Earlier this week I received, at last, an initial letter replying to the petition that Whitley Labour branch organised against the bedroom tax from Alok Sharma, then a shortlived housing minister, now at the Department for Work and Pensions.
I was surprised it had taken so long to reply – we handed the petition in in December -and I had sent a couple of reminder emails to Mr Sharma’s office.
I was later that day contacted by concerned petition signers who had received a copy in the post, without my address redacted. I would like to reassure anyone who was worried by this that my address is a matter of public record as I am an elected Councillor. Therefore although it is obviously not good practice for an MP to send out a constituent’s address to hundreds of people I don’t believe it has broken any data protection laws.
However I am far more concerned by the content. The letter which studiously calls the bedroom tax ‘the removal of the spare room subsidy’ doesn’t really answer the question raised in our petition. Now that Universal Credit has rolled out in Reading and much of West Berkshire the logic, if there ever was one, behind the bedroom tax, appears to be even more tenuous. I will be seeking an early meeting with Mr Sharma to discuss with him face to face, but given his widely reported comments this week that a cut in income of £3000 for low earning self employed people could be a ‘good outcome’ for them, I am not hopeful of a positive outcome.
Mr Sharma is of course entitled to take a different political stance and it’s clear from his response that he does. However the lack of empathy and the slow response to a petition signed by 1,441 people does call into question his responsiveness as a constituency MP.