As we are discussing business today, it is worth mentioning the significant announcement just this afternoon that Channel Four Television has made the brilliant decision to move to the wonderful city of Leeds. I hope that this language is not too unparliamentary, but I am as chuffed as nuts about the news. I have supported this bid all the way through, and I pay tribute to the staff and the leadership that have made it a success. The bid was submitted by Leeds city region, and I am really looking forward to my constituents benefiting for decades to come and to West Yorkshire becoming an even greater bastion of creativity.
Let us return to the substantive subject before us: austerity and this Budget. After eight long years of constant cuts, austerity has not worked for Britain and it has not worked for my constituency. Our local hospital, Dewsbury and District, has had services removed and downgraded; our high streets are losing banks and post offices; our local authority, Kirklees, has been stripped back to the bone, with 50% cuts since 2010, and there are still millions of pounds worth of cuts to fight and who knows where they will come from in the coming years; and homelessness has doubled. I cannot forget the head teacher of one of our best schools in the constituency telling me that they have exhausted their ability to make savings around the edges. They have increased class sizes to such an extent that now all they can do is remove the whole German language department to balance the books. There seems to be something particularly cruel about allowing children to start educational discovery of another language only to have it whipped from underneath them owing to funding cuts from this Government.
The biggest immediate crisis facing my constituents is that of universal credit. The fact is that there is not enough money in the system and its harsh and failing structure is causing pain in communities such as mine. This is not just an academic exercise for accountants; it is about people like us—people like you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and those on the Conservative Benches. They are people with families, hopes and ambitions.
If the House will allow me, I would just like to share a couple of examples from my own constituency. One constituent was forced to sell off his white goods and furniture to pay rent and bills. Another constituent, a former carer, Carol, who recently retired on grounds of ill health, has had to wait eight weeks and counting with not a penny of income. We are trying our best to support her, but an eviction scare is on the horizon, which is absolutely impacting on her health. She has sold off all her jewellery and clothing; she has nothing left to sell. We must be able to do better than that. These cases are unfair and unjust.
I dread to think what people like Carol and the others would do if it were not for the food banks. I know that the people of Batley and Spen owe enormous gratitude to the volunteers at Batley food bank, who keep helping and keep supporting in the face of rising demand. Demand is up 50% on this time last year, and the volunteers are helping more than 100 adults and 40 children—let that land: 40 children. In the past two days alone, while we have been listening to and debating this Budget, the volunteers have helped 26 adults and 14 children. For some, going to the food bank is acute humiliation. One food bank volunteer told me of a middle-aged father of two who was out of work for the first time having been diagnosed with cancer. Waiting for his first welfare payment, he had nothing left for food for his family. He arrived at the food bank asking for help, but it was too much and he left saying, “I don’t want to be here. It’s embarrassing. I have worked all my life; I can’t do this.” The volunteer followed him, running into the street saying, “It’s society that should be ashamed, not you.” It is heartbreaking and it is unacceptable.
We are discussing business and, briefly, I would like to mention the plight of our nurseries in Batley and Spen and across the country. The fate of many nurseries is set by the decisions of this Government. A rise in the minimum wage is of course very welcome, but common sense suggests that it should come at the same time as an uplift in funding for childcare. My real fear is that, with the extra pressure on budgets, many excellent nurseries will go out of business in the most deprived areas, where parents are unable to afford top-ups and where children benefit the most. Those businesses are calling out for support, and they are not alone. There might be fewer potholes, but the social injustice facing our country remains unanswered, and that is just not good enough.