Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Alice Miles: Why MPs Deserve Expenses

Alice Miles has written a rather counterintuitive article in the Times this morning in defence of MPs' expenses. Even if you take the opposite view to her, it's worth reading in full as it is perhaps the most eloquent exposition for far of the case for the defence. Here's a taster...
The committee should be far bolder, inviting a root-and-branch review of the role of the modern parliamentarian, including an increase in basic salary if appropriate. The present system is fashioned around the days when MPs were male and had wives who stayed at home in their constituencies with the kids throughout the week. Hence the two homes.

That does not reflect reality any more. By insisting that MPs have homes in their constituencies as well as being available until 10pm at Westminster on up to three nights a week, we are forcing them and their families to trek up and down the country twice a week - spending most of the week in London, weekends in the constituency - and that is wrong.

Political life is cruel to families. Imagine the life of a minister working 18-hour days in London (and often abroad), with a constituency in a far-flung corner of the country and a young family caught in the middle. Imagine the extra childcare costs they must pay when foreign summits demand a spouse at their side: the £8-£10 hourly rate for a nanny, plus up to £5 an hour in tax and insurance - and all for the privilege of not seeing your child all weekend.

Call me a sucker (and you will call me worse), but I really don't begrudge senior ministers, even those with grace-and-favour apartments, a bit of rental income from their London flats.

A minister in a grace-and-favour apartment, such as Alistair Darling, who could lose his job at any time, cannot afford to sell his London home. The alternative to renting it out is to do as the Browns have with their Westminster flat - leave it empty to avoid controversy, pay all the costs yourself and therefore make a loss, while paying tax on the use of the grace-and- favour apartment as well (about £5,200 a year, since you wonder).

Read the full article HERE.

31 comments:

subrosa said...

Political life cruel to families? Auch stop it. What about military families? That's a cruel life believe me and they don't get 'perks'.

Military families can lose their jobs too, but usually due to injury or even death. They have nothing like the amount of money MPs vote themselves.

I think Alice should get herself out of the Westminster bubble and see what other skilled professions are offered. I say skilled professions deliberately because to be an MP requires no qualifications and therefore I consider it an unskilled job.

Rab C. Nesbitt said...

So who forced these poor unfortunate souls into becoming members of parliament and ministers then?

BrianSJ said...

The high price of being in public life. Doubtless she is aware of the lawyers fees involved.
No. The arrangements for MPs must be on the basis of the laws they make for the rest of us and in line with what HMRC would allow civil servants.

Old Holborn said...

O/T but OXFAM are gettng political over at Derek's squat (wtf?)

FISKED

Glyn H said...

That’s all very well, and Miss Miles is to be admarred; but firstly few modern MP’s could earn £60K in commercial life and most certainly do not deserve more for the PRIVILEDGE of representing a constituency at Westminster. (NB; is there ever a lack of applicants for these vacancies?) Secondly Jacqui Smith, Darling, Cohen, McNulty and the rest have flagrantly abused the system to finance there own residences by calling a spare room, or a shared flat or whatever as their ‘main home’. This is straightforward deception (a criminal offence) and an honourable PM would remove them from his government. That he has not done so tells us all we need to know of his integrity. And these vile and incompetant clowns had the effrontery to accuse Major , as decent a man as there was in politics, of sleaze – orchestrated by a manic-depressive tabloid journalist who should never have had a taxpayer funded salary. From Cohen to Campbell Labour is really the dross of politics today.

Praguetory said...

If you want to make being an MP more conducive to family life, allow remote voting. It would make our system more democratic, too. Why do we need the House Of Commons?

davidc said...

'Imagine the life of a minister working 18-hour days in London (and often abroad)----,'

first class airflights (and the airmiles)in order to carry out an on the spot review of lesbian bereavement outreach practice in new york or the west indies or japan or -----' need i go on ?
and as for the 18hour day well no one in the real world has to do such hours and pay their own commuting costs out of taxed income

Half The Story said...

Imagine the extra childcare costs they must pay when foreign summits demand a spouse at their side: the £8-£10 hourly rate for a nanny, plus up to £5 an hour in tax and insurance - and all for the privilege of not seeing your child all weekend.

She is so detached it is stupid.

Oliver Drew said...

