Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Housing allowances show MLAs' rich sense of entitlement

This Times Colonist story on MLAs' housing allowances should make you angry.
Especially the arrogance.
Rob Shaw reports that MLAs are on track to claim $1.1 million in accommodation costs this year - $14,100 each - even though the legislature will sit just 36 days.
That’s simply wrong.
But what’s infuriating and shameful is the sense of entitlement, embodied by Liberal caucus chair Michelle Stilwell.
She told Shaw MLAs still end up spending some of their own money because the $1,000-a-month taxpayer allowance isn’t enough. (MLAs can claim $1,000 a month without providing any receipts, or $1,580 if they provide evidence they use the money for housing. Most choose not to provide receipts, which raises other questions about whether housing allowances are actually paying for accommodation.)
“You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who isn’t spending over and above that,” said Stilwell. “Most of them are paying out of pocket.”
So why do Stilwell and her government think a disabled British Columbian should be able to find accommodation for $375 a month? Or that a family on income assistance - a parent with two children - should get no more than $660 a month?
There is a sentiment that life on income assistance should be horrible so people are desperate to get any kind of job - the ‘make-them-suffer’ school.
But many people on disability assistance aren’t likely to make a quick transfer to paid employment. Neither are many of the people on income assistance these days, as they have serious problems that make them unlikely to be hired. (Persistent multiple barriers to employment, to use the government’s term.)
There are about 94,000 people in those two groups.
And there are about 35,000 children living in households on assistance, who the government has decided should grow up in poverty and substandard housing. The research is clear that childhood poverty greatly increases the risk of a lifetime of problems and costs for the individual and society, from illness to unemployment.
Stilwell says it’s impossible for MLAs to find a second apartment for $1,000 a month. 
But she also says people income assistance should be able to house themselves, and their children, for a fraction of that amount.
It’s a glaring example of a sense of entitlement, and MLAs belief that they deserve much better treatment - taxpayer-paid - than the citizens they represent.
MLAs gave themselves much richer allowances in 2007, when they also raised their pay and created a pension plan most citizens could only dream about. 
Under the previous system, they could only claim housing costs when they were in Victoria. (Capital Region MLAs are ineligible.) The result is that most will receive at least twice as much this year as they would have under the old system.
Another result is that about 25 per cent of MLAs from outside the capital region now own second residences here, which look much liked taxpayer-subsidized investments.
The system needs reform. MLAs deserve to be compensated for living expenses when they are required in the capital, but they should be reasonable, justifiable and transparent.
Much more urgently, MLAs need to explain why they think people on income  or disability assistance should be able to find housing in Victoria for $375, when MLAs can’t do it on $1,000.

Footnote: Average pay for a B.C. MLA is now $118,000, putting them in the top four per cent of tax filers in the province. This old post explains how they got there. It's not pretty.