It has been a really tumultuous time in the political world, The Labour Government is having a tough time and every day seems to bring a new big event, a new big story. Sometimes we feel rather buffeted by events. The important thing for me is to keep my eye on the ball and continue to press for the things that are important to the people who elected me. That’s what I continue to try to do with my ongoing campaigns to plug the poverty gap.
In recent months I have been approached by increasingly desperate constituents trying to do their best to get on, but finding themselves penalised because they are among the 5,595 people in Newham stuck in temporary accommodation.
One was a mother promoted at work twice only to find she was moved to a different flat and the rent hiked up from £78 per week to £355 – more than a mortgage for a one-bedroom flat. This meant she would be better off quitting work and living on benefits.
I took this, and other real life examples from constituents, to a meeting with Chief Secretary to the Treasury Yvette Cooper and I urged her to look again at the way housing benefits are calculated. Many of you have told me that the way the current system works makes it impossible to work and pay rent – This makes no sense at all.
But it is not just about benefits and wages – it is also about the supply of housing. Some help is already on the way, with 45,000 new homes in London alone, of which half was intended to be social housing under Ken Livingstone. I will work with other colleagues to try and keep Boris Johnson to both those targets. The Government has also put aside £200m nationally to purchase unsold new homes, either to rent out to social tenants or to make them available to first time buyers on shared ownership schemes.
I raised the issue of Newham housing and the poverty gap at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) twice in recent weeks. With 5,000 people in Newham living in often sub-standard temporary accommodation, most paying unaffordable amounts of over £1,000 rent each month, action is needed. That’s why I asked the Prime Minster to do something for families on low incomes trapped in benefit dependency. I want to see a thorough overhaul of the benefits system to incentivise work.
I am also finding however that more and more people at my surgery who are living on low wages are often not claiming the benefits or tax credits they are entitled to. It is not charity - people on good salaries ensure that they pay the correct amount of tax and take advantage of any tax concessions or tax relief available to them so why do people on low incomes think it is a stigma to do the same?