Tag Archives: MP expenses

We pay more

If you live in Edinburgh and get a job paid at minimum wage, you would need to work for four hours to buy your return rail ticket to Glasgow.

Actually, you would have to work for five hours, because you probably wouldn’t be able to afford to buy a £3000+ annual season ticket.

Travelling by bus will take at least half an hour more either way (an additional hour’s commute time) but cost about 75% less.

A petition to renationalise the railways got 12,194 signatures before it closed on 4th August this year.

Research by the Scottish Greens [Yes, they looked it up on the Internet and everything] has found that the current cost of a 12-month season ticket between Edinburgh and Glasgow (£3380) is more than the cost of a 12-month ticket that gives you unlimited travel across the whole of Germany’s 21,000 mile network (£3252/€3990). After today’s announcement, the cost of this season ticket is expected to rise by £142 in January.

Edinburgh Fringe: A Beginner’s Diary:

I fly. I know; so bourgeois. I don’t feel good about it, but it was half as expensive as the train, and I am very poor. It isn’t me that needs to change, you guys. IT’S THE SYSTEM. It takes 50 minutes, and is ludicrously easy. I feel like I can begin to understand why rich people are always such thoughtless dicks about things.

Theresa Villiers, who seems to be getting referred to as “Rail Minister” a lot – who knew we had one? – last year called these fare rises “difficult” decisions and blamed the budget deficit.

The rises are part of the government’s agenda to reduce the cost to the taxpayer of running the rail network.

There appears to be a steady delusion among Conservatives that if you pay taxes, you don’t travel by train.

Theresa Villiers, by the way, doesn’t seem to travel by train. Continue reading

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Our constitution, July 2012: Public ethics

“Code of Conduct / Public Ethics”

There are, according to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, seven principles of public life – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership.

I have to say – having taken part in many protests in Edinburgh over the years – that I have never felt afraid of Lothian and Borders Police. I warily arranged a phone contact before going to the SPUC OFF protest, because I did not know for sure that SPUC would stay non-violent and away from us and I wasn’t confident that the police would necessarily pick out the prolife aggressors over us feminist hippy weirdos with our hand-painted signs: but I was sure that so long as no one started any aggro, Lothian and Borders Police would simply allow both sides to have our peaceful protest. And I was very glad they were there at the BNP protest at Meadowbank.

But I have felt afraid on several protests in London – because I was part of a large crowd engaged in peaceful public protest, and the Metropolitan Police seemed by that to assume I was the enemy. They did not seem to regard any part of the crowd of protesters as the people whom it was their obligation to protect. We were, at best, there by their tolerance: and I only felt at risk in any crowd when I saw the Met Police in their riot gear.

I heard by unsubstantiated rumour that when the Metropolitan Police offered to send a detachment to Scotland to “help” police the G8 protest in 2005, the Scottish police forces gave the Met a joint dubious look, muttered “aye, that’ll be right”, and politely declined the offer, on the grounds that they wanted to keep the peace, not stir up trouble.

The UK Committee on Standards in Public Life was set up in October 1994 and issued its first report in 1995, under the chairmanship of Lord Nolan. It was established in order to investigate concerns about the conduct of members of parliament, after allegations that MPs had taken cash for putting down parliamentary questions. The Committee Report set out seven principles of public life: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership. The ‘Nolan reforms’ established a new post of Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards (see ombudsman) whose job was to maintain the Register of Members’ Interests and investigate the conduct of MPs; to set up a House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges; and to set down a Code of Conduct for MPs. In 1998 the Committee issued a report on the funding of political parties, which rejected calls for state funding. — Alistair McMillan, Oxford Dictionary of Politics

There is a Ministerial Code, which is – we discovered with Jeremy Huntharder to break than the Enigma Code. Apparently the unwritten “constitution” of the UK requires ministers to be accountable to the Prime Minister, not to anyone like the “independent” adviser on the ministerial code:

The current holder of this well-paid and undemanding sinecure, Sir Alex Allan, tried to convince the select committee that he would be proactive and would not be sidelined.

Giving evidence, he said he would quit if he were marginalised, and promised not to be anyone’s “poodle”. He even came up with proposals for how he could conduct inquiries more quickly than his predecessor, Sir Philip Mawer. But he was clear that the prime minister had no plans to change the fundamental tripwire: that only the prime minister could ask him to conduct an inquiry.

