UN ‘Bedroom Tax’ inspector challenges Tory claims she was not invited

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  By Lynn Malone

A United Nations official embroiled in a row with a Tory MP over her criticism of the Bedroom Tax has challenged claims that her visit was not sanctioned.

UN Special Rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik is adamant that Westminster bent over backwards to “facilitate” her investigation into the Bedroom Tax – after Tory MP Grant Shapps said she came here uninvited.

Speaking exclusively to NewsnetScotland, Rolnik who is from Brazil and is a world authority on housing, said:

“I was invited and I am very proud that I was invited by the UK government to come – it was the Foreign Office.  We relate to the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom in Geneva, the Human Rights Council.

“They organised and helped to facilitate my visit.  I was received by staff, by parliamentarians and politicians – very well received and in a very open manner.  Everybody was providing information and was ready to share information with me.

“I have been really engaging with the government here.  So it’s really not what was said in the newspapers, it’s very different and I’m very thankful to the UK government for their openness, support and willingness to really provide any  information and data that I was asking for.  They prepared the meetings and came to briefings, it was really something that was very well prepared by the UK government and I’m very thankful for that”

Conservative MP Shapps, has described her visit as an “absolute disgrace” and has described Ms Rolnik as biased after the UN official recommended the Bedroom-Tax be suspended due to serious concerns about its effect on vulnerable people.  The Conservative party chairman is also demanding an apology from UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said:

“It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with government ministers, to fail to meet with the department responsible, to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring, and even to fail to refer to the policy properly throughout the report.

“That is why I am writing to the secretary general today to ask for an apology and an investigation as to how this came about,”

Grant Shapps attacks the UN official

The housing expert said she had heard “shocking” accounts of how the UK government’s spare room subsidy was affecting vulnerable people.

She said: “For generations, being poor in the UK didn’t necessarily equate to being homeless, or to living badly housed and in permanent threat of eviction.

“The so-called bedroom tax has already had impacts on some of the most vulnerable members of society.

“During these days of my visit, the dramatic testimonies of people with disabilities, grand-mothers who are carers for their families, and others affected by this policy, clearly point to a measure that appears to have been taken without the human component in mind.”

Raquel Rolnik expresses some of her concerns

Despite the attacks, the Special Rapporteur remained firm in her condemnation of the Con-Dem policy and said she hoped the UK government would take her recommendations on board, saying:

“Part of the mandate of responsibility is to co-operate with governments in order to bring some ideas from the human rights framework to the policy.  It’s an assessment against the framework of the human right to adequate housing which means talking about it and saying how much the policy can go towards that, collaborating.”

The attack on the UN Special Rapporteur by Tory MP Shapps has been condemned by SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson who said:

“This is an utterly shameful attack on a UN Special Rapporteur which just highlights how out-of-touch the Westminster Government has become. This Tory slur was certainly not in Scotland’s name.

“Grant Shapps clearly hasn’t paid any attention to Ms Rolnik’s serious concerns about the devastating human costs of this ill-thought out policy.

“While Westminster continues to support the Bedroom Tax, the SNP is the only party which is committed to abolishing the Bedroom Tax once we have the powers to do so in an independent Scotland.

“It’s not Ms Rolnik who is a disgrace – it is the Bedroom Tax itself. This policy is completely unravelling and the Westminster Government needs to scrap it now.”