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These are turbulent and worrying times. I know that all Members of the House share my gratitude and admiration for the dedication of the doctors, nurses, carers, paramedics, police, teachers, shop workers, cleaners, delivery drivers, travel staff, charities, journalists and all those up and down our country who are keeping everyone as safe and informed as possible in the most testing circumstances.
This is no time for political point scoring, but the Budget is not just for the present; it is for the future, and it is imperative that it is analysed thoroughly. Some £500 million has been pledged to Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, but my local NHS proposes to use those vital funds to downgrade both Epsom and St Helier hospitals, reducing two A&Es to one and moving services away from the most deprived area and the people who need them most. St Helier hospital stands to lose an extraordinary 62% of beds and to become nothing more than a glorified walk-in centre. Under the spotlight of a pandemic, Members in every corner of the House can see clearly that we are in no position to be shrinking our acute health services. I welcome every penny committed to our NHS, but now more than ever we see the importance of the health service’s operating at full capacity when it is needed the most at St Helier hospital on its current site.
In unprecedented times, we operate day to day, but this Budget will outlive the coronavirus crisis. On Friday, as always, over half the constituents I met at my weekly advice surgery came to see me about a housing issue. I met Mrs L, who has been trapped in so-called temporary accommodation for two years, living in just one room and sharing a bed with her eight-year-old son, who suffers from epilepsy and autism, and her four-year-old daughter. I met a hard-working couple, Mr and Mrs N, who share a one-bedroom starter home with their two children, and their two friends and the friends’ two children. That is four adults and four children crammed into a one-bedroom starter home. I met Mrs B, who is facing eviction from her privately rented home, where her family have lived for the past 20 years. She cares for her disabled daughter and relies on universal credit, but an extraordinary £1,000 hike in the monthly rent is forcing the family out and into temporary accommodation. There should have been a Budget for these families.
I am used to reading warm promises but the Budget lacked even enough of those. According to the Budget papers, the Government have made good progress on boosting the housing supply. I must have been on a different planet for the past 10 years. There are 1.2 million families on social housing waiting lists across our country, but just 6,464 social homes were built in 2017-18, the second lowest number on record. At that rate, it would take 172 years to give everyone on the current waiting list a social rented home. Of course extra funds in the affordable homes programme are welcome, but only if affordable homes are truly affordable, which is not 80% of market value. What is more, it remains unclear exactly how much of the new settlement will be made available for social rented homes. In the light of that, I extend an invitation to any Minister, on any Friday, to attend my weekly advice surgery to see what hope they can offer to the increasing number of my constituents waiting for a place to call home.