Forget the poor – our politicians are wasting away

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April 8, 2013 by Nash Riggins

In a hearing with their expenses watchdog last week, MPs raised a number of complaints about their dinner allowance – in particular, that their £15 stipend simply isn’t enough.

Kevan Jones, a shadow Labour defence minister, argued that it isn’t fair MPs only receive £15 per night towards their dinner, when civil servants apparently receive £24, and serving soldiers receive £29 for their dinner. On a side note, it’s worth noting that the Ministry of Defence actually gives soldiers around £8.50 per meal – but that’s neither here nor there.

As it currently stands, MPs are allowed to claim dinner expenses of up to £15 when the House of Commons runs past 7:30pm. Hell, they should be so lucky! You know what most people get from their boss when they have to stay late in order to finish work? Usually just a ‘thank you’ – and that’s only if they’ve got a really nice boss. But okay – just for argument’s sake, let’s say that it isn’t fair to cap MPs at a measly £15 for their meals. What do our career politicians think is fair?

Unfortunately, Westminster’s concept of ‘fairness’ was put on full display last week, when a series of welfare reforms swooped in and left 440,000 British families facing average cuts of £16.90 per household per week. Ten points if you can guess who approved the cuts.

Indeed, last year’s Welfare Reform Act – which got MPs’ royal seal of approval – was billed as a restoration of the UK’s welfare system to “one that is fair for society”. It promised to lift 900,000 adults and children out of poverty, whilst improving the lives of 2.8 million low-income households. In hindsight, it’s hard to say exactly where those numbers came from – as it turns out that the lives of 2.6 million families have actually gotten worse. In fact, over 50,000 of those families have had their weekly welfare payments sliced by a gut-wrenching £93.

Worst yet, some of those families didn’t even have £93 to lose. Earlier this week, Work & Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith was left scrambling to defend the validity of his welfare reforms when he was confronted with one man’s particularly pitiful case, in which his total income had fallen to £53 per week as a result of Monday’s welfare Armageddon. How did the Secretary respond? By asserting that, if he had to, he could totally live off of £53 per week.

Very noble – yet it’s pretty hard to see how that’s possible, given that he and his co-workers can’t even find somewhere they’re willing to eat dinner at for under £15.

Perhaps instead of complaining, MPs should be a little more proactive when it comes to their mealtimes; after all, London may be an expensive city, but it’s not hard to find affordable meals. It took me all of 20 seconds to find 118 restaurants within a stone’s throw of Parliament that offer a wide range of two-course meals – complete with free delivery – all for under £15. None of it’s Michelin-star quality; however, it’s certainly more than most of us can afford.

So, you’re absolutely right, Mr Jones – it’s not fair that you receive £15 for dinner every time you work late. But you know what? From now on, there will be hundreds of thousands of parents who will have to forgo dinner entirely just to make sure their kids can eat something. If we’ve learned anything from last week’s welfare reforms, it’s that nothing in life is fair – and MPs should take that into heavy consideration the next time they complain about getting a hand-out.

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