Using MPs’ children to manufacture another expenses scandal is just wrong

I see from the Guardian and, particularly, the Telegraph this morning that journalists are trying to make an issue out of MPs claiming, perfectly legitimately and within the rules for rent and travel costs for dependent children.

Let’s look at what the IPSA rules actually say. First on travel:

You can claim up to 30 single journeys for each of your dependants per year between your London Area residence and your constituency residence.

If you share caring responsibility with a spouse or partner, you may claim for the spouse or partner’s travel in the course of performing that responsibility. This is limited to 30 single journeys per person per year between your the MP’s London Area residence and your constituency residence.

And on rental:

An increase in your overall accommodation budget of up to £2,425 in any financial year for any additional expenditure that may be required if you have responsibilities of care towards a dependant. You will need to certify that the dependant routinely lives with you.

While there were some clearly egregious examples of abuse of the expenses system which shocked us all in 2009, I have always said that politicians, in the main, whatever party they are from, are decent people who want to do a good job. That has been my experience over 30 years as an activist. The hours an average MP works would make most of our eyes water.

I am more than happy for some of my taxes to go towards ensuring that we have a diverse range of people in Parliament. If we didn’t give these pretty modest allowances, then you might well find that parents with particularly very young children would just not bother standing unless they were rich enough to be able to afford a nanny 24/7. I don’t think it’s healthy for a legislature to be lacking in parents with children of all ages. We need their experience in there.

I think that less than a grand each on travel and a fairly modest rental allowance, over two years, is actually a price worth paying on this one.

People will, of course, draw comparisons with The Thing We Are Not Supposed to Call the Bedroom Tax, but that’s an argument against that, not an argument to do away with this. The other argument is that you wouldn’t get anything like this in the private sector. Actually, you might, and you might also earn bonuses which would cover these costs. Some public sector jobs which require work away from home also have allowances for dependents.

We ask a lot of MPs. They need to spend most of the week in Parliament and then do another working week in the constituency when they get back. They rarely get the chance to switch off, especially our lot who are not in the habit of taking their electorates for granted. On this one, I’d say leave them alone.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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9 Comments

  • David Wilkinson 5th Jul '13 - 10:22am

    Of course the Telegraph had go a step further with the article
    “Mr Barker divorced from his wife after coming out as a homosexual.”
    The fact he is still got three children and hoefully is a good father seems to have passed by the Telegraph

  • Just because children are indirectly involved doesn’t mean we should let corrupt MP’s off the hook. You adopted this same approach when the scandal that no one is allowed to report came out. I find it superficial and lacking in thought -a ‘who will think of the children???’ mindset. Egg on your face again.

  • “I have always said that politicians, in the main, whatever party they are from, are decent people who want to do a good job.”

    I used to think that too.

  • Mark

    I think he’s probably responding to the bit where Caron wrote: “On this one, I’d say leave them [MPs] alone.”

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 5th Jul '13 - 1:05pm

    Dave, there is absolutely no suggestion of corruption at any point – my article explicitly says that this relatively small amount of money was claimed entirely in accordance with, in my view, perfectly reasonable rules.

    The Telegraph’s headline was Revealed: MPs use children to claim more expenses. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/10161087/MPs-use-children-to-claim-more-expenses.html. I should have put the link in above, so my headline is a bit of a splash back at that.

  • MP’s using children to manufacture expenses is just wrong …another scandal. How do are taxes go towards providing a diverse range of people in parliament? …How many millionaires ? Whilst the disabled have their incapacity taken away and are forced on to JSA and live under the threat of sanctions and all support being taken away…. About time we got rid of half of them, and put the rest on performance related pay. Related to the plight of the poor, disabled and hard hit within their communities…wonder how much that would save?

  • About the only real point the Telegraph article makes is that MP’s are explicitly able to claim (some) expenses incurred with maintaining contact with their families whilst they work away. Whereas for many taxpayers this style of contribution is either not offered or provided as a concession because a project is requiring them to be away from home/normal place of work for an extended period.

    I think there is a debate to be had around just what should legitimately be a tax deductable expense (ie. one that HMRC will recognise) that takes account of a person’s dependents, particularly given the strong desires to: get more women into work (and Parliament), permit parents (and particularly fathers) to take more time off to be with their families/dependents.

    Personally, I don’t see the IPSA rules to be particularly generous, although I would assume IPSA would pay for a return ticket if it was cheaper than a single.

  • To use the coalition argument these MPs should have appropriate birth control and not be racking up welfare from the tax payer on the basis of being to feckless to limit their family size. As the coalition says if you can’t take financial responsibility for children then don’t expect the state to do so. If you cannot see the scandal in the context of hammering poor people and public services then more fool you.

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