I would love to get £300 a day just for making a quick appearance at work, sadly I am not a Lord.
Following a recent report from the Electoral Reform Society that £360,000 has been claimed in the last five years by unelected members of the House of Lords who aren’t even voting, it’s time we told Viscount Hanworth and Co. to jog-on back to Never-Neverland.
According to The Guide to Financial Support for Members, ‘Members (not in receipt of a Ministerial or Office Holder’s salary) who certify that they have carried out appropriate Parliamentary work are entitled to claim a daily allowance of £300 for each qualifying day of attendance at Westminster … A Member may, on a day by day basis, elect to claim the reduced allowance at the daily rate of £150’. In other words, if you turn up for as little as 21 minutes, as Lord Hanningfield once did, you can receive £300 a day for either ‘voting in division’ or just being a Lord in Westminster.
The Guide also states that: ‘The basic principle underlying the scheme is that the entitlement to claim arises only in respect of attendance at sittings of the House or its committees at Westminster’ and that ‘Whether any member is entitled to claim any non-parliamentary expenses against income on their tax return is entirely a matter to be decided between themselves and the HMRC’. Sounds like a nice arrangement doesn’t it? Some of the richest and most privileged group of people in the UK get to decide what they are taxed. Whilst Lord Sewell is spending his £300 allowance on coke binges, other Lords are beginning to smell something fishy in the air. Lord Steel, a Lib Dem peer, righteously admitted that the attendance allowance ‘is not a very good system’. Good on you ol’ chap, now go finish your lobster.
It goes without saying that, considering the expense scandal that came into focus in ‘09/10, Lords seem to have expensive tastes. The Dark Lord Sauron may have waged war over a f**king ring, but I bet he’d still struggle to eclipse the efforts of both Lord McAvoy (one of 212 Labour peers) and Lord Epsom (one of 226 Conservative peers) who, in March of this year, astoundingly managed to claim £5,550 for simply getting themselves to Westminster for 17 days out of a possible 30. Born in a castle, Lord Epsom, an Eton-educated life peer of the upper house claimed £406 to cover travel costs. What was the remaining £5,094 spent on I wonder? A new castle? A cauldron of coke? Cosmetically redesigning his face into a half-Peter Hitchens, half-Theresa May orgasm of Toryness?
Alas, our dear and down-to-earth pal Epsom is not the only boy to be caught with his pants down. Earlier this year Baroness Wilcox (Conservative peer), who supposedly has a 200-yard walk to Westminster, claimed £5,700 despite living in London and being absolutely minted already (this figure has been matched by Lord Hanningfield in years previous).
According to the Daily Mail, 124 of the 161 London-based members have been claiming the tax-free attendance allowance. However, I’ve used March 2015 (the most recent data available when I looked) as a case study of the expense situation and this is what I found. In that month 148 of the 783 peers in the House of Lords claimed £5,100 or over in attendance expenses. Amongst the biggest hitters were Lord Tomlinson (Labour and Co-operative Party, life peer) and Lord Rosser (Labour, life peer), claiming £5,400. Whilst Lord McAvoy (Labour and Co-operative Party, life peer) joined our boy Epsom in snorting up an impressive £5,500. Baroness Massey of Darwen (Labour, life peer), Lord Anderson of Swansea (Labour, life peer) hit £5,250, Lords Adonis (Labour, life peer) and Ahmed, Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (Lib Dem, life peer), Lord Blencathra (Conservative, life peer), Baroness Benjamin (Lib Dem, life peer), Lord Bowness (Conservative, life peer), Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood (life peer) and many more were each hitting the £5,100 jackpot for the month of March. (Bit of maths, if you multiply £5,100 by twelve that is £61,200 per year to cover the cost of one member; and if you want to further your anger you can view the full list of expenses claimed by the Lords during March 2015 here http://www.parliament.uk/documents/lords-finance-office/2014-15/allowances-expenses-2014-15-month-12-March-2015.pdf.)
The Guide continues that: ‘Members are entitled to be reimbursed for the cost of a business class ticket … If a Member’s private vehicle takes them to/from a railway station or airport, a return journey is permitted’, whilst parking and taxis are covered up to £20 a day, language lessons are also covered and up to 6 return journeys per year for a member’s spouse/children are claimed on the expenses account.
This information is open for everyone to have a look at, and people are still worrying more about those ruddy scandalous Nazi pixies (I mean immigrants) taking advantage of the welfare state. I really wonder how any Lords can have any qualms about those without royal backgrounds getting some help.
According to information published by the Guardian, ‘The net operating costs of the House of Lords in 2013-4 was £93.1m, approximately equivalent to £118k per peer. During the period spanning February 2014 to January 2015 £21,424,729 was spent on Lords’ allowances and expenses, with the average peer receiving £25,826’. And, whilst Cameron and Overlord Osborne cut other people off from silly things like healthcare and housing, there are proposals to bring an additional fifty peers (mostly Tory advisors) into the House of Lords this summer, a move which is forecast to cost the taxpayer a further £1.3million.
Those in favour of the House of Lords argue ‘it contains a wealth of independent experts who are good at holding the Commons to account’. This is despite the Electoral Reform Society study finding that ‘independent crossbenchers were the least likely to be active participants in the Lords, with 45% taking part in 10 or fewer votes, compared with 8% of party political peers’.
These places being offered by the Tories are, on the whole, based on the size of contributions made to the party, not the wealth of one’s respective expertise. The reality is that ‘A quarter of appointments to the House of Lords between 1997 and 2015 were former MPs and just over a third had previously worked in politics, while just 1% came from manual backgrounds. An analysis found more than half were older than 70 and 44% were based in London or south-east England’. If Thatcher ever delivered a nuanced version of MLK’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, this surely must have been it.
Considering the narrative we are fed about how people on benefits in the poorest areas of the country are ‘lazy’ and ‘ruining the economy’ etc., the fact that we are so chilled-out about the country’s richest collection of people claiming such absurd amounts is quite a head-banger. To put this into context, for someone who is under ‘Severe disability element (a couple can receive two elements if both claimants are eligible)’ they were eligible for tax credits of £1,255 for the 2014/2015 year. Under our current system this would essentially take four days (and a few hours) to claim by just being a member in the House of Lords. This is institutionalised inequality, the amounts being claimed by Lords utterly dwarfs the amount someone would ever get on benefits, and ideas such as cutting benefits for families with more than two children shows that our society is focusing on completely the wrong people when it comes to taking the state ‘for a ride’. The recent discovery that the Department for Work and Pensions fabricated stories in favour of the recent cuts is further evidence that something really is quite wrong here.
Lords (who Jon Oliver rightly reminds us) are ‘by definition, a privileged group’ do not need this financial support, whilst the fact we have 26 Bishops in there also shows how outdated this institution is; only Iran also holds seats in government for religious leaders. We are meant to be a secular democracy, and that the House of Lords exists runs contrary to this belief being upheld. The House of Lords is representative of the nature of politics today in that it has become increasingly dependent on money and evermore supportive of those with it. Senator Bernie Sanders has been raising the question of ‘whether or not this nation (the US) is going to become an oligarchic form of society’, is it too late to ask the same question of the UK?
Fewer and fewer names are running our town centres, fewer and fewer people are able to retire with a secure pension and more and more wealth is being channelled to the very few at the top of our society. With so many of the Labour peers racking-up hefty expense tabs, is Corbynmania so surprising after all?