UN housing investigator, Raquel Rolnik has hit back at the ‘aggressive’ behaviour and language of the UK Government following her criticisms of the ‘bedroom tax’, or ‘spare room subsidy’, which she recommended be immediately suspended in a press release yesterday.
Tory chairman Grant Shapps has described her actions and investigation as an “absolute disgrace” and has written a letter of complaint to Ban Ki Moon at the United Nations in which he criticises Ms Rolnik’s use of the term ‘bedroom tax’, used by the media and campaigners to describe the ‘spare room subsidy’ which means that those in social housing must contribute toward their rent through a deduction in housing benefit, and says that UK courts have ruled the controversial coalition policy to be legal and does not infringe upon human rights laws and legislation.
Grant Shapps also appears to suggest that Rolnik’s investigation was conducted poorly; that she was not invited and did not contact Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officials during the 12 day investigation. Accusations Rolnik has vehemently rejected. The visit was organised by the UK Government in order to demonstrate that it was fulfilling its obligations to the UN Convention on Human Rights, Rolnik claims.
Ms Rolnik visited London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast and Manchester during her 12 day investigation of social housing in the UK and spoke to a number of people who had been directly affected by the coalition government’s ‘bedroom tax’. She also met with representatives from the Daily Record who presented her with a dossier of stories from their readers affected by the controversial policy, as well as the Independent and Guardian newspapers.
Shapps claims Ms Rolnik’s investigation was politically biased – influenced by the press and campaigners – and urges the UN to conduct a full investigation. Ms Rolnik has hit back at the accusation in an interview with Inside Housing during which she said: “I didn’t come here to investigate the ‘bedroom tax’, I came here as a normal country mission, to assess the situation. I came across the ‘bedroom tax’ when I was here, but I am an independent investigator.”
Ms Rolnik hit back at Grant Shapps allegations that she did not meet with government officials: ‘This is absolutely not true. I have met officials from many departments, and the details of these meetings are all listed within my report.” Rolnik claims that she met with the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Under Secretary Don Foster and other officials during her visit.
She goes on to slam the ‘aggressive’ behaviour of the UK Government:
“It was the first time a government has been so aggressive. When I was in the USA, I had a constructive conversation with them accepting some things and arguing with others. They did not react like this.”
As well as Britain, Ms Rolnik has carried out housing investigations in Croatia, Algeria, Maldives, Argentina, United States, Israel, Rwanda, Palestine, Kazakhstan and Indonesia. In none of these did she experience the same level of hostility and aggressiveness from the government, Rolnik says.