Arguably, constitutional propriety requires ministers to be accountable to the prime minister, and not to a Whitehall bureaucrat. But it is notable that neither the cabinet secretary nor the prime minister have been keen to pass any issue to the independent adviser. Indeed, David Cameron has never referred a single case, making one wonder how Allan spends his days.

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Our constitution, July 2012: Parliamentary privileges

“Protection of Parliamentary privileges, election of Presiding Officer, etc”

In April 2011, Ryan Giggs’s lawyers managed to convince a judge that Giggs’s girlfriend had had an affair with him for six months with intention of blackmailing him, and so ought not to be allowed to name Ryan Giggs in any interview, nor ought the UK media to be allowed to publish this, and the judge granted a superinjunction, which of course attracted the intention among the vast majority who didn’t care who Giggs was having an affair with. On 22nd May the Sunday Herald took advantage of its ambiguous position as a Scottish newspaper to identify Giggs to anyone who’d been following the story… but on 23rd May he was named in the House of Commons under Parliamentary privilege by John Hemming. The woman who’d been falsely accused of blackmail went on to clear her name in court, and the judge then suggested with remarkable meiosis that “There is no longer any point in maintaining the anonymity” though the gagging order wasn’t dropped until February this year.

Because of this incident, and because of the other more justly famous incident in the precursor to Leveson, when in November 2011 Tom Watson told James Murdoch that “You must be the first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise” probably what most people know about “Parliamentary privilege” is that an MP speaking in the House of Commons can say literally anything and cannot be prosecuted for defamation or for breaking a superinjunction.
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Darling, what about those MP expenses claims?

That the Better Together campaign was launched the same day David Cameron announced a new anti-welfare policy, is not their fault: Cameron was simply not concerned about how this would play in Scotland.

That Alastair Darling is the Labour lead is… a plan so cunning, you could stick a tail on it and call it a weasel?

Before September 2005, Alastair Darling rented a room in a flat owned by a Labour peer, Lewis Moonie. This was his main home. His home in Edinburgh was his second home, though he has been an elected representative in Edinburgh since 1982 when he won a seat on Lothian Regional Council. That meant he could claim £1145 per month towards his Edinburgh mortgage, plus £284 towards his council tax, plus £300 a month for food.

In September 2005, Alastair Darling

told the fees office that Edinburgh was now his first home and transferred his “second home” allowance to London. He bought a flat near the Oval cricket ground for £226,000.

Taxpayers paid the stamp duty of £2,260 and a further £1,238 for legal fees. In his first month at the Oval flat, Mr Darling claimed £2,074 for furniture, including £765 from Ikea and a £768 bed from Marks and Spencer. Carpeting the flat in “magnolia” cost the public finances a further £2,339.

He attempted to claim a hotel bill while the flat was being renovated. However, the fees office refused to pay the £146 bill in September, because he was claiming his “second home” was in London.
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“One of Us! One of Us!”

In the last couple of days, David Cameron

threw his full support behind Mr Hunt insisting the Culture Secretary acted “wisely and fairly” and had given “a good account of himself” at the Leveson Inquiry.

Jeremy HuntBoth David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt examined Hunt’s behaviour over the BSkyB bid, and Hunt decided

“I did think about my own position, but I had conducted the bid scrupulously, and I believed it was possible to demonstrate that, and I decided it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to go.”

Today, as it came out that Warsi had made a series of profitable “mistakes” when claiming MP expenses,

David Cameron has ordered an inquiry into whether Conservative Party co-chair Baroness Warsi breached the ministerial code when she was accompanied by a business partner on an official visit to Pakistan.

The Prime Minister called in Sir Alex Allan, his independent adviser on ministerial interests, to investigate after she admitted failing to disclose her business relationship with Abid Hussain.

Sayeeda Warsi has apologised, and says she understands she should have declared her share in a spice business (Ruperts Recipes) and made clear she had a business link with Hussain. There also appears to be some question about whether she claimed for rent that she wasn’t paying when she stayed in a friend’s flat in London when attending the House of Lords. All in all, an independent investigation seems appropriate.

But as both Cameron and Hunt had decided there had been no breach of the Ministerial Code in Hunt’s case, there was no need to refer Jeremy Hunt to the independent investigator Continue reading

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Why the Welfare Reform Bill Is Wrong

Today in Parliament MPs vote on the Welfare Reform Bill, which the House of Lords amended in some respects. The goal of the Tory government is to cut payments to people with disabilities and to their carers by 20%.

