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At the 2010 general election, the Conservative party promised to eradicate the deficit by 2015. Now the Government have no target for getting rid of the deficit at all. Billions have been cut from our public services over the past eight years, and we still face a budget deficit of £52 billion and a national debt that has nearly doubled since the Conservatives came into government in 2010. The Government have borrowed £670 billion over the past eight years, and my local councils, the Conservative-led Lancashire County Council and Labour’s Preston City Council, are both at breaking point because of cuts.
Turning to the tragedy of universal credit, since June 2018, 71 constituents have written to me expressing the immense problems that many of them are facing due to the transition to universal credit. I will give just one example. Stuart obtained a three-month sick note from his GP due to illness. The jobcentre then started to apply for jobs on his behalf, despite his illness. He then had to wait five weeks before he received his first payment, because of the transition. That is a disgrace, and it is happening to many people across the country who are ill, disabled and, in many cases, destitute.
One of my many local food banks distributed more than 2,000 food parcels in August, up from its normal distribution of more than 1,000 food parcels. I am reliably informed that more than half of those food parcels were given out because of benefits issues, and I am also told that the majority of those issues are because of the transition to universal credit.
The Guardian reports today that my constituency of Preston is the most improved city in the UK, which is welcome. A lot of that is due to the hard work of the public and private sectors, which are working together for the benefit of Prestonians with the encouragement of the city council. However, that has happened in spite of Government policies, not because of them. Many commercial properties in the city centre are unoccupied, derelict and neglected, despite the good work of the business improvement district to stimulate the local economy. Homeless people occupy empty shop doorways, and in the past eight years I have seen a huge increase in the number of people begging on the main street, Fishergate.