Ireland imposes strict new limits on spending of debtors

€247.04 a month for food.

Ireland is imposing punishing new requirements on people applying for debt write downs, according to the Financial Times:

A single person will be allowed just €247.04 a month for food, €57.31 for heating and €125.97 for “social inclusion and participation”, an expenses category that includes tickets for sporting events and the cinema.

The allowances rise for someone with children, or without access to public transport: according to the Irish Times, each child of primary school age adds another €204.88, while €131 is allowed for a car if there's no other alternative.

The move is the first attempt to quantify acceptable living standards in the country, following the spate of bankruptcies caused by the financial crisis. The guidelines are also expected to be used by banks as they begin restructuring home loans shortly – in Ireland, unlike the UK, mortgages are included in insolvency laws, in an effort to prevent banks from simply foreclosing on debtors.

English insolvency laws are less restrictive than Ireland's, requiring only that the bankrupt person be left enough cash for "reasonable" expenses. As the FT reports, past cases have found that holidays, mobile phones and video rentals are covered by that, but gym memberships, private healthcare, gambling, cigarettes and alcohol aren't.

The imposition of cash limits could be a step up for welfare, if recipients are free to ignore the categories which they're calculated for. One of the worst things about the sort of moralistic reasoning which the British laws embody – and which are mirrored in the arguments for food stamps – is that it prevents people from making their own decisions about what "necessities" are for them. If I'd rather spend £500 on gym memberships than £1000 on a mobile phone bill, then I'm better off if I'm allowed to do that, and so's the state.

Of course, the Irish limits aren't that flexible – and nor are they that high. So for the time being, you're probably better off bankrupt in Britain. Put that on the tourist posters…

Food stamps. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty Images
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Britain's shrinking democracy

10 million people - more than voted for Labour in May - will be excluded from the new electoral roll.

Despite all the warnings the government is determined to press ahead with its decision to close the existing electoral roll on December 1. This red letter day in British politics is no cause for celebration. As the Smith Institute’s latest report on the switch to the new system of voter registration shows, we are about to dramatically shrink our democracy.  As many as 10 million people are likely to vanish from the electoral register for ever – equal to 20 per cent of the total electorate and greater than Labour’s entire vote in the 2015 general election. 

Anyone who has not transferred over to the new individual electoral registration system by next Tuesday will be “dropped off” the register. The independent Electoral Commission, mindful of how the loss of voters will play out in forthcoming elections, say they need at least another year to ensure the new accuracy and completeness of the registers.

Nearly half a million voters (mostly the young and those in private rented homes) will disappear from the London register. According to a recent HeraldScotland survey around 100,000 residents in Glasgow may also be left off the new system. The picture is likely to be much the same in other cities, especially in places where there’s greater mobility and concentrations of students.

These depleted registers across the UK will impact more on marginal Labour seats, especially  where turnout is already low. Conversely, they will benefit Tories in future local, Euro and general elections. As the Smith Institute report observers, Conservative voters tend to be older, home owners and less transient – and therefore more likely to appear on the electoral register.

The government continues to ignore the prospect of skewed election results owing to an incomplete electoral registers. The attitude of some Tory MPs hardly helping. For example, Eleanor Laing MP (the former shadow minister for justice) told the BBC that “if a young person cannot organize the filling in of a form that registers them to vote, they don’t deserve the right to vote”.  Leaving aside such glib remarks, what we do know is the new registers will tend to favour MPs whose support is found in more affluent rural and semi-rural areas which have stable populations.  

Even more worrying, the forthcoming changes to MPs constituencies (under the Boundary Review) will be based on the new electoral register. The new parliamentary constituencies will be based not on the voting population, but on an inaccurate and incomplete register. As Institute’s report argues, these changes are likely to unjustly benefit UKIP and the Conservative party.

That’s not to say that the voter registration system doesn’t need reforming.  It clearly does. Indeed, every evidence-based analysis of electoral registers over the last 20 years shows that both accuracy and completeness are declining – the two features of any electoral register that make it credible or not. But, the job must be done properly.  Casually leaving 10m voters off the electoral resister hardly suggests every effort has been made.

The legitimacy of our democratic system rests on ensuring that everyone can exercise their right to vote. This is a task which shouldn’t brook complacency or compromise.  We should be aiming for maximum voter registration, not settling for a system where one in five drop off the register.