I read this last night on Twitter and asked Helen’s permission to republish it, which she gave.
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A stressed out Mum’s thoughts on the #wrb..

Just walked into the kitchen after a long working day. Danny, my 21 year old learning disabled son, has not long arrived home in his taxi and headed straight to the kitchen. I look across to the window and see I am already too late, the venetian blind and wall around the window is completely covered in yoghurt. I go and fetch a ladder and a cloth and start to clean up, quickly realising that the blind will have to come down. Dan appears back in the kitchen, sees what I am doing and quickly retreats with his hands over his ears. He knows he’s done wrong but he can’t help it, he is compelled to open and shake everything he can get his hands on… milk, yoghurts, sauce, paint, shampoo… the list goes on and on. Apart having the major clean-up operation to deal with each time, the cost of replacing these items is beyond funny.

Then there is all the furniture he breaks from bouncing on it… the clothing he rips… Imagine having a toddler who is into everything and then imagine if that toddler was suddenly the size of an adult 5’ 11’’ tall and could get into any cupboard, even if you locked it.

Today I’ve been reading about the proposed cut to benefits to families with disabled children, the latest particularly cruel punishment arising from the Welfare Reform Bill debated in the House of Lords. I can’t even begin [to] imagine how we’d have coped without additional income from benefits when Dan was younger. Apparently Lord Freud thinks a drop in income of £1,500 isn’t a significant amount and losing it will incentivise parents to go out to work – what planet is this man on? Does he have any grasp on disabled children’s real life situations at all?
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How To Fix MP Expenses

MPs need to be able to do their jobs.

They get paid a very substantial salary – even if the MP is the only employed adult in the household, even if they have four children under 13 and a huge council tax bill, £64K still puts them into the top 20%. They can well afford to pay for their own meals: subsistence allowance should not be payable.

Have some experience of something other than political work. All parties should have a basic guideline: to pass for selection, a prospective candidate has to have spent a minimum of five years since they left full-time education doing something that has no direct connection with party political work.

Not that this will necessarily save us from the likes of Iain Duncan Smith or Chris Grayling. But right now the most direct way for someone who wants to become an MP someday to get there is to head into party politics as soon after leaving Oxbridge as they can. Oh yeah, and getting to go to Oxbridge also helps.

So herewith my seven-point plan for fixing the gravy train that is MP expenses… by the same means used for years to ensure that a person receiving an unemployment benefit or a work perk in a normal job doesn’t use it as a gravy train.
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Challenge Iain Duncan Smith

Iain Duncan Smith, today:

“The question I’d ask these bishops is, over all these years, why have they sat back and watched people being placed in houses they cannot afford? It’s not a kindness. I would like to see their concerns about ordinary people, who are working hard, paying their tax and commuting long hours, who don’t have as much money as they would otherwise because they’re paying tax for all of this. Where is the bishops’ concern for them?”

The Welfare Reform Bill will cap the total benefit – including child benefit – any family can receive in any one year to £26,000.

The IDS Chttps://edinburgheye.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=752&action=edit&message=1#post_namehallenge on Twitter

Iain Duncan Smith says (BBC, 18th January) that those who have savings of more than £16,000 would be expected to “dip into” their own money to support themselves after a year, as taxpayers needed to know that state support for those with a certain level of income was not “open-ended”. Iain Duncan Smith’s personal fortune is estimated at £1m.
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Homes that they can only dream of…

The new welfare system takes for granted that all claimants are scroungers and cheats who need to be penalised. Political Scrapbook:

The £1.1 billion cost of fraud (a modest 0.7% of the total benefits spend) averages out to £59 across 18.5 million claimants. In contrast, MPs were ordered to pay back £1.2 million in the wake of Thomas Legg’s inquiry into expenses, an average of £1,858 for the 646 members of the Commons.

Especially if the claimant supposedly has a “disability” and yet doesn’t fill in their ESA50 (Limited capability for work questionnaire). The claimant’s wife contacts ATOS and offers as an excuse that the claimant is in a coma, and presents a letter from the hospital where the claimant is staying which confirms that the claimant is in a coma, but really: if you don’t fill in your ESA50 yourself, or at least check and sign it, you are obviously a scrounger and a fraud.

