The letter of complaint penned by Conservative Chairman Grant Shapps demanding an investigation into "the action of UN Special Rapporteur, Raquel Rolnik" has surfaced on the web, detailing Tory annoyance at Rolnik’s alleged "political bias".
In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Rolnik, who was in Britain on a factfinding visit on adequate housing for a report due in March 2014, spoke against the government’s "spare room subsidy", better known as "the bedroom tax".
"I was very shocked to hear how many people feel abused in their human rights by this decision and why - being so vulnerable - they should pay for the cost of the economic downturn, which was brought about by the financial crisis," she told the newspaper.
"I would suggest that the so-called bedroom tax be suspended immediately and be fully re-evaluated in the light of the evidence of its impact on the right to adequate housing and general well-being of many vulnerable individuals."
In response, Conservatives quickly condemned the UN attack, branding Rolnik a "loopy Brazilian leftie", with Shapps writing to UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon demanding an apology and explanation for the "disgraceful" comments.
In the missive Shapps said: "The United Kingdom’s legal system has already ruled that the abolition of the Spare Room Subsidy is lawful. I am therefore extremely surprised and disappointed to learn that the UN has directly contradicted the decision of our courts."
Shapps added: "I believe that the Special Rapporteur’s report has been influenced by political bias and suggest the UN withdraw her claims pending a full investigation."
After highlighting the paucity of Rolnik’s "12-day investigation" and questioning why she was giving interviews to national newspapers, particularly those that have campaigned against the Spare Room Subsidy, Shapps demanded a full investigation.
He blusters: "I would like to request that a full investigation is conducted by the United Nations, including the provision of answers to the following questions:"
- What was the detailed process leading to the commissioning of this report?
- Were representations received from the British Labour Party, and from groups actively campaigning against the introduction of the policy?
- How did Ms Rolnik determine which organisations to consult as part of her data gathering?
- Why did the report’s author decided not to visit the responsible department or minister.
However, Rolnik’s criticisms were quickly endorsed by the Scottish Government with Scottish Housing Minister Margaret Burgess saying the "bedroom tax" policy causes “stress and anxiety”.
She said: "The bedroom tax is unfair, ill-conceived and risks pushing people to the edge and we have made clear that following a vote for independence this policy will be scrapped.
"It is significant to see that the UN special rapporteur has come to the same conclusion as the Scottish Government on the UK Government's bedroom tax, describing it as a detrimental measure which has serious impacts on the most vulnerable of our society.
"The Scottish Government, like the UN Special Rapporteur, takes the view that an approach to housing challenges which puts the needs of individuals and communities, as well as the principles of equality and respect for human rights at the heart of public policy decisions, is the right way forward."
Under the Government's welfare reform, social tenants deemed to have more bedrooms than they need have had their housing benefit reduced since April. Ministers say private sector renters do not get spare rooms for free, and argue the change will save around £500 million annually.
However, it has sparked protests across the country with opponents claiming it is forcing families into poverty and will increase the benefit bill by pushing people into the private sector.
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A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "It is surprising to see these conclusions being drawn from anecdotal evidence and conversations after a handful of meetings - instead of actual hard research and data.
"Britain has a very strong housing safety net and even after our necessary reforms we continue to pay over 80% of most claimants' rent if they are affected by the ending of the spare room subsidy.
"These changes will help us get to grips with the housing benefit bill which has grown to £24 billion this year, and make better use of our housing stock. We've given councils £190 million to support vulnerable residents who may need extra help."
Graeme Brown, director of housing and homelessness for charity Shelter Scotland, said: "An increasing number of people from across Scotland are opposed to the bedroom tax.
"We know that this is a policy made in London, but we are calling on the Scottish Government to use the powers they do have to pay £20,000 to local authorities and housing associations to help offset the worst impacts of the bedroom tax."
Scottish Labour welfare spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: "We have brought forward a package of measures, including a proposed Member's Bill that will take away the fear of eviction for tenants across Scotland.
"We are saying to the Government that money is needed to mitigate the impact of the bedroom tax. The sum of £50 million has been identified by the Government and Shelter Scotland as what is required in any given year and this would help social landlords, as they are having to cope with the arrears that are starting to build up.
"We will continue to campaign against the bedroom tax. We believe it should be abolished and we will campaign hard to do that. The Scottish Parliament has the powers to take action to protect people now."