14 May 2009

MPs expenses claims merely reflect British attitudes towards home ownership

Much of the past week’s shock-horror-hullabaloo revelations about MPs' expenses has had to do with claims for mortgage interest payments, stamp duty, capital gains tax and other costs associated with owning houses, none of which would have arisen had these MPs chosen to rent, rather than buy, flats and houses in London and/or their constituencies.

It’s obviously perfectly reasonable to subsidise people whose job requires that they run two homes. But why is this interpreted by MPs and the civil servants who administer the expenses as meaning the purchase of second homes?

Presumably the answer is that, like so many other people in the UK, the MPs and civil servants are obsessed with owning homes rather than renting them. As such, they could be said to be thoroughly representative of the voters who elected them to parliament in the first place.

But – and this seems to be the biggest ‘but’ to have come out of the Telegraph revelations – it is surely totally unacceptable to use taxpayers’ money to underwrite property speculation and then allow the beneficiaries to pocket the profits.

There are at least three obvious ways of putting a stop to this:

1. Give MPs a flat-rate London allowance based on rental costs within a certain distance from Westminster.

2. Set up a Parliamentary property service that would buy properties for MPs to live in rent-free (and hold on to any profits made when the properties were sold).

3. Build a hall of residence in or near Westminster where MPs could live rent-free – made up of different sized flats catering for different family needs and providing a suitably professional standard of comfort (e.g. based on 4 star hotels or the quality of accommodation found in some of our top business schools).

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