Prime Minister’s Questions – Tax credits, housing & breast cancer

Jeremy Corbyn: I echo the Prime Minister’s tributes to the two RAF airmen killed in Afghanistan, Flight Lieutenant Geraint Roberts and Flight Lieutenant Alan Scott, and also the sadness at the death of David Phillips in the line of duty, as many police officers do face danger. I absolutely concur with the Prime Minister’s remarks about that.

I am sure the Prime Minister and the whole House would also join me in expressing sympathies and sadness at the more than 100 people who died in a bomb blast in Ankara last Sunday, attending a peace rally of all things, and our sympathies must go to all of them.

I want to ask the Prime Minister a question about tax credits. I have had 2,000 people email me in the last three days offering a question to the Prime Minister on tax credits. I will choose just one. Kelly writes:

“I’m a single mum to a disabled child, I work 40.5 hours each week in a job that I trained for, I get paid £7.20 per hour! So in April the Prime Minister is not putting my wage up but will be taking tax credits off me!”

So my question is: can the Prime Minister tell us how much worse off Kelly will be next year?

The Prime Minister: First, let me welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said and join him in what he said about the terrible bomb in Ankara, where over 100 people were killed. Our thoughts should be with the families of those who suffered and with that country as it struggles against this terrorism. Let me answer him directly on the question of tax credits. What we are doing is bringing in the national living wage, which will be a £20 a week pay rise for people next year. Obviously, Kelly will benefit as that national living wage rises to £9— [Interruption.]

Sorry, what happened to the new approach? I thought questions were going to be asked so that they could be responded to. Right, so there is the introduction of the national living wage, which will reach £9 by the end of the Parliament. This will benefit Kelly. In April next year, we will raise to £11,000 the amount that you can earn before you start paying taxes. If Kelly has children, she will benefit from the 30 hours of childcare that we are bringing in. I do not know all Kelly’s circumstances, but in addition, if she is a council house or housing association tenant, we are cutting her rent. All those things are important, as is the increase in employment and the increase in wages taking place today.

Jeremy Corbyn: I thank the Prime Minister for that. I can tell him, in case he is not aware of it, that Kelly is going to be £1,800 a year worse off next April, that there are another 3 million families in this country who will also be worse off next April, and that after housing costs, 500,000 more children are now in poverty compared with five years ago, in 2010. On top of that, his new tax credit policy will put another 200,000 children into poverty. Is not the truth of the matter that this Government are taking away the opportunities and limiting the life chances of hundreds of thousands of children from poorer or middle income families in our society? Should he not be aware of that when he makes these decisions?

The Prime Minister: The fact is that since I became Prime Minister there are 480,000 fewer children in households where nobody works. There are 2 million more people in work and almost 1 million more women in work. There are 250,000 more young people in work. The best route out of poverty is to help people get a job. Even though the unemployment figures came out today and we can see 140,000 more people in work, the hon. Gentleman still has not welcomed that fall in unemployment. The point he needs to focus on is this: all these people benefit from a growing economy where wages are rising and inflation is falling, and where we are getting rid of our deficit to create economic stability. It is that stability that we will be voting on in the Lobby tonight.

Jeremy Corbyn: The Prime Minister is doing his best, and I admire that, but will he acknowledge that people in work often rely on tax credits to make ends meet? He and his party have put forward a Budget that cuts tax credits and gives tax breaks to the very wealthiest in our society, so that inequality is getting worse, not better. Should he not think for a moment about the choices that he is making, and the reality that results for the very poorest people in our society?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman talks about the reform of tax credits; let me tell him why that is necessary. Between 1998 and 2010, the bill for tax credits went from £6 billion to £30 billion, yet at the same time in-work poverty went up by 20%. The system of taking money away from people and giving it back to them in tax credits was not working. We say it is better to let people earn more and then take less from them in taxes. In this country, we now have 2 million more people in work. The figures that the hon. Gentleman quotes for inequality are simply wrong. There are 800,000 fewer people in relative poverty than in 2010, and there are 300,000 fewer children in relative poverty since 2010. If he wants to know why, it is because we took difficult decisions to get our deficit down, to get our economy growing and to deliver the strongest growth anywhere in the western world. Tonight, Labour Members have a choice. A week ago, they were committed to getting the deficit down and running a surplus, just like us, but for some reason—I know not why—they have decided to do a 180°-turn and vote for more borrowing for ever. Is that now the position of the Labour party?

Jeremy Corbyn: The reality is that 3 million low and middle-income families will be worse off as a result of the tax credit changes. If the Prime Minister wants to change his mind on tax credits, he is very welcome to do so. He will have an opportunity at next week’s Opposition day debate, which is on this very subject. I am sure that he will want to take part in that debate and explain why it is such a good idea to make so many people so much worse off.

