The Department of Work and Pensions has rejected any changes to its new minimalist regulations to exempt victims of domestic violence -mainly women – from paying the ” bedroom tax ” and helping them to find out how they could qualify to keep more of their benefits.
As I reported ten days ago the release of minutes from the little known Social Security Advisory Committee revealed in July the body chaired by Stephen Brien who worked for Ian Duncan Smith’s think tank had written to the ministry criticising the proposed regulations for being too narrow and the ministry for not running a prominent campaign to let victims know they will now be exempt.
The exemption applies to anybody who wants to stay in their own home and has thrown out an abusive partner and enrols in a sanctuary scheme – which provides extra locks, a fireproof letterbox and in extreme cases a reinforced door to a ” panic room” should the abusive partner return and break into the house.
The problem is that not all women know about this and the exemption only applies to council homes and flats. Also abuse from stalkers or strangers is not covered by the new regulations.
Mr Brien wrote: “Given the vulnerable situations of those affected, there is a compelling case for the Department to examine what options exist in terms of proactively identifying those potentially affected. This should be supplemented by a strong communications strategy that sets out clearly the criteria for this exemption, along with guidance on how to access it.”
“There is a risk that a number of claimants entitled to take advantage of this scheme, particularly those who have already benefitted from a sanctuary scheme security adaptation prior to these regulations coming into force, will be unaware of this change.”
Ministry rejects plea to change the regulation
But the DWP has told me not only will there be no changes but they had already implemented the regulations which came into force on October 1.
A DWP spokesperson said:
“The Department offers support to victims of domestic abuse, whether in the private rented sector or not. The benefit system acts as a safety net for people who find themselves in need of financial support with living and housing costs for a variety of reasons. A range of Universal Credit measures are designed to support victims of domestic abuse, including special provisions for temporary accommodation, same day advances, easements from work-related requirements and signposting to expert third-party services.”
Now for these regulations to become law they have to be scrutinised by Parliament. So I looked up what had happened.
It turns out the ministry laid the regulations before the House of Commons and the House of Lords on September 9 – a Thursday evening just before MPs and peers went off for the weekend. They were laid under what is known as a negative statutory instrument – which means that unless a peer or a MP objects they automatically can become law three weeks later.
Not one MP or peer spoke up about this
The regulations were laid alongside numerous other regulations including changes to Covid 19 pandemic regulations. Not one MP or peer objected or even spoke about it.
They would not have known about the criticism from the watchdog body because its minutes had not been published then. Nevertheless this shows up the ineffectiveness of MPs and peers – who have more time – in scrutinising what the executive is doing.
Given the high profile issue of violence against women after the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met Police officer it is pretty deplorable that a ministry can get away with this.
Benefits watchdog keeps mum
I sent the ministry’s response to the watchdog body – which regards scrutinising regulations as its main priority – and it decided not to comment, preferring to keep silent about its advice being ignored .I haven’t had a reply from the House of Lords on why the new regulations were missed.
However I have discovered the ministry has issued new advice six days ago to its housing benefit officers. It is here and victims of domestic abuse should challenge officials about getting an exemption.
For those in England I would suggest contacting Shelter. The charity has a comprehensive guide for victims of domestic abuse here. It includes a list of other charities who can help.
So if the ministry, the social security watchdog and Parliament are so ineffectual, at least this blog can highlight some information so more people know about it.
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The most potent slogan of the Vote Leave campaign was the promise that Brexit meant that the country could ” take back control” and Parliament would be sovereign and we will be governed by our own laws.
Today Parliament abdicated its role to take back control of scrutinising the Brexit deal by kowtowing to a manipulative government which left little time to examine the Treaty before it had to come into effect.
A huge bill which will change Britain’s relationship with our nearest neighbours, end the freedom of British people to work and study in Europe, and introduce a raft of bureaucratic red tape to do business with Europe while avoiding tariffs and quotas, will be debated in just half a day. The bill will have no clause by clause examination because there will be no time in the Commons to do this. It will be just rubber stamped. And MPs will have just four minutes – later reduced to three – each to comment.
Similarly the House of Lords will not have time to scrutinise the bill either and though 145 peers have said they want to comment the new bill – they have precisely three minutes each to do so. The House of Lords Constitution Committee will scrutinise the detail of the bill after it has become law – even though the government does not want this to happen. The government in its explanatory memorandum says the bill is not suitable for pre legislation scrutiny. But Baroness Taylor, who chairs the Lords Constitution Committee, points out that the means the government uses to implement the treaty are subject to scrutiny – and she indicated that many of the Commission powers had been transferred to ministers not Parliament.
