The Conservative Party must be thoroughly embarrassed with their Chairman this week. Grant Shapps has not only begun an ill-informed argument with an informed UN Official and international housing expert of 30 years experience, appointed by the UN, for her vital report into the horror of the Bedroom Tax, he did so with what seems to be completely invented reasoning.
Upon reading the report by the UN special rapporteur on housing, Raquel Rolnik into the dehumanising, and poverty-inducing effects of the Bedroom Tax, Shapps 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.”
– This is almost entirely ill-informed, and wrong. Raquel Rolnik absolutely did meet with not only DWP officials, but also two Ministers to discuss the report, neither of which had any problem with her “coming over” to conduct research. Not only that, but she acted well within her remit. There is no debate. She’s right, and he’s having an ill-conceived tantrum.
Secondly, Shapps complains that she isn’t using the name of the policy properly. What he means by this is, the “Spare Room Subsidy”. A name that no one uses, because it is a brazen insult to the intelligence of the electorate. A name that isn’t actually based on anything remotely reasonable, because there is no law that grants a subsidy based on a spare room. So the manipulative name is simply what Conservatives wishing to water down the damaging effects of the policy wish to call it. The rest of us don’t. He can whinge that we’re all not willing to polish his turd, and insist that it has a “proper name” all he wants. No one has to accept that name as fact. Rolnik is entitled to call it whatever she feels it is, and she clearly agrees that it is a Bedroom Tax.
Rolnik appeared on Channel 4 news last night, and responded to equally ill-informed Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi, by insisting that it is her obligation and her UN mandate to highlight those significantly harmed by government policy on housing. A much needed role. Nadhim Zahawi then complained – echoing Shapps – that she hadn’t met officials from the DWP. She responded by saying that the UK Government arranges her specific meetings during UN fact finding missions, and that she had in fact met with officials from the DWP. So, discrediting Zahawi instantly.
Rolnik then further backed up her point:
“I requested to meet with the highest possible officials, and I met with the DWP, and had more than one meeting with the ones in the DWP who are responsible.”
– It turns out she not only met with officials from the DWP, but she also met with Don Foster and Eric Pickles. Two Ministers. I predict that Shapps will next register his disgust that she hadn’t specifically spoken to the Prime Minister. He’s likely to get more absurd by the day, as his case slowly crumbles beneath him.
Shapps then unable to defend his discredited reasoning, and not willing to apologise for lying, went for the typical ad-hom attack, shamefully insulting Raquel Rolnik based on her nation of origin:
“How is it that a woman from Brazil – a country that has 50 million people in inadequate housing – has come over, failed to meet with any government minister, with any official from the Department [for] Work and Pensions [DWP] or to refer to the policy by its accurate name… She has come over with an agenda and clearly has an axe to grind.”
– Suddenly, he’s mentioning specific departments. Predictably, after being proven completely wrong, he’s now dropped his claim that she hadn’t met with any ministers. But demands she see officials from a specific department. A department that she in fact, did meet with, did request a meeting with Iain Duncan Smith. It seems the Tories don’t know what their argument is.
But when we cut underneath the surface layer, just a little, it isn’t difficult to note that Grant Shapps wants a UN report to reflect Government bias, rather than focusing on the effects felt by the most vulnerable.
Shapps’ also dropped his criticism of her conducting a report, that is actually within UN framework for her to conduct in the first place, because again, he was wrong. And I can guarantee, had her report shone a positive light on the Bedroom Tax, Shapps wouldn’t be on the ill-informed offensive that he’s now on, embarrassing himself everytime he opens his mouth.
Secondly, it is irrelevant where she is from. She is a respected member of the UN team with decades of experience around the World. She is the UN special rapporteur on housing. She knows what she’s talking about. She’s an expert. Being Brazilian is irrelevant, and to attack her for where she was born is a very weak line of attack from a Tory Chairman quite obviously losing the fight. She isn’t just “a woman from Brazil”. And perhaps being from a country that has inadequate housing, and suffering terribly for that, makes her far more able to understand the horrendous situation the most vulnerable people in any country face, when very wealthy people in very big houses conceive of such a heartless policy. It is also irrelevant where Rolnik is from, because Shapps is completely unwilling to listen to the plethora of charities and experts from Britain who register disgust and concern about the Bedroom Tax.
Shapps has since wrote a letter demanding an investigation, to……. Ban Ki Moon. The Secretary General of the UN currently working to try to resolve a crisis of unbelievable magnitude in Syria, will now have to deal with a whimpering Tory throwing his toys out of the pram for not being allowed to influence a UN report. In his letter, Shapps writes:
“I believe that the Special Rapporteur’s report has been influenced by political bias and suggest that the UN withdrawn her claims”
– Naturally he doesn’t actually elaborate on that ‘political bias’. It is eerily similar to Michael Gove’s continued insistence that if teachers disapprove of his changes, they must be Marxists. Reds! Reds everywhere! If you’re going to write a horrifically condescending letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations insisting that a respected member of his team is influenced by political bias, perhaps it would be to your credit, to prove that assertion. Otherwise, you’re just having a tantrum.
