Saturday, 24 November 2012

Who are they to judge

Yesterday I heard a heated debate about whether or not wealthy privileged politicians are qualified to talk about the poor and poverty. It seems obvious that whether qualified to or not, they have to. It is part of what governments should do.

What they should not do is make sweeping judgemental statements (and policy decisions) based on ill informed prejudice. The classic is Norman Tebbit's 'Bike' speech, patronising those poor sods stuck in communities where his party's policies had laid waste to all industry. From the current Nasty Party we are seeing and hearing more and more of this kind of stuff as they drive through their welfare reform agenda.  Being fair to Tebbit, at least he could claim  with some honesty a humble background. That is something that many of those making pronouncements today cannot.

So what should Politicians do? Those of us who cannot claim first hand experience of poverty should, to reverse John Major's words, condemn less and understand more. This does not mean dodging tough decisions, it means making better decisions. Of this I offer exhibit A - The Bedroom Tax. The docking of benefits for households under occupying by one bedroom or more.

In London there is a huge shortage of family sized accommodation and we do need incentives for those under occupying large homes to downsize. However in many places, for example St Helens there is no shortage of 3 bed houses and the social and market rents for a three bed house are pretty similar. Often landlords have let 3 bed houses to couples, or those with one child because there were no other takers, and/or no smaller accommodation available.

Therefore we have a policy that will attack the already low living standards of poor people in some deprived areas of Britain where the goal of downsizing is neither necessary or desirable. Rather than tub thumping some open minded reflection is required.