Karen Buck MP

Working tirelessly for Westminster North

Karen Buck MP

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If it looks too good to be true, it will be. And rarely does this simple maxim need trotting out than in the area of social security/welfare.  Periodically, think tanks and politicians rediscover, with breathless excitement, an apparent ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card- an idea whose simplicity has been ignored by their predecessors for some perverse, unexplained reason. Step forward Universal Credit (streamlining most working age benefits into one), our old friend, the Contributory Principle (you get out what you pay in), and now, the Basic Citizen’s Income.

Now, for the avoidance of doubt, all of these have things to comment them- simplicity above all. The tax and social security systems are notoriously complex and make it exceptionally hard to people to predict how they will be affected in future- going into work, taking a pay raise. Means testing within the social security system is unpopular and expensive to administer. There is nothing wrong with seeking simplification and predictability. The trouble is, we live in a complex world, in which those designing tax and security systems have to consider huge variations in costs, limited resources and the behavioural impact everything has on us imperfect human beings. So, let’s take a look at what this means for the Basic Income.

The idea of a Basic Citizen’s Income is not, of course, new- and it has had advocates across the political spectrum, since aspects of the scheme contain and appeal to left and to right. The scheme works by scrapping benefits and tax credits/allowances so everyone receives a flat-rate allowance, with an additional element for children.  Amongst the advantages cited are huge reductions in administrative complexity; a reduction in mean’s testing and the ‘poverty trap’; an end to sanctions and greater flexibility in the labour market, since people will be more confident about transitions of various kinds. What’s not to like?

Well, here a few things.

Firstly, the Basic Income begs the question, can we do without ‘conditionality’ entirely? Conditionality has been given a bad name by the horrors of a punitive sanctions regime and the inflexibility too often pressed upon Job Centres. Yes as social policy commentator Declan Gaffney has pointed out:

“Single parents in the UK offer a test case, as up to 2008 they were effectively in receipt of something very like an UBI, when not in employment. They had no obligation to actively seek work while tax credits ensured that most would be significantly better off in work. Employment rates had increased since the 1990s in response to improved incentives but remained relatively low, and from 2008 obligations to look for work were imposed. By 2014 the employment rate outside London had risen from 57% to 61%. In London the increase was dramatic from a lower baseline: from 45% to 57%. The lesson is that incentives matter”

Second, two elements stand out as risks to the comfortable simplicity of a flat-rate Basic Income- housing, and disability. Housing costs are such a large element of people’s subsistence needs, yet are so varied across the country, they could not realistically be included. (Incidentally, it was precisely this problem that defeated Beveridge!). Similarly, it is hard to see how a flat-rate system can accommodate the needs of the longer term sick and disabled, for whom costs (and, traditionally, benefits, have been higher than for others.

Yet paying a higher rate of Basic Income to people with higher housing costs, or to those who can’t work because of disability, re-introduces means-testing, taper rates, work capability assessments…bringing us full circle.

The ‘Get out of Jail Free’ policy card doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the aspirations behind the Basic Income. There’s lots that can be done to make both our tax and social security systems fairer, more efficient and more humane- and that includes seeing both in a wider social policy context that embraces health, education and housing. There may not be one mega-solution, but everything is connected.  

My article in Progress about Basic Citizen's Income

  If it looks too good to be true, it will be. And rarely does this simple maxim need trotting out than in the area of social security/welfare.  Periodically, think...


Westminster City Council Planning Department

I write to enter an objection to the proposed development on the former Royal Mail Sorting Office site (31 London Street/128-142 Praed Street) known as the ‘Paddington Shard’. Although I accept the need for our growing city to provide new homes, infrastructure, amenities and economic/business capacity, and have no aesthetic objection to tall buildings (rather the reverse), major schemes such as this must still be considered on their merits and must be considered in the context of proper consultation and a strategic policy.