The standard explanation of the 2nd home allowance is really starting to annoy me - they get it because they have to leave their families for 3 days a week or because "westminster runs like clockwork" (Eric Pickles)

SO WHAT! It is called real life. I have every sympathy with the MPs who have to leave family, just like the Armed Forces and all the general public who have to do the same. Why should MPs be so special?

If they cannot cope with their job, then resign, leave, let someone who can cope with it do it.

I know that is perhaps harsh, but I don't see why I should fund a second home for an MP, they should live in standardised accomodation when they have to stay in London overnight, or in a hotel with a maximum price on expenses. It isn't like there is no room for this in London!

Scary Biscuits said...

Alice Mills is defending something that nobody is really objecting to. It's not the principle of expenses that is wrong. It is (a) the scale (almost tripling their income in many cases) and (b) the fact that it is all tax free.

MPs are supposed to be our representatives and our defenders. They have stood by whilst the ever more rapacious Revenue has targetting the hard working and instead of defending us, they have simply exempted themselves from the very rules they are imposing on us.

Worse, in a recession, they are making no attempt to economise, as their constituents are being forced to. Instead they give themselves an above inflation pay rise and write a new Green Book that legitimises even worse abuses.

This is what is making people so angry.

Conand said...

@Praguetory

That's what I was gonna say. Watch BBC Parliament feeds and remote vote.
However, Chipmunk's suggestion that Councillors should do it seems a bit much. How far do they have to travel?

Alternatively, with the advent of da interweb, you could have a full Participating Democracy where all major votes are put directly to the people. Like the Consilium Plebis in the Roman Republic.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but this is bullshit.

As subrosa points out, there are plenty of people in occupations that cause upheaval in family life.

I haven't read the article in full, but all this harks back to the notion that MPs are professionals.

MPs represent us on the basis that the majority of the voters are in agreement with the manifesto put forward by the party the particular MP chooses to be a mouthpiece for.

There's no rocket science involved!

Even though they are peripherally involved in shaping legislation, there's no need for an individual MP to fully up to speed with a the nuances of the English Legal System as their party machinery does that for them. Furthermore, much of our legislation originates from Europe or is enacted by way of statutory instrument. And when this government do get to have a crack at passing the odd law (is it about 3000 since 1997?) they invariably pass laws that chip away at our liberties.

Come to think of it, what the hell do any of them actually do that benefits you and I?

Obsidian said...

Having to be available until 10pm, for three whole days a week, cry me a river.

There are plenty of jobs like that out there, and none come with the perks of an MP. They come with higher requirements for qualification and usually less of a salary though.

The whole system does need going through, but claims for higher salaries do not hold much water right now.

Her point on grace and favour houses would be a good one, if the MP was compelled to take them. If they choose to take them - for security reasons for example - then let the state look after the second house they leave behind and keep it ready for their return.

It really, really grinds my gears when all the answers the MPs and their lackeys propose over this issue all involve give us more money rather than thinking of other alternatives.

It's danegeld, nothing more, nothing less - give us more cash and we'll behave, promise!

The Penguin said...

MPs and especially ministers deserve piano wire and a lamp post. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Penguin

Hugh said...

What case for the defence? To date, as far as I can tell, not that many have complained about MPs putting in legitimate claims for second homes where their constituencies prohibit commuting. The complaints concern those playing the system for personal profit, and therefore cheating the tax payer.
I'm sure being an MP can be hard work (although for many it's clearly not since they're holding down second jobs), but I don't know of any jobs in the real world paying 60-odd grand minimum, leaving aside the amazing perks, that aren't hard work. Do you? And if so where can I apply?
As for her predictable and oft repeated (by you) implication that it's only a few bad apples at it, can you tell me what evidence supports this? Ken Clarke seems to reckon it's a third of MPs, and one would assume that, since he is an MP, he's being generous.

Plenty said...

Is she a sitting duck? http://www.plenty2say.com

Ruth@VS said...

Utter nonsense!

If you are earning £60k in the private sector, you would often have to travel long distances and stay overnight regularly. I did - I didn't get any sympathy for it, nor did I ask for any. It was part of the job. If they don't want to do it, no-one is forcing them to.

Madasafish said...

Her argument for leasing out a London home - job insecurity - would be appropriate if MPs did not receive extremely generous benefits including pensions...

As it is, she's about 3 months too late to argue her case: it is already lost...

mark said...

