Cllr Nick Paget-Brown is Leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council

Kensington and Chelsea is “under pressure to review the case of Stephen Pound’s brother,” according to a recent headline in The Independent.

And judging from the rest of the article that certainly does seem to be the case.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, is quoted as saying: “This shocking example shows just how unfair and discriminatory the bedroom tax really is,”.

Also shocked is Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary, who told the Indie that: “This shocking case encapsulates everything that’s cruel about the bedroom tax.”

Rachel and Frances are not alone. The British Kidney Patient Association (BKPA) also puts in an appearance, as does a partner from the law firm Leigh Day. And there are many others who felt moved to comment, on Twitter, the internet and elsewhere. Inevitably other papers picked up the story.

But merely reporting on the beating which it had itself orchestrated wasn’t good enough for The Independent. It wanted to take part. In an editorial it said the case “should stand as a cautionary tale to every local authority in Britain about the implementation of the under-occupancy penalty, or, to use its more common name, the “bedroom tax”.

I suppose it’s not surprising really. Reading the Independent’s version of events, I have to ask myself: what were we thinking of?

No wonder then that when setting out the grim facts of the case in the House of Commons, the victim’s brother, Stephen Pound, “silenced MPs” on both sides of the House.

“Beyond a disgrace” is how he described the affair and later on, during a BBC Radio phone in programme, he revealed that much correspondence on his brother’s behalf has gone unanswered by the council.

So who can blame all of the above for getting angry? Before reaching their conclusions, they will have surely looked at the case closely, checked the facts and heard both sides of the story. Surely?

Well no, as it happens, for in fact none of them, not the BKPA, the TUC, that partner from Leigh and Day, not Rachel Reeves, not even Stephen Pound MP – whose letters we are still searching for – got in contact with us to check the facts.

None of them seems to have asked the Independent what the Council had to say for itself. None of them seems to have been shown our press statement. None of them seems to have read our letter to the editor which was published in the paper and on our website. If they had, they might have wondered whether things were quite as claimed.

Both statement and letter made it clear that we had contacted everyone affected by the new housing benefits rules to explain what help and support are available, including discretionary housing payments. And both indicated pretty plainly that anyone in the circumstances described would be a very strong candidate for a discretionary housing payment, a long-term one.

Which brings me neatly back to that editorial in The Independent: “the case of Mr. Pound highlights what can go wrong,” it declared. “It should not take national attention to be put right” it preened.

Sorry Indie, but It doesn’t and it didn’t and you know it.

It’ll be 50 years ago next year that Marshall McLuhan explained that the “medium is the message.” Personally I’d always thought of that phrase as highfalutin’ tosh, but all of a sudden it seems vaguely apposite.

Here the actual facts of the case have become a mere second order issue. What matters is the story itself and whether it can further the interests of newspapers and people with agendas to press.

It’s all so very modern, but it ain’t progress.

12 comments for: Spare Room Subsidy: Why hasn’t Stephen Pound’s brother asked for Discretionary Housing Payment?

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