By midnight tonight the Royal Assent will be given. As the Hansard Society says: “Parliament’s role around the end of the Brexit transition and conclusion of the EU future relationship treaty is a constitutional failure to properly scrutinise the executive and the law.”
It rightly says the proceedings amount to a farce. Compare it with the European Parliament – which Brexiteers say amount to bureaucratic dictators. They declined to rush through a debate approving the deal until they could properly consider it. Instead they rely on a temporary agreement to allow trade to continue and will set aside much more time to debate it than the UK Parliament. They have two months to do this.
The reason why this is important is if there are defects in the legislation that will show up later and end up discrediting the issue even for Brexiteers. Much better to get the legislation right – and Parliamentary scrutiny is the best way to do this. Particularly as the deal runs to 1200 pages and you have to check the bill with the Treaty and refer to other legislation. We have now thrown away that chance.
In a way this is a microcosm of the way Boris Johnson and his Cabinet colleagues want to govern this country. They do not want scrutiny and want “to take back control” for themselves and not for Parliament or the people. They want to use Parliament and the people for their own agenda. Today was a bad day for Parliament and democracy.
I have today put out a story on Byline Times some damning findings by the National Audit Office on the refurbishment of the Elizabeth Tower and the Big Ben bell and clock face. You can read it in full here.
The report is important because the government is committed to spending billions of pounds – a £4 billion estimate will go nowhere near the real cost – -refurbishing the Palace of Westminster over a decade.
This project was a tiddler compared to that – originally thought to cost £29 million -now 80 million. And if Parliament’s managers can’t properly manage that – what great mess awaits us over the next decade.
The report also reveals one extraordinary fact which shows that the Victorians were as bad at controlling taxpayer’s money and managing big projects as we are today.
The present building built after fire destroyed most of the old Parliament in 1834 was completed 18 years behind schedule and at three times the original cost.
Effectively the governments of Robert Peel and Lord Palmerson were no better at controlling budgets than those of David Cameron and Boris Johnson today. Plus ca change etc.
Claims by Liz Truss, the international trade secretary, that the UK’s biggest independent trade deal with Korea hit the ” gold standard” are ruthlessly exposed by a House of Lords committee. The full story on Byline Times here reveals that government’s claims we would be better outside the EU for trade are suspect – and ministers don’t want them properly scrutinised by Parliament.
Given the enormous interest into Johnson’s determination to leave the EU on October 31, there are questions about the huge hedge fund and City trader financial backing for his leadership campaign this deal when they stand to make billions of pounds on shares and the potential collapse of the pound. Read my story on Byline Times here.
While MPs were enjoying drinks and snacks in parties and receptions across London last week – I admit I was at one in the gardens of Westminster Abbey – a team of intrepid campaigners from BackTo60 took to the streets with the support Media Gang Guerrilla Marketing.
They stopped outside the Bank of England, The Law Courts in the Strand and opposite the House of Parliament to project images backing the 50s bornwomen campaign. One of my blogs was projected on the Bank of England and the Backto60 logo appeared on the side of Parliament overlooking the Thames.
Certainly if nothing else this campaign is creative – equal to some of the stunts of the younger generation. They should be proud that people never give up campaigning.
CROSS POSTED ON BYLINE.COM
Without huge coverage MPs from two influential Parliamentary committees yesterday proposed a new tax system to pay for the burgeoning cost of social care.
The proposal could mean a new hike in national insurance contributions, some redistribution of money going to fund your local council, higher council, inheritance and income tax and/or abolishing some of the existing universal pension benefits, like the heating allowance or cutting future state pension rises.
Significantly it includes making existing pensioners pay more tax particularly if they are still supplementing their pension by working.
This makes this the first serious policy proposal to deliberately tax people differently depending on their age – and exempting the millennials at the expense of the elderly. In that it feeds into the current and my view misconceived debate that millennials are being robbed by wealthy pensioners and the system must be changed to tax pensioners more.
The proposals may well prove to be attractive to the present government which has been trying to create an inter generational wedge between the young and old people – as a sop to the younger generation who have been burdened with huge student loan debts by government policy and can’t afford to buy a home.
