Reposted from the Daily Mirror
Let me tell you about a woman who lives on state benefits.
She owned a house in an expensive bit of London, but after she got a public sector job in 2005 she got us to pay her mortgage interest AS WELL AS her salary.
She invited her parents and her brothers to live with her, her husband and children in this lovely, taxpayer-funded home.
They all visited her at the weekends in a second house in the countryside that she could afford to rent privately.
She twice increased her mortgage, first by £100,000 and then by £50,000, to fund refurbishment on this home where her entire family were living five days a week.
She claimed between £1,400 and £1,900 a month, every month, for four years.
She claimed despite the fact she was fairly wealthy – she had worked in advertising and marketing, her husband was a solicitor, and her new job she had a basic starting salary of £59,095.
Her pay rose, over four years, to £64,766 – a increase of 9.5%, and comfortably placing her among the top 5% of earners in the UK.
At exactly the same time, the woman stopped claiming.
Shortly afterwards she was promoted to a junior managerial role and got a pay rise to £89,435. Two years after that, she was promoted again to a job earning £134,565.
All was quiet until a journalist pointed out the taxpayer wasn’t supposed to house extended families of people who work in the public sector.
The journalist, being responsible, knocked on the door of the house to inform them about the article and ask for any response or clarification.
The woman’s father opened the door, and chatted happily for ten minutes to the reporter telling her he really liked her newspaper.
A few hours later, an assistant who worked for the woman rang the journalist to complain, claimed the father was distressed, and suggested the woman had it within her power to make the journalist’s job much more difficult.
Despite the threat, the story ran and it led to a formal inquiry by the woman by the authorities, which are often reluctant to investigate until there’s a headline.
The woman’s claims were investigated by a taxpayers’ detective, but she failed to properly co-operate.
She did not answer all the questions, could not produce all the paperwork, and got her figures wrong.
She even employed a lawyer to write expensive letters saying the detective was not following the rules.
Her obstructions and delays meant the inquiry dragged on for 16 months.
She told the detective the rented cottage was the “centre of my family life”, even though her entire family lived in London. She said she could have claimed more than she did, but then admitted she had claimed for £5,800 more than she ought.
The detective’s initial report said the woman should not have claimed for the house; that she should not have increased her mortgage; and that she owed the state £45,000.
This evidence was presented to the woman’s colleagues, who agreed she had broken the rules, that she had obstructed the inquiry, and the detective had acted perfectly reasonably throughout.
The colleagues agreed the woman had got her main homes the wrong way around, but decided it didn’t matter.
They said it was “improper” her mortgage had increased, but despite a lack of documentation to prove it, decided it didn’t matter.
They agreed with the woman’s own estimate that she had only to pay back £5,800, and said it was more important the woman had been rude to their inquiry.
When journalists pointed out the subsequent apology was very short, wasn’t very remorseful, and by the way she’d now sold the house for £1.2million profit and wasn’t some of that due to be repaid to the taxpayers who’d funded the whole enterprise, the woman’s friends said this was unfair .
Righto, let’s talk about “unfair”.
Unfair is working Monday lunchtime to Thursday lunchtime in the capital, and insisting you need an extra house because you spend Fridays somewhere else.
Unfair is using the taxpayer’s money to fund refurbishments and speculate on the housing market, then trousering the profit.
Unfair is looking at the MPs’ code of conduct that says they must comport themselves in the public interest, and then deciding the best way of doing that is to get an extra house out of it.
Unfair is claiming a second house when your constituency is only an hour away by train. Unfair is pretending this is about sexism, witchcraft or homophobia when it’s simply about right and wrong.
Unfair is pretending to be clean by setting up an independent standards commissioner, then ignoring them.
Unfair is taxing the bedrooms of the disabled, sick, dying, and widowed while feathering your own nest with as much of the taxpayer’s cash as you think you can get away with.
But then, as an old chief reporter used to tell me, life isn’t fair: get over it.
The job of MP or cabinet minister is surely, regardless of your political beliefs, to make life more fair, not less. Whether left or right, they need to be people of honour, vocation, and skill.
Maria Miller has no honour, or her apology would have been heartfelt. She has no vocation, or she’d be driven to do better for others.
And she has no skill, because the only culture she’s cultivating is a plague experiment in whether she’ll be sacked before she infects the whole nation with a desire to burn Parliament to the ground.
It’s telling, perhaps, that she has been supported by colleagues whose own expenses aren’t exactly benign – Jeremy Hunt, who repaid £9,500, Sir George Young who got his daughter on the public payroll, and Iain Duncan Smith who likes £39 breakfasts.
And David Cameron, the Prime Minister himself, who has for years been getting us to pay the interest on a £350,000 mortgage when he has a mortgage-free home in Kensington rented out at massive profit, and two free houses while he’s Prime Minister.
It’s not that MPs have to live in two different places, or employ staff, or eat breakfast, which bothers people.
It’s not even the fact they could manage with one house and a B&B, and don’t realise these are state benefits same as the pension, disability allowances or child tax credits.
It’s the fact that they seriously expect to make laws for other people which they have no intention of following themselves; that they genuinely cannot see a fiddle on their second homes puts them in the same category as a housing benefits cheat.
The rule of law applies to everyone equally, or it doesn’t apply at all. And that is the exact opposite of unfair.