Employment and Support Allowance focuses on the patient’s abilities – on what they can do rather than what they cannot. The overarching principle of Employment and Support Allowance is that everyone should have the opportunity to work and that people with an illness or disability should get the help and support necessary for them to engage in appropriate work, if they are able. It builds on the successful “Pathways to Work” programme, which is now available nationally. We are investing in every region to ensure that a range of services is available for your patients, including condition management programmes specifically designed to help your patients manage their conditions in preparation for a return to work.

Obviously a patient in a coma who is capable of defrauding DWP should have the opportunity to engage in appropriate work. Minister for Employment, maybe?
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Chris Grayling recommends slave labour

Chris Grayling MPChris Grayling, Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell, is rather proud of the thousands of young people obliged to be shelf-stackers in Poundland and Tesco for no pay, in order to retain their JSA benefit:

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says that if jobseekers “express an interest” in an offer of work experience they must continue to work without pay, after a one-week cooling-off period or face having their benefits docked.

Young people have told the Guardian that they are doing up to 30 hours a week of unpaid labour and have to be available from 9am to 10pm.

In three such cases jobseekers also claim they were not told about the week’s cooling-off period, and that once they showed a willingness to take part in the scheme they were told by their case manager they would be stripped of their £53- a-week jobseekers allowance (JSA) if they backed out. Guardian, 15th November 2011

All you have to do is say “yes, I’m interested in work experience” – as who wouldn’t be? – and then you’re stacking shelves in a superstore, at no cost to the superstore, with the threat that if you don’t comply, your benefit gets docked.

Some figures to be considered.

£53 per week is what a young person on JSA has to live on. Even paid at the apprentice rate, a person working for 35 hours a week ought to be paid £91 – and 8 weeks shelfstacking is not rightly an apprenticeship for anything. A jobseeker over 20, should legally be paid £212.80 for their week’s work.

But Tesco and Poundland and the other companies taking advantage of Chris Grayling’s workfare don’t have to pay that; they get these workers for free, and they aren’t allowed to withdraw their labour or they lose even the £53 they have to live on.

Chris Grayling is MP and Minister for Employment. Contact details here. His basic salary is £134,565 per year: over twelve times what those jobseekers working in superstores ought to get paid on minimum wage, and close to 50 times what they actually do get.

But that’s not all. Chris Grayling also has access to the most extensive and unsupervised expenses scheme.

Within weeks of first being elected in 2001, he bought a flat in a six-storey block for £127,000. In 2002, he set up an unusual arrangement with the Parliamentary Fees Office, claiming £625 a month for mortgages on two separate properties, both the main home [in Ashtead – 17 miles or an hour by train from the House of Commons] and the new flat in Pimlico. This is usually against the rules, but Mr Grayling negotiated an agreement because he was unable to obtain a 100% mortgage on the London flat that he had bought.

That “arrangement” went on for 4 years, until 2006, during which time Chris Grayling claimed per month for his mortgage more than five times the jobseeker’s allowance in 2011.

Nor was this all. In the summer of 2005, after the May general election, evidently sure of his MP expenses now for another four or five years, Chris Grayling decided to have his flat refurbished. He was already claiming £15,000 a year for his flat in Pimlico and his house in Ashstead, 17 miles apart – it would have cost the taxpayer less to pay for a day return from Ashtead into London at peak rate, every day of the month, than to pay for a second mortgage in a London flat – but he wasn’t satisfied with that. In the financial year ending March 2006, Grayling claimed £9000 for refurbishment costs for that flat. That’s over three times more than the total paid to someone on jobseeker’s allowance in an entire year. It would take someone on minimum wage 42 weeks to earn, gross pay, what Grayling claimed between June 2005 and March 2006 – for the flat which mortgage he wasn’t paying for.

£24,000 is the maximum an MP is allowed to claim for their second home per year – over eight times as much as a person on JSA gets to live on: £8,000 more a year than the national median household income in the UK. It’s a nice little bonus in itself, as the living places bought using the second home allowance are the personal property of the MP – for Chris Grayling, who owns several flats on a “buy to let” basis, it’s an excellent addition to his properties in London.

But Chris Grayling wasn’t satisfied with that: He spread the costs for the refurbishment of the Pimlico property over two financial years.