My objection is based on the following grounds:

1)    The ‘Paddington Shard’ would represent a clear departure from Westminster Council’s tall buildings policy, without that policy having been amended after full consultation. The policy currently states that a single tall building- the 42 storey tower proposed for 1 Merchant Square, be approved within the Paddington Opportunity Area.  As my colleagues from Westminster Labour Group have stated in their objection,

“The proposed design of a single, narrow but extremely tall, tower has a massive impact on the skyline but is not a particularly effective use of the space available. Westminster Labour would have preferred to have seen a design for the site that delivered a similar or greater number of housing units at a much lower height, entirely possible given the space available as shown clearly in the planning objection put forward by Terry Farrell”

Therefore, not only does the building have an unprecedented impact upon the Westminster skyline, the application is not being considered within a revised tall buildings policy which can be explained and justified to Westminster residents and others.

2)    Given this fact, the specific application for 31 London Street has proceeded exceptionally quickly, from outline proposal in the autumn to planning application over Christmas- and potentially, a decision by March. This is despite the high level of controversy locally, and the concerns being expressed by Heritage England and the Skyline campaign.

3)    The proposed benefits offered by the developer- including the ‘Sky Gardens’ and Paddington Bakerloo station upgrade, whilst welcome in themselves, are likely to be primarily of benefit to commuters/users of Paddington station rather than residents, whose outlook will be fundamentally and irrevocably altered by this construction. Wider public realm benefits are also welcome, but would also potentially drive up rents for businesses in and around Praed St . If the scheme is approved in any form, commitments regarding employment and apprenticeships should be transparent and measurable..

4)    The development proposes 330 luxury housing units. There is no affordable housing on site, and the affordable housing offer is unacceptably small at 15%- well below Westminster Council’s own – already inadequate- guidelines of 30%. Of this, the main proposal is to rebuild and expand the Almshouses in St John’s Wood Road- a project which needs to be undertaken but where there are currently not transparent allocations procedure for nominations from Westminster Council so as to ensure those in housing need can benefit.

I would be grateful if this objection could be noted.

Thank you

Karen Buck MP


Objection to the 'Paddington Shard'

Westminster City Council Planning Department I write to enter an objection to the proposed development on the former Royal Mail Sorting Office site (31 London Street/128-142 Praed Street) known as...



Westminster Council Planning department

I write to object to the current proposal for 285-329 Edgware Road (West End Green) with specific reference to the inconsistency of the tower proposal with the Council’s current tall buildings policy, the inadequate timescale for consultation/community involvement, and the inadequate arrangements for affordable housing.

I am pleased that the West End Green site is finally due for development after decades in which it stood empty. London needs more homes and the capacity to continue to grow its (sustainable) economy, and it is entirely possible to increase density without having a detrimental impact upon the wider community. However, each major scheme must be considered on its individual merits, both in terms of design and impact.

My concerns over this scheme are:


1)      Westminster Council’s tall buildings policy proposes one additional tower in Paddington, at 1 Merchant Square. The policy is, I believe, due for revision, yet both this scheme and the proposed 72-storey tower at 31 London Street face being rushed from outline to planning permission over the course of just a few weeks, and in the absence of a revised policy. Towers can be aesthetically attractive and are, indeed, a key component of world cities, but there should be proper public consultation on both the policy and these individual major schemes given the level of public concern. This is perhaps especially the case given the proximity of conservation areas and the strong views held by both local residents and many others concerned with the London skyline.


2)      Out of the proposed 691 flats, an unacceptably low number of 154 (22%) are designated as ‘affordable’ . This is despite both the depth of the housing crisis- which impacts especially on lower-middle earners, and Westminster Council’s own (already inadequate) guidance that developments should include 30% affordable.


3)      I note the concerns expressed by the local health practice regarding their capacity to meet the primary care needs of additional population on this scale. Whilst higher population density can be made to work well, it does not happen without the commitment not only of the developers but of the Council and other agencies to ensure there is both the physical capacity (public realm, transport) and service provision (health, education, policing) to meet the needs of residents.


Karen Buck MP

Objection to West End Green development

  Westminster Council Planning department I write to object to the current proposal for 285-329 Edgware Road (West End Green) with specific reference to the inconsistency of the tower proposal...

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