Why people forced to choose between heating and eating pay for politicians' energy bills, asks BERNADETTE HORTON
The Sunday Mirror published a table of 340 MPs claiming energy expenses for their second home.
Most of us ordinary voters view this two ways. We understand those MPs not living within commuting distance of London may need accommodation and a reasonable energy bill could be expected.
Or you may think that all MPs should fund second homes from their own pocket. Full stop.
But after having viewed the top 10 claimants, and then the bottom 10 of the 340, it became clear immediately there is a huge disparity in claims - between Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi's obscene £5,800 and Labour's Nic Dakin's £19.54.
As elected members of Parliament the huge amounts over £1,000, in my view, need challenging, explaining and reforming immediately.
Zahawi is a millionaire with a £5 million first home. Why on Earth is the energy bill for his second home coming to almost £6,000?
I always presumed - perhaps naively - an MP's second home would be a modest one-bedroom flat.
After all, this accommodation is purely for business purposes Monday to Thursday for an MP to conduct their affairs in London and not have to commute back to their constituency.
So my question to Zahawi is what type of accommodation are we funding to warrant a £5.8k energy bill?
Not a one-bed flat, that's for sure. This amount is a hefty £2,000 more than what a person who becomes unemployed gets to live on in an entire year.
Meanwhile, a Facebook post from my local foodbank revealed problems with an increasing amount of food parcels. Many people are telling them they have no means to cook or heat food and are asking for any food that does not need cooking.
Indeed the foodbank has asked anyone who has a spare camping stove to please donate it, so people at least have the means to heat food from tins.
Emergency supplies have seen parcels made up of ready-made sandwiches and a thermos flask of soup.
The foodbank is worried as the number of people unable to afford to turn on an energy supply is escalating rapidly.
People not being able to cook food means the foodbank has to find other solutions.
It goes against the foodbank's ethos of a "hand up, not a hand out," which is troubling the volunteers.
It means having to provide consistent support. People are becoming more reliant on the foodbank, rather only using it for a short time when their benefits are stopped for whatever reason, before getting back on their feet within a few weeks.
So while foodbanks struggle to cope with these dire and desperate energy problems we see blatant robber barons, millionaires who could afford to heat a whole street if they had to, then claim an amount of money to heat their second home which is more than what many people live on in a year.
It is obscene, abhorrent and morally bankrupt and it's obvious that the system needs reform right now.
The BBC is currently broadcasting a series called Britain on the Fiddle. Well, start at the top.
Look no further than a Tory MP's £5,800 expense claim for energy,while thousands of others are unable to heat their homes or cook their food.
As to reform? MPs living within commuting distance of London do not need a second home at all.
Give them a small allowance to conduct business in their own home.
For those living further away - and I have every admiration for the MPs from the north making the tortuous journey down to London every week - a one-bedroom flat is sufficient or perhaps modest hotel expenses could be looked at. You would be saving money on MPs like David Amess who has two London homes yet thought he had the moral high ground in claiming £8,000 in hotel expenses, according to the Mirror.
MPs will be crawling around us next year, desperate for our votes.
Challenge your MP if they are on the list of the big sinners claiming £1,000 or more in energy expenses.
Ask your MP how big their second home is. Tell them of your situation, whether you are disabled, unemployed, elderly or working poor, and explain how you are struggling. Tell they why excessive claims for second home expenses are plain wrong.
Austerity can't continue, weighing down on the backs of the poor.
It's time to challenge MPs on every cost-of-living expense for their second home. Do not let it drop.
Name and shame those who are clearly rubbing the noses of their constituents and voters in the mud.
An ordinary MP earns £66k, let alone those who are ministers. The rest of us have to fund our own overpriced energy costs, so why don't they?
Priced out of education...
My youngest son is enjoying his first month of studying home economics - cookery GCSE to you and me.
For him to be able to complete his course we have to shop for recipe ingredients each week. But there are others in the school who did not choose the subject because they couldn't afford to buy the ingredients.
My son took drama GCSE last year. He thoroughly enjoyed it, but it requires many theatre trips to get a feel and love of drama, plus he needed to have black clothes to perform in.
Those who could not afford the extra trips seemed to be those who did not get the desired A-C results in the summer.
Pause to reflect for a moment. We have children in our schools who cannot afford to take a particular GCSE subject due to cost.
Discrimination? Certainly. A discrimination against the poor.
Last week my son was making two recipes in home economics with ingredients costing £11.
There are 17 children in the class - all taking GCSE.
A total of nine did not bring in any ingredients to make the recipe and universally I was told this was down to cost.
Outside school one boy remarked: "My mum has cut down food shopping to £20 per week for me and my sister. She says she can't afford for me to cook at school, unless the school provides the ingredients."
Unless the children cook the recipes and learn from them, these children have no hope of even being entered for the GCSE next summer.
Schools, ever wary of spiralling exam costs, will not enter children who have no realistic chance of even getting the very lowest grades. This is worrying and sinister.
Some local children who are perhaps more practical than academic have chosen to take a beauticians course at an academy school that has partnered with the nearby high school.
But many dropped out within the first week. The reason, the teacher tells me, is cost.
For this course children need their own beauticians kit that is personal to them at a cost of £50. Many found that completely unaffordable and so have dropped out.
In 2013 it is incredible that due to the economic crisis and the divisive policies of David Cameron, Michael Gove and co we have a state where children cannot afford to take certain GCSE subjects for fear of costs.
To me it is incredible, and a total confirmation that this government is so completely out of touch with ordinary people that it has no idea that a cookery GCSE is now a luxury subject option for many secondary school children. For families where energy bills, the bedroom tax and even foodbank visits are a grim reality, the burden of providing ingredients for recipes or theatre visits pale into insignificance when faced with the daily strife of surviving.
The waste of undeveloped talent, missed opportunities and our children's wider learning experiences are a national scandal.
And while Cameron and Clegg's children look forward to numerous foreign holidays and enriched learning in schools with small classes and oodles of extra-curricular activities, our children in state secondaries will lag further behind. The betrayal of our children will be Cameron and Clegg's worst legacy.
Bernadette Horton blogs at mumvausterity.blogspot.co.uk/