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Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:27 pm on 19th March 2015.

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Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Labour, Hackney South and Shoreditch 2:27 pm, 19th March 2015

I do not doubt that some are, but my particular issue is brownfield sites that are owned by the public—the taxpayer. They are part of Government departments and are being sold off to the highest bidder rather than adding value to the local community. With all due respect, I am sure that Northampton is a lovely place to be, but my constituents want to live in Hackney South and Shoreditch and Hoxton and Homerton. They do not want to be living out of London, facing long commutes to work. When people are on the minimum wage, that is just not an option. In fact, even if they are on much more than the minimum wage it is not an option, as commuting costs make it unsustainable.

Kingsland fire station was not only rashly closed by our Tory Mayor of London but has now been sold off for a rumoured £28 million. That clearly cannot be for affordable housing, but the situation is still shrouded in secrecy and we are waiting for final information. Another example, neighbouring my constituency, is the Mount Pleasant sorting office in Islington, which my hon. Friend Emily Thornberry has rightly championed. That huge publicly owned former sorting office site is being sold mostly for luxury homes. It is time that the Treasury rules changed and, instead of the highest cash bid winning, the welfare and benefits of local people were taken into account.

What do the Government offer on housing? They offer Help to Buy and now the ISA for homebuyers, with up to £3,000 for young savers. They are great for those people, but it fuels the house price increases we have seen in my constituency. Let me give Members the flavour of that. In 2005, the average house price was £269,000. Today, the average house price—it might have gone up since I looked at it this morning—is £606,000. That is a staggering 124.9% increase in 10 years.

Rents are also rising sky high and there is nothing in the Budget for renters. The median private rent in Hackney is £330 a week and median full-time earnings in Hackney are £608 a week. More than half of people’s earnings are going on rent and many are trapped sharing bedrooms with strangers, using living rooms as bedrooms and not having the option of moving. It is impossible to be sure that one can raise a family in most private sector accommodation, as there is no security. I am glad that my Front Benchers are considering this, but we need to go further and Hackney is an example of what will face other parts of the country in future.

I was staggered to hear the Business Secretary defend the bedroom tax. In the Hackney Homes homes alone—the former council properties—2,160 tenants have been hit by the bedroom tax. It sums up the Government’s approach, because it does not work. There are no homes for people to move to and it is costing the taxpayer. Let me give an example. One woman was living in a three-bedroom property. Her teenager moved out and she was temporarily not working, so she was encouraged to move to a smaller two-bedroom property. She did so, but even though it was a social housing property, the rent was higher than that for her three-bedroom property. She faces a terrible struggle to find work that will pay the higher rent and she has lost the home that had been the family home. It is mean-spirited, it undermines the stability of secure tenancies and it is wrong. It must go. No ifs, no buts—if there is a Labour Government, the bedroom tax will be abolished.

The Chancellor talked about tax avoidance, and aggressive tax avoidance must be tackled. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee I have been playing a role, along with the hon. Member for South Norfolk, in ensuring that that happens. We know that uncollected tax has risen by £3 billion under this Government and all parties want to see more investment in HMRC’s ability to tackle companies that are running rings around Revenue officials to pay as little tax as they possibly can. Let us consider businesses up and down the country. Businesses in my constituency tell me that not only is it difficult to borrow money, despite the Government’s raft of lending schemes, but overdrafts are a big issue. I see that the Economic Secretary, who is the Minister responsible for banking, is in her place. Why do we let the high street banks off the hook every time when we discuss these issues? They should be lending to local businesses. They are best placed to make a decision about what works for those businesses, but they do not do it.

I am delighted that the Minister is in her place, because I know she has a genuine passion for change in the banking sector. In the Budget and the document

“Banking for the 21st Century”, there is no mention of real-time data on credit records. We currently have to wait 30 to 60 days for our data on lending to be available on a credit record. That encourages irresponsible lending. We have had a lot of debate about payday lending, but real-time data on credit records would have ensured that such lending applied only to those who could afford to pay back the loans. If the Minister can give me any indication of the Government's latest thinking on that and how fast they could move towards what seems to me to be a sensible measure, I would very much welcome that.

The Budget does nothing for my constituents. It screws the poorest down into a very difficult situation. They are feeling trapped, unable to escape from a situation that is not of their making. Their incomes have gone down and they are caught in a benefits trap, despite the fact that many of them want to get out of it. The Government are awarding people they believe will vote for their party but not delivering for my constituents.