The Bedroom Tax and the Brazilian woman who stood up to Westminster

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By Lynn Malone
 
How conniving of the UK government to home in on the UN Special Rapporteur’s failure to refer to the Bedroom Tax by its policy name, their hissy fit causing a media furore.
 
Tory MP Grant Shapps’ tantrum was covered by media outlets everywhere, his outburst both arrogant and thoughtless, considering the people at the centre of this issue are the most marginalised in society.  It smacks of deliberate digression, a ploy to take the heat off the real story – Raquel Rolnik’s recommendations to scrap the hated Bedroom Tax.

By Lynn Malone
 
How conniving of the UK government to home in on the UN Special Rapporteur’s failure to refer to the Bedroom Tax by its policy name, their hissy fit causing a media furore.
 
Tory MP Grant Shapps’ tantrum was covered by media outlets everywhere, his outburst both arrogant and thoughtless, considering the people at the centre of this issue are the most marginalised in society.  It smacks of deliberate digression, a ploy to take the heat off the real story – Raquel Rolnik’s recommendations to scrap the hated Bedroom Tax.

Ms Rolnik was bullied, ridiculed and accused of being “a dabbler in witchcraft who offered an animal sacrifice to Marx” and branded a “loopy Brazilian leftie” by Tory MP Stewart Jackson, according to the Daily Mail. 

It has been a desperate attempt to discredit an expert witness who is on a mission to find facts.  Once armed with those facts she faced a barrage of misogyny the moment she delivered them.

Speaking to the BBC, the Conservative Party Chairman could hardly contain his wrath at the tiny, fearless Brazilian and was apoplectic, saying: “The idea that a UN representative should be sent over from Brazil, a country which has an enormous amount of problem housing, shanty towns in fact, to tell us what we should do and not even bother to consult with ministers or the department responsible and already two weeks into her investigation which goes on until the spring, to be issuing press releases which doesn’t once mention the actual policy by its own name…”

Ms Rolnik has since apologised for referring to the so called spare room subsidy as the Bedroom Tax and was given a right to reply on several news channels.  Speaking on Scotland Tonight she told of her concern about the long term effects of the Bedroom Tax and called for the Westminster welfare reform policy to be scrapped.

Newsnet Scotland reported earlier how Ms Rolnik was adamant that claims that she was not invited by the government were untrue.  She went on to confirm this and said: “The government organised my agenda, the mission was not on the Bedroom Tax – but the issue became an issue because it is controversial and a lot people are affected and suffering because of this policy, it’s really bringing harm to the lives of many, many people.”

Defending claims that she had no evidence, had an agenda and had shown bias, she said: “I had the opportunity to receive a lot of data and reports and explain and meet researchers and academics who had done reports themselves.  I was able to meet people and talk to them and received written testimonies.  I can tell you that I have received hundreds of testimonies from different parts of the country and its based on real life of people who are really seeing their human rights being violated and the threat for more to come.

“I came across people suffering from decisions taken at a policy level that was not piloted before and not assessed harms on human rights. That’s why I am recommending that this policy should be re-evaluated and assessed.”

This is a woman who believes in human rights and whose brief is to look out for the vulnerable and poor to assess whether they are being protected according to the human rights framework.

I contacted Ms Rolnik several weeks ago after discovering she was coming to the UK to assess whether the UK government were delivering the right to adequate housing under article 25.  At the time I was one of the first journalists to cover her visit and had exclusively revealed it days earlier.

The implications of the Bedroom Tax were obvious and I pestered her mercilessly for access to her meetings.  Surprisingly she agreed and invited me to accompany her – all were blocked at the last minute by bureaucrats who refused a journalist admission – even at the UN’s invitation.

But the Brazilian architect and urban planner who is a world leader on housing kept her word and met with me privately afterwards and told me of her hopes, that the UK government would take her recommendations to change policy regarding the Bedroom Tax.  She also spoke of her fears for the sick, the disabled, the poor and the dying if they didn’t. 

Her visit to Scotland was “brilliant”, she said, adding: “The Scottish government received me very openly and prepared information, I had very interesting conversations with the Scottish Government and with Glasgow City Council.  Everyone has taken part, the Scottish Human Rights Commission organised several round table events.  The Scottish part of the mission was brilliant, I really enjoyed it, and the Scottish people are very friendly.

It is, however, a twisted irony that the woman from a shanty town in Brazil, where 625,000 live below the poverty line, felt the need to check out the UK.

Ms Rolnik shone a bright light on Westminster and exposed the poverty, illness and growing incidence of suicidal tendencies in a developed society because of their cruel policy.

How dare she.