I have had 3,500 questions on housing in the past few days. I have a question from Matthew. [Interruption.] This might be funny to some Members, but it is not funny to Matthew or to many others. Matthew says:

“I live in a private rented house in London with three other people. Despite earning a salary well over the median wage, buying even the cheapest of properties will be well beyond my reach for years.”

Does the Prime Minister really believe that £450,000 is an affordable price for a new home for someone on an average income to try to aspire to?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the issue of housing, particularly the affordability of housing in London. I say to Matthew that we are doing everything we can to get councils to build more houses, particularly affordable houses that he can buy. The hon. Gentleman quotes the figure of £450,000, but what we are saying is that that should be the upper limit for a starter home in London. We want to see starter homes in London built at £150,000 and £200,000, so that people like Matthew can stop renting and start buying. What have we done for people like Matthew? We have introduced Help to Buy, so for the first time we are helping people to get their deposit together so that they can buy a new home. We are also giving people like Matthew the right to buy their housing association home. [Interruption.] That is interesting. We hear groans from the Labour party, but the entire housing association movement is now backing our plan and telling people that they will be able to buy their home. I say to the hon. Gentleman: let us work together and get London building to get prices down so that people like Matthew can afford to buy a home of their own.

Jeremy Corbyn: May I bring the Prime Minister back to reality? The past five years have seen a low level of house building—fewer than half the new buildings that are needed have been built—rapidly rising rents; rising homelessness; and a higher housing benefit bill. Even his friends at the CBI say we need to build at least 240,000 homes per year. Will he now address the problem that local authorities face in accessing funds to undertake the necessary and essential building of council housing? The Government appear to have a growing obsession with selling off publicly owned properties rather than building homes for people who desperately need them so that children can grow up in a safe and secure environment, which is what we all want for all of our children.

The Prime Minister: Let me deal with all the hon. Gentleman’s points in turn. First, now that the housing association movement is backing the Right to Buy scheme, there will be up to a million extra homeowners, with the money going back into building more homes. Secondly, over the past five years that I have been Prime Minister, we have built more council homes than the previous Labour Government built in 13 years. [Interruption.] That is a bit of reality that the hon. Gentleman might want to digest. The most important point is that if we want to build homes, we need a strong and stable economy. We will not have a strong and stable economy if we adopt the new Labour position, which is borrowing money for ever. I urge Opposition Members who believe in a strong economy, paying down our deficit, and ensuring that we deliver for working people to join us in the Lobby tonight.

Jeremy Corbyn: It would be very nice if the Prime Minister actually answered the question I asked. [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. These proceedings should be conducted in a seemly way, and chuntering from a sedentary position, from either Front Bench, is not helpful. Members must remain calm. Be as good as you can be.

Jeremy Corbyn: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am totally calm, I assure you, and I do not intend to engage in any chuntering.

The question I put to the Prime Minister was this: what is he doing to allow local authorities to build the homes that are necessary for people who have no opportunity to buy and who cannot afford to remain in the private rented sector? I realise that this might be complicated, so I would be very happy for him to write to me about it. We could then share the letter with others.

I want to turn my attention to another subject in my final question. I realise that the Prime Minister might not be able to give me a full answer today, but he might like to write to me about it. As I am sure he is aware, yesterday was secondary breast cancer awareness day. In Brighton last month I met two women who are suffering from terminal breast cancer, Frances and Emma. Apparently the Prime Minister met their organisation in 2010. They raised with him a serious problem with the collection of data in all hospitals across the country on the incidence of secondary breast cancer, its treatment and the success rates, or otherwise, of that treatment. As I understand it, that information is not being collected as efficiently as it might be or centralised sufficiently.

I would be grateful if the Prime Minister could follow up on the promise he made to those women in 2010 to ensure that the data are collected and centralised in order to help every woman going through the trauma of not only breast cancer, but secondary breast cancer, knowing that it is terminal, but also knowing that there might be some treatment that could alleviate the pain and possibly extend their lives. Will he undertake to do that and reply to me as soon as possible?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this matter. At my party conference I met the same campaigners whom he met at his, and I had a good discussion with them. We all know people who have had the tragedy of having breast cancer, and one can only imagine what it must be like to survive primary breast cancer and recover, only to find out that one has a secondary cancer, and often one that is completely incurable. The campaigners are asking for better information, not least because they want to ensure that we spread best practice to every hospital so that we really do treat people as quickly as possible. I had a conversation with them and relayed it to the Health Secretary. I am very happy to write to the hon. Gentleman about it. Making sure that people get the right diagnosis quickly and that we then use the information to tackle secondary breast cancer is absolutely essential for our country.