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Jeremy Corbyn picks housing for first PMQ question after public consultation

Published 16/09/2015

Jeremy Corbyn speaks during his first Prime Minister's Questions as Labour leader
Jeremy Corbyn speaks during his first Prime Minister's Questions as Labour leader

New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn used his first session of Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons to deliver some of the 40,000 questions emailed to him by members of the public.

Mr Corbyn told David Cameron that in conversations with voters since his election as Labour leader he had repeatedly been told that they viewed PMQs and Parliament generally as "too theatrical" and "out of touch".

He said he had asked people to send him their suggestions for questions, and said his first came from a woman called Marie, who wanted to know what the PM would do about the "chronic" lack of affordable housing and "extortionate" rents.

Marie was one of 2,500 people who had asked about housing, he said.

Mr Corbyn told MPs that he was "very proud" of the number of people who had engaged in the process of debates and meetings which led to him being elected leader.

He said that in conversations following his elections "many told me that they thought PMQs was too theatrical, that Parliament was out of touch and too theatrical and they wanted things done differently.

"I thought at my first PMQs, I would do it in a slightly different way ... So I sent out an email to thousands of people and asked them what questions they would like to put to the Prime Minister and I received 40,000 replies."

Mr Corbyn said he was asking a question "from a woman called Marie - 'what does the Government intend to do about the chronic lack of affordable housing and the extortionate rents charged by some private sector landlords in this country'?"

Mr Cameron congratulated Mr Corbyn on his "resounding victory" and welcomed him to the frontbench.

He added: "I know we will have many strong disagreements I'm sure between us at these exchanges but where we can work together in the national interest we should do so and I wish him well in his job."

Mr Cameron said "no one would be more delighted than me" if PMQs could become a "genuine exercise in asking questions and answering questions".

On the housing question, the Prime Minister the government had delivered 260,000 affordable housing units in the last parliament and had built more council houses than over the course of the 13 years of the last Labour government.

He added: "But I recognise much more needs to be done."

Mr Cameron said more reforms of the planning system and the building industry were needed as well as helping people to get on the housing ladder.

He added: "We won't get Britain building unless we keep our economy going."

Before Mr Corbyn began his second questioned he thanked the Prime Minister " for his commitment that we are going to do Prime Minister's Questions in a more adult way than it's been done in the past".

He second lengthy question was on behalf of "Steven" about cuts in rent.

The Labour leader said: "I've got a question from Steven, who works for a housing association who says that the cut in rents will mean the company he works for will lose 150 jobs by next March because of the loss of that funding to the housing association to carry on with repairs.

"Down the line it will mean worse conditions, worse maintenance and fewer people working in it and a greater problem for people living in those properties .

"Does the Prime Minister not think it's time to reconsider the question of the funding of the administration of housing as well as of course the massive gap between what is needed and what is built?"

Mr Cameron replied: "I think for years in our country we had something of a merry-go-round where rent went up, housing benefit went up and so tax had to go up to pay for that.

"I think it was right in the budget to cut the rents that social tenants pay not least because those people that are working and not on housing benefit will see a further increase in their take home pay and be able to afford more things in life.

"It's vital though that we reform housing associations and make sure they are more efficient. F rankly they are a part of the public sector that hasn't been though efficiencies and haven't improved their performance and I think it's about time that they did."

Mr Corbyn said that the House of Commons had on Tuesday "sadly voted through proposals which are going to cost £1,300 per year to families affected by the change in tax credits".

The Labour leader said: "This is absolutely shameful. I had more than 1,000 questions on tax credits.

"Paul, for example, says this very heartfelt question: 'Why is the Government taking tax credits away from families? We need this money to survive, so our children don't suffer. Paying rent and council tax on a low income doesn't leave you much.Tax credits play a vital role and more is needed to stop us having to be reliant on food banks to survive'."

Mr Cameron said: "What we need is a country where work pays. What our proposals do are reform welfare but at the same time bring in a national living wage, which will mean anyone on the lowest rate of pay will get a £20 a week pay rise next year."

As his words were drowned out by shouts and jeers from the Labour benches, the PM broke off from his answer to say: "I thought this was the new Question Time. I'm not sure the message has fully got home."

He added: "I don't want to blind the House with statistics, but I give you these two: A family with someone on minimum wage, after all our changes, will be £2,400 better off.

"Second statistic... If you look at what happened between 1998 and 2009, in-work poverty went up by 20% at the same time as in-work benefits went from £6 billion to £28 billion.

"The old way of doing things isn't working and we shouldn't go back to it. What we've got to do is tackle the causes of poverty - get people back to work, improve our schools, improve childcare. Those are the ways we can create an economy where work pays and everyone is better off."

Mr Corbyn said the Institute for Fiscal Studies had found there were eight million people in paid work eligible for benefits or tax credits.

He added: "They are on average being compensated by just 26% of their losses by the so-called national living wage that the government has introduced.

"And, so, I ask a question from Claire, who says this, 'how is changing the thresholds of entitlement for tax credits going to help hard working people or families?'."

Mr Corbyn added: "They ask a simple question, how is this fair?"

Mr Cameron replied: "The country has to live within its means and we were left an unaffordable welfare system and a system where work didn't pay."

The Prime Minister pointed to statistics out today that showed the rate of employment has "reached, yet again, a record high".

Mr Cameron said the economy was moving away from low wages, high tax and high welfare to higher wages, lower tax and less welfare.

"That is the right answer. An economy where work pays, an economy where people can get on. Let us not go back to the days of unlimited welfare.

"Labour's position again today is to abolish the welfare cap.

"I say that a family that chooses to not work shouldn't be better off than one that chooses to work."

Mr Corbyn responded: "Many people don't have that choice, many people live in a very difficult situation and rely on the welfare state in order to survive. Surely, all of us have a responsibility to make sure people can live properly and decently in modern Britain. That's surely a decent, civil thing to do."

The Labour leader said he had received over 1,000 questions on mental health services.

"This is a very, very serious situation across the whole country," he said.

Mr Corbyn said a woman called Gail had asked him to ask the PM: "Do you think it's acceptable that the mental health services in this country are on their knees at the present time?"

Mr Cameron said that mental health was one of "the areas where we can work together".

He said the Government had made "some important steps" forward, bringing mental health into parity with physical health in the NHS constitution and introducing waiting time targets.

The PM said: "We've made the commitment - a commitment I hope he will back, undoing previous Labour policy - we've backed the Stevens Plan for an extra £8 billion into the NHS in this Parliament, which can help to fund better mental health services, among other things.

"There are problems in some mental health services and it's right we make that commitment.

"But I make this one point to him: We will not have a strong NHS unless we have a strong economy, and if the Labour party is going to go down the route of unlimited spending, unlimited borrowing, unlimited tax rates, printing money, they will wreck the economic security of our country and the family security of every family in our country.

"We won't be able to afford a strong NHS without a strong economy."

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