South Leeds Life is pleased to tell you that Hilary Benn, MP, has agreed to write a monthly article for us – here’s part one of the first one!
Apparently, 8 million people have so far viewed Jeremy Paxman’s interview with Russell Brand on You Tube. I was both intrigued and rather downhearted to hear this because when I watched it, I heard Russell Brand say that voting is a waste of time and that politicians are generally speaking frauds and liars. Now forgive me if I am a little bit sensitive on the latter point, but on the former he is just plain wrong. I cite in evidence the National Health Service, the minimum wage, neighbourhood policing, gay marriage and civil partnerships, the winter fuel payment that pensioners get to help them pay their energy bills and many, many other things I could mention.
Russell Brand is perfectly entitled to have his own views about the state we are in and who is to blame – and he is a very engaging man – but I do mind him rubbishing the best and only hope we have got of dealing with the problems we face and building something better – namely a political system in which we all have a part to play. And, yes, that includes a responsibility to vote.
Here’s a practical example. This week we have been debating the bedroom tax in the House of Commons. It is affecting a large number of families in South Leeds who have three things in common. They live in social housing, they are on a low income and they have a spare bedroom or two where their children or grandchildren might come to stay, or a carer when they are feeling unwell.
The government has decided to charge them extra rent for their spare bedroom(s) in an attempt to force them to move house. The problem is there aren’t enough smaller properties in Leeds for the people affected to move to. Even if the council did nothing but allocate one bedroom flats to those people living in our city who, according to the bedroom tax, should move to a one bedroom flat, it would take nearly 10 years to get them all into a new home. Meanwhile, they are stuck and struggling to pay the tax and, in practice, many of them want to stay where they are because it’s their family home where they’ve lived for many years. It’s exactly what we would do if we found ourselves in the same position.
Two thirds of the people affected are disabled, and a woman who is in a wheelchair came to see me at one of my recent advice surgeries. Her home has been adapted, and if she were to move – she doesn’t want to – then that new property might need to be adapted all over again. What on earth is the point in doing that ? Whichever way you look at the bedroom tax and the effect it is having on our neighbours and friends in South Leeds, it is immoral, unfair, undermines family life and communities, and it doesn’t work.
So, you may ask ‘what can we do about it?’. The answer lies in the political process. On Tuesday, I voted for the bedroom tax to be scrapped. Unfortunately we lost by 26 votes, but the campaign will continue and we are committed to getting rid of it. That’s what politics is for; to enable people to campaign to change things, build something better, right a great wrong, or lay the foundation for something that will improve our lives and that of our neighbours.
Any comments? Part two tomorrow…