not negligible to those on benefit, as it in many cases it amounts to a reduction of around 35% of what is a very small income.
Shockingly, the Government policy seems to be about efficient reallocation of housing resource on a national scale, moving people and families around like a theoretical big puzzle to be solved with zero regard for family, social or community ties, responsibilities, suitability, job availability, and children’s education, together with the upheaval caused and the Scarce provision of small properties at affordable rents.
The policy treats people inhumanly on every level possible. She is right to point out that the basic human right to affordable shelter “is not at any cost” – the cost being that which I outlined above – and the government has a duty under human rights laws not to retrograde its provisions in meeting the law, but to seek ways to always improve.
Let’s be clear. A right under law isn’t self entitlement, it is a right. And all have a right to affordable shelter, something that doesnt exist in this country. Society through the structures of the rule of law and government must always make sure those less well off are looked after as right, and not as charity, for it we are all peers, and should be dignified with rights as opposed to begging or being left destitute.
However, one thing remains true, and no amount of government bluster and spite can alter basic logic.
A penalty that is unavoidable by most is a tax by any other name.