The point to most of us 'real hard working families', is that normal people have to foot their own bills when working away, or indeed, claim by handing in a receipt, and receiving monies usually up to 8 weeks later..thereby financing our employers business needs.

No-one with a balanced viewpoint would disagree with MP's having accommodation allowances for their duties, but the fact they are using it to buy property and make money in the long or short term (depending on market forces) is one step too far for most. There is no ideal answer, but there is definitely a better solution, if they wish to receive the respectful attention they believe they deserve.

They make the rules, they bend the rules, and break a moral code in doing so, but plead a special case for themselves when in reality, most of us do not receive such relatively extravagant perks in our job, and especially not in public sector so called public servant positions. They should be using our money (in principle) much more frugally and respectfully.

This is not the 16/17th century.

We deserve better.

ScotsToryB said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Blaad said...

The author doesn't begrudge politicians renting out their flats whilst living in grace and favour apartments.

Actually, neither do I.

I DO, however, begrudge paying for all the luxury items in their constituency homes - that is not on.

Key bored warrior. said...

The time is here when MPs need to lead by example and take a pay cut to show us that they understand the need for fiscal rectitude and probity. They need to regain the trust of the public, by showing some humility and less greed they could.

Porky Pickles had a road to Damascus moment after he blundered into the minefield on Question Time, and could not find a safe road out, perhaps all of them should be held up to the full glare and heat of the anger of the public and made to squirm like little fat piggies, maybe then they would see the error of their greedy porky ways.

As Rosie has said, military life is very cruel to service families with the added danger that your partner could be killed or maimed. They are not lavished with John Lewis lists or even expense accounts and when they do become maimed and disabled do not even have the dignity of receiving just compensation and after care.

We have recently seen the death of 16 off shore workers in a helicopter crash in the North Sea. These workers are away from their families for a minimum of 14 days at a stretch, often longer, and the danger they face has been very cruely shown to us, do they get second home allowances and John Lewis lists?

Get real politicians you live of the fat of the land at our expense, you deserve all the derision that you so rightly get.

Jabba the Cat said...

As Penguin said...

bewick said...

Total CRAP by Alice Miles.

True my family was "no longer" when I started working in London whilst being based in Northumberland. BUT
I left home at 5:30 a.m on Mondays and got home about 22:00 on fridays - JUST enough time to change and get to the pub before last orders!
For 4 nights a week I stayed in a 4 star hotel for which I charged my clients.
After working a TWELVE hour day - 8-8 and perhaps a meal - in house or outside in Bloomsbuty there was just enough time, and facilities, to do another 2 hours work before retiring!!!!
I DID claim all expenses but there was NO chance of bathplugs or expensive bits for my REAL home.

BE CLEAR. Had I even THOUGHT of cheating HMRC would have immediately "lifted" me.

Hang the bloody lot of em and sell tickets. THAT would immediately solve the UK's debt crisis!

Lola said...

Paying them expenses to meet additional costs incurred wholly and exclusively in connection with their employment is entirely correct. What is not correct is MP's abusing this system to make a profit. Or, for example, London MP's having a tax free second home just so their journey to work is slightly quicker.

killemallletgodsortemout said...

What a total bint.

All members in the House of Hoons are volunteers. My local hoon said publicly that he could have earned more in banking. So, if it's so bad being a member of the House of Hoons, go back to banking, but give me back my money first!

Ben said...

Please sign the petition for free bath plugs for hard-working families.
http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/Bathplugs/

Devil's Kitchen said...

An "eloquent exposition"?

That is not an eloquent exposition; that is not even "rather counterintuitive": it's one of the most mendacious and ill-informed articles I've ever seen... And that's saying something, frankly.

DK

opus said...

I suppose even the Nuremberg defendants had their lawyers.
If you can say you are defending something just to practice the art of advocacy that's fair enough.
But if Alice (where have I heard that name before...oh yes in Wonderland) actually believes that the tax payer should pick up the cost of TWO washing machines and that we should be thankful for the priviledge of being served by Jacqui Smith then words escape me.

Chalcedon said...

Read it all on Devil's kitchen. He demolishes the article with some choice words.

Alice is all about special pleading and think of the children.

Chalcedon said...

Read it all on Devil's kitchen. He demolishes the article with some choice words.

Alice is all about special pleading and think of the children.