No one can deny that the present system for social care is in a mess and is underfunded and it is estimated by the report using data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies that spending on care needs to rise by 3.9 per cent a year just to keep the current severely means tested system which means many cannot get help. It will cost billions more if personal care like the NHS became free at the point of use.
At the moment many people are already paying for care through local council tax. When people ask where is all the council tax money is going – anything from 25 pc to 57pc is going on social care for the young and old. The average of 37.8 pc according to the report.
The government is also transferring a big tranche of business tax revenue from Whitehall to the councils and at the same time abolishing grants – but not according to the MPs earmarking any of this money for social care.
The MPs have done a lot of groundwork – suggesting an independent body should supervise the new earmarked tax- and have used a citizens assembly to advise them of how they could do it-. The report can be read in full here.
MPs need to tread very carefully over their funding proposals because there is no doubt it could make matters worse for a lot of people.
For a start – and it is picked up by people they consulted – 40 year olds will probably have the expense of large mortgages, or higher rents, the cost of bringing up children and may find, if they have had successful careers that they are paid enough to have to pay back student loans. So they may be even more squeezed.
They have completely ignored the plight of 3.9 million 50s women. – many being forced to work for up to six years – and would now have to pay extra insurance or tax just at the point when they find it difficult to get a highly paid job.
Also by extending national insurance contributions at a higher rate for those who still have a job after turning 65 could well hit people who have taken part time low paid jobs to make ends meet. The MPs also suggest the premium should apply to unearned income and investments held by pensioners – which amounts to a tax on pensioners savings.
The committee talks of setting an income threshold to make sure some pensioners are exempt – but does not state what this threshold should be.
To my mind there are too many questions that have not been answered or evaluated for the government to go ahead with this. People should remember that everybody who drew up this report was on an MPs salary of £77,000 a year, way above many people’s incomes.
Yes we need a debate on how to fund social care – but it shouldn’t be used as part of way to drive a wedge between generations- and we shouldn’t rush into yet another use for the National Insurance Fund when they are so many women who have been robbed of a decent pension by the existing system.
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There has been much debate about populist slogans from Brexiteers about Britain needing to take back control of the country from so called Brussels bureaucrats when we leave the European Union in 2019.
The very same MPs are remarkably silent about a decision taken seven years ago by the UK Parliament to set up an independent committee to take back control of how the government can present its legislation to Parliament.
Put it very simply we are supposed to live in a Parliamentary democracy but in fact MPs allow the government to monopolise and control Parliament through the Whips system without so much as a whisper of discontent.
The fact that nothing has been done was highlighted ( though you won’t have read in mainstream media) by John Bercow, the Speaker, in an address given in Parliament to the Hansard Society this week. You can read the full speech here.
In 2010 a committee chaired by Tony Wright, a Labour Mp who did a very good job scrutinising Whitehall on the public administration committee, proposed a series of reforms to allow MPs to take back control of the running of Parliament from the government. One reform giving backbenchers a greater role in debates got through. Another reform giving Mps much more control over government business was also approved – but guess what the government did nothing about it.
As John Bercow said in this extract from his speech:
” It is missing in action, confined to something akin to parliamentary purgatory. Nailed to its perch.”
He goes on in this longer extract:
” As a matter of basic democratic principle this will not do. The House decided to back the concept of a House Business Committee along the lines of the Wright Committee recommendations. One of three courses of action should follow. The House should have its decision implemented. Alternatively, it should be consulted on some other design for a House Business Committee. Or the House should determine in a vote that it has changed its mind on the issue. It should not be side lined in this fashion. It is quite wrong for there to be a vacuum. This is as inappropriate as, for example, legislating to hold a referendum on a major question of the day and then simply ignoring the outcome. The longer that this state of affairs persists the more profoundly unsatisfactory I believe it to be.
“The Wright formula, to remind enthusiasts in the room for such detail, was very balanced. It did not seek to defenestrate the Whips Offices. It recognised that the Government of the day had a right to have its business tabled. Elections would be rendered impotent affairs if this were not the case. Ministers are, therefore, in my view entitled to a majority but not a monopoly on a House Business Committee. The legitimate issue for the House as a whole is the balance of allocation of time across the various measures that constitute a legislative programme. The Wright Committee also underlined the importance of the Official Opposition – and other opposition parties – being given more say on scheduling their business, and envisaged, I am reliably informed, the House Business Committee as the forum for such discussions. I dare venture that some of the recent tensions over scheduling Opposition Days or more accurately not scheduling Opposition days, might have been avoided if there had been a House Business Committee to hand.
