Most of the coverage of Jeremy Corbyn’s first Prime Minister’s Question time has focussed on his style, but what about the PM’s answers? They’re quite interesting if you cut through the waffle to see what he’s actually saying.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): 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.
There is not time to ask 40,000 questions today—our rules limit us to six—so I would like to start with the first one, which is about housing. Two-and-a-half thousand people emailed me about the housing crisis in this country. I ask one from a woman called Marie, who says, “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?”
What the Prime Minister said: I recognise that much more needs to be done. That means carrying on with our reform of the planning system, and it means encouraging the building industry to come up with innovative schemes like the starter homes scheme, but, above all, it means continuing to support the aspirations of people to be able to afford their own homes, which is where schemes such as Help to Buy come in. But I say this to the right hon. Gentleman: we will not get Britain building unless we keep our economy going.
What the Prime Minister meant: Let’s continue to reform the planning system to take power away from communities. Developers should be given free reign. I have no intention of controlling the buy to let market which is pushing up property prices as potential house buyers have to compete with investors, and I have no intention of changing the focus of development away from SE England to areas where there are houses but not jobs. Heaven forbid – that would cut the prices of my rich friends’ houses!
Jeremy Corbyn: I have a question from Steven, who works for a housing association. He says that the cut in rents will mean that the company that he works for will lose 150 jobs by next March because of the loss of funding for that housing association to carry on with its repairs. Down the line, that will mean worse conditions, worse maintenance, fewer people working there, and a greater problem for people living in those properties. Does the Prime Minister not think it is time to reconsider the question of the funding of the administration of housing, as well as, of course, the massive gap of 100,000 units a year between what is needed and what is being built?
What the Prime Minister said: I think it was right in the Budget to cut the rents that social tenants pay, not least because people who are working and not on housing benefit will see a further increase in their take-home pay, and will be able to afford more things in life. I think it is vital, though, that we reform housing associations and make sure that they are more efficient. They are a part of the public sector that has not been through efficiencies and has not improved its performance, and I think it is about time that it did.
What the Prime Minister meant: Housing associations are a barrier to free markets should be privatised. What we need are more private letting agencies.
Jeremy Corbyn: Paul asks this very heartfelt question: “Why is the government taking tax credits away from families? We need this money to survive and 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 become reliant on food banks to survive.”
What the Prime Minister said: What we need is a country where work genuinely pays, and that is why what our proposals do is reform welfare, but at the same time bring in a national living wage which will mean that anyone on the lowest rate of pay will get a £20-a-week pay rise next year. A family where one of whose members is on the minimum wage will be £2,400 better off. What we must do is tackle the causes of poverty: get people back to work, improve our schools, improve childcare. Those are the ways in which we can create an economy in which work pays and everyone is better off.
What the Prime Minister meant: We haven’t really thought through how to transition people onto a living wage and I really can’t be bothered to do so now. I’d really prefer not to pay any of these people anything and have a society in which everyone works and I’m better off. Oh, and don’t mention rent control!
Jeremy Corbyn: 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? I work part-time; my husband works full-time earning £25,000”—they have five children—“This decrease in tax credits will see our income plummet.” They ask a simple question: how is this fair?
What the Prime Minister said: The country has to live within its means and we were left an unaffordable welfare system and a system where work did not pay. What we are doing is moving from an economy with low wages, high tax and high welfare to an economy where we have higher wages, lower taxes 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 not to work should not be better off than one that chooses to work.
What the Prime Minister meant: I don’t give a damn about fairness or people whose circumstances mean they can’t work. I’ll pretend that I haven’t noticed that the people in your question were working, and bang on about out of work scroungers instead ‘cos the Daily Mail will like that.
Jeremy Corbyn: I want to put to the Prime Minister a question that was put to me very simply from Gail: “Do you think it is acceptable that the mental health services in this country are on their knees at the present time?”
What the Prime Minister said: Mental health and physical health now have parity in the NHS constitution. We have introduced for the first time waiting time targets for mental health services so they are not seen as a Cinderella service, and of course we have made the commitment 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 is right that we make that commitment.
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 and 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 will not be able to afford a strong NHS without a strong economy.
What the Prime Minister meant: I think jam tomorrow should be enough for mental health services. Just let me get on with making money.
Jeremy Corbyn: I ask a question from Angela, who is a mental health professional, so she knows exactly what she is talking about. She says this: “Beds are unobtainable with the result that people suffering serious mental health crises are either left without adequate care or alternatively admitted to facilities many miles away from their homes, relatives and family support systems. The situation is simply unacceptable.” What does the Prime Minister say to Angela?
What Prime Minister said: We need to do more as a country to help tackle mental health. That is obviously about money into the health service, but it is also about changing the way the health service helps those with mental health conditions. Mental health beds are important, but so is the service that people get when they visit their GP. Many people going into their GP surgeries have mental health conditions, but they are not treated for those conditions and do not get access to, for instance, the cognitive behavioural therapies that are increasingly being made available. So change the way the NHS works and change public attitudes to mental healthbut we will not be able to do any of those things without the strong economy that we have built over these last five years.
What the Prime Minister meant: How can we do this on the cheap?