May I just make it clear that I oppose a benefit cap in principle? This policy has been borne out of prejudice and political expediency, rather than reason. In every recession there are scapegoats, and it is usually the poor, who become a political football for political game-playing and advantage. I am not morally willing to involve myself in that debasing political game.
We all have to bring our own experiences of our constituents to this debate, which has exposed differences in their lifestyles, and at times it has been apparent that we do live in different worlds. I do not begrudge Members and their constituents who are in good, well-paid employment, in a secure home that they can afford and in a decent environment, but that is not the experience of many of my constituents, or of many constituents throughout the country.
I have lived in my constituency for about 35 years, and I live in statistically the most deprived ward in the borough. The vast majority of people whom I see around me desperately want to do what is needed to ensure that their families have a good quality of life. They pay back into the community in many ways, they work long hours often in insecure employment and their pay, in many instances, is low and often below the London living wage.
The risk is unemployment, which over recent years in my constituency has increased by 52%, and over the past year by 7%, so there will be times when many of my constituents will not be able to find work. They struggle, above all else, just to provide a decent roof over their family’s heads, and that is because we face the worst housing crisis since the second world war. Housing supply has not kept up with housing demand, council houses that were sold off in the 1980s and ’90s have not been replaced by successive Governments, and there has been an expansion in buy-to-let, higher-rent-charging landlords, who provide many of my constituents with squalid housing conditions and overcrowding—Rachmanite landlords, who are building up lucrative property empires.