A Liberal Democrat peer has claimed that there are no hairdressers or bus drivers in the House of Lords because the daily tax-free allowance of £300 a day is too little to live on. Baroness Grender, who was awarded a peerage by Nick Clegg last year after working as the deputy chairman of his election team, made the comments in Westminster publication The House magazine.
When asked by the magazine about the composition of the House of Lords, Lady Grender replied “What you don’t get is a hairdresser, what you don’t get is a bus driver. And why don’t you get those people? Because it’s unaffordable for most people to do this kind of thing unless you are relying on a partner.
“A salary in the Lords alone, a bank won’t accept it as payment for a mortgage. It varies dramatically because you clock on when you sit – because it’s an allowance, rather than a salary.”
Lady Grender has been involved with politics since the 1980s, when she joined the Young Liberals’ Green Guard, a youth organisation for Liberal Democrats which espoused green economics. They were predominantly drawn to the party thanks to its adoption of a “no growth” economic policy.
From there, Lady Grender became a researcher for the party, and then speech writer for Paddy Ashdown. Between 1990 and 1995 she was Director of Communications for the party, before moving on to take lobbying jobs in the charity and PR sectors.
More recently she re-joined the Liberal Democrats on Nick Clegg’s election team, a role that landed her a peerage as Baroness Grender of Kingston upon Thames. Her seat in the Lords entitles her to claim £300 tax free for simply clocking in; she is not required to take part in debates, make speeches or vote and does not even have to stay all day to claim the money. Peers can also claim a lower rate of £150 if they undertake paid work elsewhere in London on the same day.
In the first six months of this year Lady Grender attended the Lords on 81 days, claiming £20,850 tax free in that time. This equates to an annual pre-tax salary of just under £60,000 ($95,762) a year, the Daily Mail has reported, or roughly two and half times the average annual salary.
The Office for National Statistics’ 2012 salary survey shows that the average hairdresser earns just over £10,000 a year, whilst the average bus driver earns less than £23,000 before tax.
“She is talking total, absolute nonsense. I could find plenty of hairdressers round here who would happily turn up to the House of Lords for £300 a day – they would be queuing up to do it,” Labour Member of Parliament John Mann told the Daily Mail.
“It just shows she is part of an out-of-touch Westminster elite – many people will find her comments deeply offensive.”
Andy Silvester, campaign manager for the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “A hairdresser or a bus driver would be delighted by a tax-free cheque of £300 a day.
“The House of Lords doesn’t sit full-time and there are plenty of peers who do additional jobs to top up their income.
“It’s comments like these that only serve to widen the perceived divide between Westminster and ordinary taxpayers.”