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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 05/07/2009 :  08:24:16  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
With the recent expenses scandal, there's lots of fairly obvious comparisons which can be drawn between the situation with MPs (over)claiming expenses and ourselves being overpaid through no fault of our own. We, of course, get treated as though we brought this on ourselves, and there is that myth held in some places that claimants are fraudsters, theives, liars, idiots, scroungers etc. We are treated as guilty until proved innocent. Now, whether your MP has behaved impeccably, tried it on, been a bit opportunistic but still within the rules, or has been economical with the truth to "flip" first and second homes, stretch payments to their maximum, buy porno films on us, or claim for motgages that don't exist - you can still write to her or him. How can MPs now give the excuse that they cannot support a full write-off for the innocently indebted because they need to "protect the public purse" when their life's mission seems to have been to empty that purse as quickly and fully as possible?

Anyway, my own MP has had her expenses itemised in our local rag, and they are all fairly cheap/mundane things like hair curling tongs, basic TV and bedlinen, although I believe she has offered to pay back money claimed for the tongs as MPs perhaps don't need curly locks to do their job. I suspect this whole episode has caused her some embarrassment, and I do feel - perhaps surprsingly - a little sorry for her. So I've written to her, as saccording to the national papers she now has a more influential Treasury role, and can now put her recent experiences to good use, ie. now knowing something of what it feels like to be a Tax Credit Casualty.

I've posted the letter here for two reasons: 1) because I put "cc" on the letter and said I was posting it here, and I may then receive a faster and fuller reply (as I am still awaiting a reply from her from my April 09 letter asking for the then Financial Secretary Timms and HMRC's Hartnett to meet with TCC representatives and for her to expedite such a meeting, supported by other welfare groups as important as well), and 2) to encourage others to write their own to their own MPs, obviously changing those parts which don't apply, and making it softer/firmer depending on their MP's role in the expenses scandal and general helpfulness with their tax credit overpayments.

The letter follows:

Dear Sarah,

Congratulations on your new Treasury appointment after the resignation of Treasury minister Kitty Ussher following questions being raised about her tax affairs. I hope you will use your new role to challenge tax credit overpayment recovery injustices which cause so much hardship and misery to the very people the system was intended to help, and which destroy confidence both in the system and its creator.

In the midst of the recent outcry about MPs’ expenses, it must have been difficult and embarrassing for those MPs such as yourself - who had not (as far as we know) made any ludicrous claims for such fripperies as duck islands, moat cleaning or massage chairs, ‘flipped’ main and second homes to secure the largest share of public money, nor fraudulently claimed against already repaid mortgages - to have your entire expenses claims printed in minute detail in the newspapers for all to see, dissect and angrily condemn.

As far as apparently honest MPs such as yourself were concerned, you had been led to believe that you were fully entitled to this money. You acted in good faith and believed you were completely compliant with the rules as you understood them. You had your claims officially approved. You would have probably allowed yourself to buy those things that you really needed for your work, home and wellbeing, which might otherwise not have been readily affordable. You spent money with, I imagine, gratitude and respect, firmly believing that no harm could ever come of it, nor that the money would ever be queried or demanded back, leaving your reputation in tatters.

You could not, at the time you brought these items for your home, have ever anticipated having to justify why you had claimed this money and spent it on things you believed you needed. You could never have anticipated all that has followed: scrutiny, public outrage; being unfairly cast as an idle, good-for-nothing scrounger; being likened to the worst offenders who delved wantonly and dishonestly into the public purse, evidently abusing the system; and tarred with the same brush as liars, idiots, thieves and opportunists. You will probably feel betrayed, indignant and anxious as you wait to hear how much others ordain that you must repay to the “public purse”, and doubtless there will be threats and sanctions for anyone not in a position to immediately repay, or who attempts to challenge this decision.

One of your Labour colleagues was recently vilified for making a comment that the media and public reaction to the expenses revelations was overwhelming, leading MPs to feel criminalised, depressed and suicidal. I am sure, as a UNISON LabourLink MP that I do not have to point out to you the irony in this situation, and the obvious parallels between the predicament of those MPs who made what they thought were honest, modest, legitimate and necessary claims, fighting to defend their reputations, and their innocently indebted, tax credit overpaid constituents who have found that, far from being “money with your name on it”, the cash which they put to good use supporting their families was effectively a loan, now being seized back by the fickle, fallible Treasury.

Tax Credit Casualties will feel more aggrieved as we have lower incomes, no buffer of savings to repay with or live on when our tax credits suddenly stop, have no power or influence over government policy, no influential connections, and accepted tax credits as a lifeline for essentials, not as a supplement to a sturdy income. We therefore look to you to make the connection, see the distinction, and do the right thing.

A good outcome to this expenses scandal must involve reform of a dangerously flawed system which on the one hand can be manipulated and exploited for personal gain, but on the other can turn on its well-intentioned users. There must be a line drawn, with punishment of the guilty and an Amnesty for those innocently ensnared. All this is likely to happen soon; if only the same were true of the tax credit system!

Although, in all honesty, totally disinclined to vote for you a third time due to my huge disappointment at failed opportunities to use your growing influence within Brown’s government to reform the tax credit system and write off non-fault overpayments, I could not help but feel for you in seeing all your expenses itemised in the Portsmouth News (having accepted your explanation that you never made that earlier statement: “I deserve every penny!”) I would, however, welcome this revelation and your hurt pride and indignation if it has enabled you to have some direct experience of being at the receiving end of a frankly diabolical system and understand a little more about how your constituents are treated when paid more tax credits than the state deems them to have retrospectively been entitled to.

Please believe me that the public and Revenue are both kinder to you and your colleagues than the Revenue and your colleagues have ever been to us! You now have the perfect position and opportunity to finally put things right, and this I now implore you to do. A full write-off, with the money which would be wasted in pursuing recovery from the impoverished redirected towards creating a safer, fairer system will ensure that no innocently indebted claimant will ever again be bullied, criminalised, investigated, forced into poverty, psychologically tormented, hounded through debtors’ court, or otherwise persecuted for the heinous crime of trusting the Treasury to do its job properly.

If you have ever cared about your constituents, please bring this matter to Gordon Brown’s attention immediately. I promise you that the Labour party will be healthier for this, and only a just party deserves our votes.

I look forward to hearing from you very soon.

Yours sincerely

A M-W
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Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.

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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 14/07/2009 :  18:27:51  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Ooh, I got an acknowledgement postcard in the post today. That's nine days after I posted the letter. Bit better than my previous letter - back in April - about meeting with Timms and Hartnett, for which I am still awaiting a reply or even an acknowledgement. Obviously the power of this forum...

Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.
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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 14/07/2009 :  18:29:12  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Seems like some New Labour MPs are listening:

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Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.
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Ali M-W
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3558 Posts

Posted - 14/07/2009 :  18:29:37  Show Profile Send Ali M-W a Private Message
Do please write to yours if you haven't already!

Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.
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