“Any such Committee should be chaired by an independent figure. Wright suggested the Senior Deputy Speaker. It should have a backbench component as well as representation from the smaller parties. It would also be desirable to link the chamber to the select committees perhaps via the presence of the Chair of the Liaison Committee. Finally, if not instantly but over time, it should include the direct election of the backbench members in the spirit of the various other reforms which Wright offered to the House more than eight years ago and which the House chose to adopt.”
Now you might say -particularly after this long extract – why should I be bothered about this arcane Parliamentary stuff? You should for two reasons.
First though she won the most votes Theresa May did not win enough Parliamentary seats to have a majority in Parliament but is ruling – because of the deal with the Democratic Unionist Party – as though she does using every statutory wheeze to try and stay in power for five years.
This measure will put Parliament as a whole in control as it will give greater bargaining power to Jeremy Corbyn, Vince Cable, the Scots Nats and the solitary Green MP – to influence how the government timetables its legislation and how Opposition Mps and backbenchers can get issues debated.
Second whatever your views on Brexit the government is planning to try and by-pass Parliament by using the Brexit bill to take power to change all sorts of laws and regulations by ministerial diktat – the ” so called Henry VIII clauses ” – named after the monarch who dissolved Britain’s monasteries – with little chance of debate.
These could be used to change rights for the disabled, curb worker’s rights to holidays , drop environment protections , cut benefit entitlement and amend health and safety protection, – like for example reducing safeguards on working with asbestos ( this has actually been suggested by one Tory).
This will affect you in your daily life and Parliament needs to defend itself by making sure that ministers can’t avoid being challenged by manipulating the Parliamentary timetable.
So what we need are some bolshie backbenchers of all parties to put up a motion to set up this committee. From what was said week they would get a fair wind from the Speaker.
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Before we were flooded by news of the sensational Presidential election victory of Donald Trump, Dame Lowell Goddard. the third chair of the troubled inquiry into child sexual abuse inquiry delivered a stunning blow to Parliament.
She refused point blank to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in Parliament and also announced that she would refuse to give any further interviews to the media on why she resigned.
It is no wonder that the new chair of the inquiry, Labour MP Yvette Cooper issued such a strong statement objecting to her refusal.
Dame Lowell had written :
“As a High Court judge in New Zealand for many years before I resigned to take up the chair, I have a duty to maintain judicial independence,” she wrote.
“That is why I have volunteered detailed written reports (in preference to oral communication) so that no dispute on powers or damage to IICSA’s independence could arise.
“I am not aware of any matter which remains unanswered. Meanwhile I have been the subject of malicious defamatory attacks in some UK media.
“I am disappointed that there has been no government defence of me in England, despite the fact that information refuting some of the more serious allegations has been held by the Home Office and your committee since the time of my initial recruitment.”
She got a stiff reply
” Dame Lowell Goddard’s refusal to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee about her resignation from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse is disgraceful,” Ms Cooper said.
“Dame Goddard has been paid significant amounts of public money to do an extremely important job which she suddenly resigned from, leaving a series of questions about what has been happening over the last 18 months and why the Inquiry got into difficulties.
“This is an astonishing response from a paid public servant who should know how important transparency is in an inquiry as sensitive and crucial as this one.
“Child abuse survivors have been let down by the extremely rocky start to this inquiry and we do need answers as to why it went wrong in order to be confident it is back on track now.”
I quite agree. She was given a very generous package running into hundreds of thousands of pounds to chair this inquiry . Her annual salary was £360,000. Her accommodation costs amounted to £119,000. Relocation costs were just short of £30,000 as well some £67,000 spent on travel, including trips for her whole family to and from New Zealand.
Yet she doesn’t have the slightest compunction to refuse to explain what went so horribly wrong. She was offered to give evidence by video link from new Zealand but declined because she said Parliamentary privilege would not cover the video link.
Frankly her refusal is an affront to the survivors, the general public, the taxpayer who met her bills and to Parliamentary sovereignty.
If she had been a British judge living in the UK she could have been ordered to attend. As it is she better not apply for a tourist visa to come here or she might find herself having to attend Parliament. I find her attitude arrogant particularly as she never properly explained her reasons for going.