This effectively allowed him to spread the costs over two years – whereas he would have been unable to claim all the costs in the 2005-06 financial year. For example, in June 2006, Mr Grayling submitted an invoice for £3,534 for service and maintenance on his block of flats, which included a service charge of £1,148 and a “balance brought forward” of £1,956. … In July 2006, Mr Grayling submitted a claim for £2,250. The invoice from the decorator was dated July 2006, and referred to “remedial and refurbishment works July 2005”. … If the various late receipts had been submitted in the 2005-06 financial year, they would have exceeded Mr Grayling’s second home allowance for the 12-month period by over £4,700. Telegraph, 11th May 2009

£4,700 is 20 times what someone on JSA gets paid in one month. A person on minimum wage would have to work 35 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, for over two and a half years, to earn what Chris Grayling paid himself to refurbish the flat and pay the mortgage in those two financial years from 2005 to 2007.

Second homes allowance is the nicest bonus MPs get, but it’s not the only claim Chris Grayling makes. In one month in 2007, while being paid £63,291 per year – 4 times the national median wage – Grayling claimed £4700 “expenses”. That is, Grayling claimed for one month 1.7 times as much in expenses as someone on JSA gets to live on for a year. Someone on the minimum wage that Grayling denies to people who are working in Tescos for their JSA, would have to work for over five and a half years to earn Grayling’s basic annual wage.

Rayburn, who was also told by his jobcentre he would lose his benefits if he did not work without pay, said he spent almost two months stacking and cleaning shelves and sometimes doing night shifts.
“They said [my JSA] would be cut off if I didn’t do it.”
Asked if he thought he should have been paid, he said: “I reckon they should have paid me … I was basically doing what a normal member of staff does for Tesco. I had the uniform and I was in the staff canteen. I obviously got access to the food and drinks in the staff canteen … that’s what they let you do … but I got nothing else apart from that.”

In April 2011, Tesco reported full-year profits before tax of £3.54bn, up 11.3% from April 2010. In August 2010, Poundland announced expansion plans based on pre-tax profits that had gone up 130% to £19.1m. Other superstores using free labour in this way include Asda and Sainsbury’s.


Update: in February Chris Grayling claimed the only opposition to this was from Socialist Worker Party members – apparently he thinks SWP has a huge membership! – but by April he was blaming the “Polly Toynbee left”, possibly because she’s the only left-wing writer he’s ever read.


Update: Following the Panorama (Disabled or Faking It on BBC iPlayer) / Dispatches programmes tonight (30th July), I found a discussion on ConHome in 2007 about Grayling’s “tough love” ideas about welfare. Interestingly: not all the Tories who respond five years ago approve Grayling’s idea of “forcing” people into work.

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Update, 31st August:

After winning his case with the snooty people who want to get paid, Chris Grayling rolls out a new scheme:

Job-seeking graduates living in London are to be forced to work for three months unpaid in order to keep their benefits, the government has announced. That means they will be toiling for less than £1.87 per hour – even less than the pitiful wages that apprentices earn. And it gets worse. If the scheme is successful, it will be rolled out nationally.

Fresh from his department’s success crushing objections from Poundland intern Cait Reilly in court earlier this month, employment Minister Chris Grayling announced that 18- to 24-year-olds (including graduates) who have spent less than six months in employment since leaving education will now have to work for 30 hours a week for their £56-a-week jobseeker’s allowance. (That’s £1.87 an hour – we did the maths). He denied that it was “slave labour” and insisted it would help young Londoners improve their career prospects.

They will do ‘work experience placements’ in charities or social organisations – such as care homes – for 30 hours a week over 13 weeks. It is unclear how much real work these ‘placements’ will involve, but given that the idea is to banish the “something for nothing culture” that he feels is so prevalent among workless under-24s, we assume these will look very similar to proper jobs (only they will be unpaid, of course). The scheme will be tested this year in 16 London boroughs including the riot-hit areas of Croydon and Haringey. The Government then hopes to roll out the scheme across London and the rest of the UK.

Update, 4th September

Just to add injury to insult: Chris Grayling is now Justice Secretary. This is the man who thinks homophobes running a B&B should have a right to discriminate against LGBT people:

I think we need to allow people to have their own consciences,” he said. “I personally always took the view that, if you look at the case of should a Christian hotel owner have the right to exclude a gay couple from a hotel, I took the view that if it’s a question of somebody who’s doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn’t come into their own home.”

Chris Grayling - Benefits Cheat

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