I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Sharma on leading the debate so thoroughly. I shall be brief.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear my usual plea for a redesign of the local housing areas. Stroud was put in the same local housing area as Gloucester. That had nothing to do with this Government—a previous Government did it—but because Gloucester’s rents are traditionally much lower than Stroud’s, it has affected us particularly badly. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us some good things, because it has had two effects.
First, people on lower incomes in my constituency are now being forced towards Gloucester, because it is the only place where they can pick up private renting. Secondly and more particularly, there is a huge shortfall. Private landlords are increasingly refusing to take anyone on benefits in the Stroud area, because they know that there is a shortfall. It has undoubtedly pushed rents up—it is difficult to prove, but that is the word on the street—which has put my local authority, Stroud District Council, under even more pressure as a result of homelessness, even though it is trying to build more houses and bring more social housing into play.
The best illustration is the horrifying figures that I and other hon. Members received from Shelter when preparing for our debate. In the Gloucester-Stroud local housing area—I suspect the figures for Stroud alone are much worse—only 9% of four-bedroom properties are within the local housing allowance.