I know, I know, it looks like this is a woman who’s obsessed with Human Rights. But stay with me on this – there is a connection.
All the signs are that next week’s budget will feature a massive and unprecedented raid on working peoples’ pockets. If the Government doesn’t have enough money to make work pay, you might be forgiven for asking, just what are the Tories willing to spend money on these days?...
Well how about this? The Ministry of Justice recently responded to my Parliamentary Question telling me that the Commission on a UK Bill of Rights, which was established by the last Government to explore the case for scrapping the Human Rights Act, cost £700,000.
Now you may have forgotten about this ill-fated venture. No doubt that’s what Michael Gove is hoping. But let me remind you. This was the Commission with the stacked deck of hand-picked Tory lawyers, which failed to agree on any workable proposal for replacing the Human Rights Act, and subsequently collapsed in a heap.
But now the British Bill of Rights is back from the dead, and there is going to be – guess what? – another consultation! I have yet to be told how much this one will cost.
This textbook example of wasteful Government spending has been exposed on the eve of a budget that will begin £12 billion worth of social security cuts. We wait to see how the Tories will do this, but the rumours are truly frightening.
One option, which appears to be what the Chancellor has settled on, is to pare back spending on tax credits by £5 billion. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has estimated that this would cost the average family – and remember these are working families – around £1,400 a year, plunging as many as 300,000 children into poverty. If there’s ever been a crueller way to balance the books, I can’t think of it.
But what does this have to do with the Human Rights Act? It’s true that £700,000 may sound like small change to George Osborne in the context of a budget that tops £700 billion, even if another £700,000 is about to follow the first lot down the drain. But it’s an awful lot of money to the families that rely on tax credits as a lifeline to support their children.
But there may be a way to stop the Government taking money out of the pockets of the poorest. They’ve walked a fine line with some of the welfare changes they’ve introduced, coming close to being blocked by the courts on more than one occasion. As recently as March, in a little-noticed decision, a majority of judges on the Supreme Court found that the household benefit cap – one of the Tories’ flagship welfare policies – violated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In a memorable judgment the Court’s Deputy President, Lady Hale, wrote:
The prejudicial effect of the cap is obvious and stark. It breaks the link between benefit and need. Claimants affected by the cap will, by definition, not receive the sums of money which the State deems necessary for them to adequately house, feed, clothe and warm themselves and their children.
Strong words. But did they have any effect? Not on this occasion, because the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has not been incorporated into UK law – unlike the Human Rights Act, at least for now. So on the Tories will go, lavishing taxpayers’ money on ideological pet projects while children go hungry.
There’s no doubt that Lady Hale’s judgement will not be the last word on these sorts of destructive welfare policies. The only question is whether there will be any Human Rights protections enshrined in UK law by that time. It’s no wonder the Tories seem to be willing to spend whatever it takes to get rid of the Human Rights Act.