Tory peer lambasts ‘discriminatory’ attendance fee cut

Lord ShinkwinImage copyright

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Lord Shinkwin, who became a peer in 2015, is a campaigner on disability discrimination.

A disabled member of the House of Lords has said a cut in the daily fees for peers during the Covid-19 crisis has left him thousands of pounds in debt.

Conservative Lord Shinkwin said a reduction in the allowance from £323 a day to £162 had been “irresponsible and discriminatory”.

He added the cut, in force since early May, had seen his only source of income “slashed without warning”.

A Lords spokesperson said the allowance “was never intended to be a salary”.

The allowance reduction was meant to reflect arrangements which have allowed peers to take part and vote in debates remotely during the pandemic.

The changes were approved by peers after a recommendation from the Lords Commission, which oversees administration of the upper chamber.

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At the time, Lord Fowler, the Lord Speaker, said the fees reduction reflected the fact most peers were no longer incurring accommodation costs whilst staying in London.

Most peers are not paid a salary but are able to claim an allowance for the costs associated with attending Parliament.

In a scathing letter to Lord Fowler, Lord Shinkwin said the cut had taken “absolutely no account of the cost of living in the real world”.

The peer, who was born with a rare genetic brittle bone disease, said the move “discriminates against me as a disabled person”, and made the Lords “less diverse and representative”.

The reduction in fees, he added, had left him living off the savings he had accumulated as a “safety net” in case he was not able to work as a peer.

‘I’m alright Jack’

Unlike other peers, he wrote, he did not have the “platinum plated public sector pension” of former MPs, nor a taxpayer-funded housing allowance.

“Such an ‘I’m alright Jack’ approach shows no consideration for those of us who do live in the real world; who gave up secure jobs to enter the Lords in good faith that the allowances would cover our costs,” he added.

Lord Shinkwin called on the Lords Commission to restore the attendance allowance to its former levels at a meeting on Thursday.

‘Difficult decisions’

In response, Lords spokesperson said the Lords Commission recognises the “valuable contribution made by all members who participate in the work of the House.”

They added that “like everyone else, the House of Lords has had to take some difficult decisions because of Covid-19.”

“The Commission has given considerable thought to how to respond to this unprecedented situation, in the full knowledge there are no easy solutions that can satisfy all members’ expectations.

“The daily allowance is not, and was never intended, to be a salary.

“The arrangements are being kept under review as these ways of working evolve.”

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