Mark Simmonds MP
16 Main Ridge West
15 September 2013
Dear Mark Simmonds
I am writing to express my profound shock at remarks that are emanating from leading members of the Conservative party regarding the visit to this country by Raquel Rolnik.
You will be aware that Mrs Rolnik visited the UK between 29 August and 11 September this year to look into the impact of the government's policies relating to housing. You will also be aware that Mrs Rolnik is one of the United Nations' Special Rapporteurs on adequate housing. I read Mrs Rolnik's initial press release and it seemed reasonable, if a little favourable, to the general welfare changes currently being implemented. There was one significant criticism relating to the effects of the "under-occupation penalty" introduced in April of this year as part of the current welfare reforms. My own view is that this is an ill conceived and ruthless policy which couldn't possibly be economically successful. However, that as it may be, I could not believe the reports I was reading regarding comments made by the Conservative Party Chairman, Grant Shapps.
According to The Telegraph Grant Shapps said, amongst other things, "How it is [sic] that a woman from Brazil, a country that has 50m people in inadequate housing, has come over, failed to meet with any government ministers, with any officials from the Department of Work and Pensions or even to refer to the policy by its accurate name anywhere in the report at all."
Having read the official Press Statement to which Mr Shapps refers I note that Mrs Rolnik refers to the "under occupancy penalty" which is, as far as I can ascertain, a correct reference. Is it the case that Mr Shapps had not actually read the report himself or is it possible he doesn't know what the policy is called? I cannot believe that the Conservative Party Chairman doesn't even know the correct name of the policy. To state a complete untruth about the content of a United Nations report is bizarre and unacceptable. What is most shocking is the tone of his criticism. It is appallingly prejudicial to attempt to dismiss the validity of Mrs Rolnik's report on the grounds of her country of origin. He also incorrectly asserts that no government ministers were met. This is reminiscent of the sort of retorts we were expected to ascribe to the likes of Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak or Colonel Gaddafi.