Thursday, 10 September 2015
Lords' expences - another world.
The newsletter of our local branch of the trade union Unison claims that during the last parliament (2010 to 2015) no fewer than 62 members of the House of Lords claimed £360 000 in expenses but never once voted. These included the Bishop of London, (Richard Chatres), the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
Well, to be fair, voting is not all that parliamentarians do - maybe it's even their least important function. Thy could all have used their undoubted wisdom and experience to contribute to debates, or spent many hours in committees, scrutinising government legislation or providing informed comment on issues of national importance.
And if we break it down, £360 000 between 62 averages less than £6 000 apiece, and spread over five years it amounts to less than £25 a week.
But remember, this is nearly half of the amount we expect the unemployed to live on while they search for jobs, rather than just a modest extra perk.
Clearly some peers need expenses if they are to carry out their function properly, but surely not all. I know little about Jonathan Sacks, but as a former Chief Rabbi he presumably has a pension, and he's a successful author, which may be a nice little earner. Andrew Lloyd Webber must be a multi-millionaire.
It may be unfair, but I'll concentrate on the Bishop of London, because I'm a member of the Church of England, and a tiny fraction of my own modest financial contribution goes some way to propping up the establishment of which he is Number 3 in the hierarchy.
As London's bishop he has a salary of £56 460: not a fortune by some standards, but nevertheless more than double the median wage. He also gets a house (no longer Fulham Palace but a nice little pad in Dean's Court) which is presumably rent free, and at 68 years old he presumably receives his Old Age Pension, which is all many people of his age group have to live on. I am insufficiently familiar with the geography of London to know whether or not Dean's Court is within walking distance of the House of Lords, but if it isn't he could ride there for free using his pensioners' bus pass.
So where's the need for expenses?
To continue to be fair, it is perfectly possible, I hope likely, that the bishop's claim was well below the average, and equally possible that he uses the extra money to give additional support to some worthy project in his diocese.
But at a time when social security payments for the most vulnerable are being reduced, some effectively fined for having a spare bedroom, and pay for other public sector workers, at the bottom of the pile, frozen, we must question why those at the top of the tree are treated with such munificence.
This is yet another example of "one law for the rich and another for the poor" or, as a Guardian leader put it recently, "Government of the club, for the club, by the club."
Roll on Jeremy Corbyn.