Rolnik travelled around the UK speaking to the only people that matter; those affected by the policy. Those who have been driven to food banks, and those who spend every waking hour worried about their future, and how they will afford to live. These are human lives that Conservatives like Grant Shapps would like to completely destroy with impunity. Rolnik concluded that the Bedroom Tax breached the human right to basic housing, because there are not enough smaller properties to downgrade to. And she’s correct. We all know it. Which is why it is a tax.
Earlier this year, Shapps said:
“It is wrong to leave people out in the cold with effectively no roof over their heads because the taxpayer is paying for rooms which aren’t in use.”
– People would not be ‘left out in the cold with effectively no roof over their heads’ if government policy had not, according to figures by the Department for Communities and Local Government, forced a 14% leap in households registered as ‘homeless’. The largest in nine years. Let’s not take lectures on homelessness from a Party that is responsible for rising homeless rates. A report from the same department also showed the number of people sleeping rough had jumped by a fifth, in a year.
Leslie Morphy the Chief Exec. of Crises said:
“Our worst fears are coming to pass. We face a perfect storm of economic downturn, rising joblessness and soaring demand for limited affordable housing combined with government policy to cut housing benefit plus local cuts to homelessness services.”
Similarly, the Chief Exec. of Shelter, Campbell Rob said:
“These figures are a shocking reminder of the divide between the housing haves and have nots in this country,”
Similarly, Matt Harrison, interim chief executive of Homeless Link said:
“This comes at a time when reduced funding has already hit services and further cuts are expected this year. Our research indicates that there are now fewer projects, fewer beds and more of our members are turning people away because they are full.”
Predictably, as with every overwhelming indication that Conservative policy is failing the most vulnerable, the Party refused to accept that the situation could ever be blamed on them. Grant Shapps said:
“the debt-laden economy we inherited is leaving a legacy of hard-up households across the country”.
– So, charities, The British Academy of Childhood Disability, the UN, those most vulnerable, as well as the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist and United Reformed Churches and Church of Scotland all calling these policies completely unacceptable and unjust, Grant Shapps still insists he is right, and will not be swayed by attempts to reintroduce a human aspect to the debate. The refusal to even acknowledge the damage austerity poverty-driven policies have on the most vulnerable, and his indifference toward the problem, choosing instead to try to score, weak and cheap political points, or to attack a nation of origin, should be enough to disgust anyone with even a fundamental sense of social justice.
“During these days of my visit, the dramatic testimonies of people with disabilities, grandmothers who are carers for their families, and others affected by this policy, clearly point to a measure that appears to have been taken without the human component in mind.”
– And she’s absolutely right. Conservatives tend to get very defensive when presented with the human cost of their dire policies. The insistence that cutting housing benefits for those considered to be in a house with one bedroom more than they “need”, will save £500,000,000 highlights the mentality of the party of Grant Shapps. Money first.
In March this year, grandmother Stephanie Bottrill committed suicide, after telling neighbours that she couldn’t afford to live any more. She could not afford the cost of living in her house, a home she had lived in for 18 years, because a government of millionaires decided she had too many ‘spare’ bedrooms (let’s not forget that Lord Freud, staunch defender of the Bedroom Tax, lives in a massive country estate). Grant Shapps and others like him, do not like attention drawn to the human cost of this dreadful and dehumanising policy. They wish the debate to be centred purely around money. The argument for freeing up housing, falls down because the supply of social housing is woefully inadequate. There is no other argument. The Bedroom Tax is a further attack on the most vulnerable, for no discernible reason. There is no positive to take from the policy. When this is the case, it is natural for the Conservative Party to resort to absurdities, and ad-hom abuse. You can almost set your watch by it. Shapps didn’t disappoint on this one.
It is one in a long list of embarrassments for Grant Shapps, who previously admitted to editing his own Wikipedia page to remove embarrassing gaffes, he’s changed his mind about where he was born depending on where he was standing for election, and according to his name badge at a Las Vegas internet conference in 2004, he is actually “Michael Green, a ‘multi-million-dollar web marketer’”. Whilst Shapps was inventing fake names for his dodgy business ventures back in 2004, Raquel Rolnik was focused on international housing concerns.
Rolnik is right to focus on the human aspect of the Bedroom Tax – an aspect that the utterly horrendous Grant Shapps, in his quest to apply unnecessary and heartless pressure to the lives of the most vulnerable, will never understand nor be the slightest bit concerned about. The human aspect is an aspect that has been missing from the debate on the Bedroom Tax and from the Conservative Party in general for far too long.