Raquel Rolnik UN Housing rapporteur is in Britain and is looking at the government’s social housing policy and some of her conclusions have so angered the Conservative party that Grant Shapps the party chairman has written a letter of complaint to the UN
Rolnik has criticised the UK government’s so called Bedroom Tax. For those that do not understand social housing policy here in the UK let me try and explain how things work.
If you are deemed by the government as unable to provide your own housing, you will be allocated public or social housing by your local authority either directly or via a Registered social housing provider.
If you cannot pay rent on your home due to lack of or limited income, you will receive assistance from the government in the form of a housing allowance called Housing Benefit (HB).
The UK’s coalition government has sought to reduce the welfare budget and one such measure was the reduction of the Housing Benefit bill. In particular HB will only be paid for the number of bedrooms a family or individual actually needs. This reduction in HB has been nicknamed the BEDROOM TAX
It is this aspect of the UK’s housing policy that Rolnik has focused on and stated that it breaches the UN Declaration on Human Rights and also the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
It is this aspect of Rolnik’s findings that caught my attention. Whilst I don’t dispute that having access to decent or a roof over one’s head is a human right it never occurred to me that the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights could be used/applied in this sense.
When one thinks of abuses of human rights, one imagines this sort of thing only happens in poorly governed countries. What is even more surprising is that the coalition government with access to all manner of technocrats didn’t see this coming,
But at same level I am not really surprised. The Conservative party, which is the majority in the coalition promotes limited government and the cutting back of the welfare state. The overriding motivation behind its austerity programmes has been that “work should be rewarding and those out of work should not be better off than those in work”
The twist in this whole affair is the role of an international institution in what is seemingly a domestic affairs. International institutions by their nature were meant to help nations to manage their affairs in the absence of an international government. However scholars such as Keohanne have argued that once established these institutions take on a life of their own and sometimes seek to control their founders.
This is evident in the instance and perhaps in the ongoing debates about the UK’s position within the EU, with respect to the rulings of the European court of Justice amongst others.
These international institutions have such long arms that some countries like the USA have opted out of the ICC for instance as it did not other countries having a say in what happens to its soldiers who breach international laws.
What do you think? Has Britain its citizens human rights with the introduction of the bedroom tax?