Thursday, 24 March 2011

Won't somebody tell Uppal to shut up?

A period of silent reflection on Uppal's part would be appreciated by all, I feel. Even sleep-deprived and 1000+ miles away, I'm finding his continued pursuit of public inanity deeply wearing.

So what's my favourite MP been on about this week other than keeping mum about his love of Saudi Arabia's less than cuddly regime? Well, here's an easy question and one that's deeply relevant to his constituents in the, er, English West Midlands:

What recent assessment he has made of the state of the economy in Northern Ireland.

I think this is a 'planted' question, especially as another Tory MP asks exactly the same question. It's a simple one for the (English, Shropshire constituency) Northern Ireland viceroy minister to answer. Or rather, it isn't because it's way too broad. Instead, it's an opportunity for the minister to imply that the Irish rabble are feckless dole scum who need turning out onto the streets while all the Tories bang on about how wonderful Northern Ireland is as part of the UK. Uppal follows up with another underarm ball to allow the minister to claim that NI unemployment is all the fault of the state and the private sector will magic up lots of lovely jobs. Then it will rain chocolate drops and fairies will dance at Ian Paisley's civil partnership with Martin McGuinness.

The really bad news is that Uppal's somehow leading a committee investigation into Welfare Reform. Given that he's openly contemptuous of a) the poor and b) social security, putting a multimillionaire who made his money by inventing wonderful innovative things and providing hundreds of jobs speculating in property in the chair is a clear sign that 'reform' = 'sod off oiks'.

Unsurprisingly, Uppal's contribution in the debate between MPs from all sides and some experts is limited to one long, long question which boils down to the brilliant aperçu that 'work should pay' and one in which he suggested that massively reducing housing benefit might be good for 'the market' (he wasn't elected to represent the market - he was elected to represent 'people'.

I was interested in some of the remarks that you, Dr Nolan, and actually the whole panel, made about how far the Bill can go in providing a carrot and a stick. There has to be a line in the sand on these things. This is quite a subjective question and I appreciate that you might not be able to answer it. Obviously, the current system is not perfect, and there might be flaws in what is proposed, but do you feel that there is a signal in this in terms of the tacit understanding that many people have with the current benefits system? Fundamentally, at its core it is trying to give the ethos that, regardless of whether people are worse off or better off, it is to everybody’s benefit—not only the individual’s, but society’s—that work should pay. I appreciate that I am asking you to respond from your own subjective view of tackling these issues and taking it head on.

Unfortunately, given that the Tories are the party of bankers and corporations, they mean that benefits should be so mean that people will do any job, however humiliating. I think that work should pay to some extent (though I'm not keen on forcing parents to spend less time with their children), but I'd do it by making work pay properly, i.e. a good living wage rather than the miserable wages grudgingly handed out currently. 
You referred specifically to the private housing sector—I thought I heard you right on that. In the current circumstances, an unscrupulous landlord could manipulate the situation. Do you not see some actual positive benefits in trying to provide a brake on the market, which has ballooned over the past few years?

Thankfully, the respondent slapped down our hero by reminding him of the actual human cost of his clever little plan - he doesn't manage to muster a reply.
There is a large amount of evidence to suggest that the changes that we are seeing in housing benefit prior to the introduction of universal credit in the future will leave large numbers of families far worse off than they are now, and run significant risks of increasing homelessness and poverty levels. I am not in a position to assess the precise impact that the policy will have on the market—no one is—but there is that real risk. There has been no pilot of this full-scale roll-out of national policy, and if the market effects are not as intended, there will be significant risks for poverty levels. It is almost inevitable that families will see their real terms incomes drop.
The sheer mediocrity makes my bum ache.

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