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[First published on South Leeds Life, 03 September 2016]

First of all, many congratulations to the Leeds and Yorkshire Olympians – and by the time you read this I hope Para-Olympians - on their tremendous medal successes in Rio. Having spent part of my summer holiday glued to the television in the small hours, like many people, it’s a reminder of what skill, professionalism, dedication and sheer hard work can achieve.

Talking of holidays, we went to Scotland and found ourselves on the island of Islay. It is a beautiful place with sweeping beaches and whitewashed cottages, and home it seems to more whisky distilleries than any other place on earth. According to the Island’s website ”it is believed that the Irish monks first introduced the art of distillation to Islay during the early fourteenth century. Due to the fact that Islay was a fertile island for growing barley, called bere in the old days, with excellent pure water sources and plenty of peat, the island had everything in favour to distill whisky.”  Being a teetotaller, my interest in the history doesn’t quite extend to sampling the product, but I am assured by those who do that it is very good!

One of the other essentials for an MP on holiday is searching for a wi-fi connection to keep up with emails and in touch with what’s happening in the world.

Discovering a superfast connection on the very north coast of rural Scotland really does bring home that some of my constituents still have to contend with a miserably slow broadband service, a point forcefully made by a number of emails I got while I was away.  Sometimes they come from people who have just moved into the area and are shocked by the glacial pace of their connection; on other occasions it’s a sign that the patience of someone working from home has finally been exhausted.

Let’s face it, a good Internet connection is now as important to where we live as a supply of gas, electricity or a telephone is. Overall, the UK is doing pretty well with more and more homes and businesses having access to superfast broadband, but there are still pockets of unacceptably poor service in south Leeds.

What’s needed is investment to upgrade telephone cabinets and install fibre optic cables, but as I have learned while dealing with a number of complaints, it seems to be all down to the companies to decide whether they think it is commercially viable to do this or not. In one case I worked on with the local residents - in New Forest Village -  BT Openreach had decided that there wouldn’t be a big enough take-up to justify the investment. But when they did eventually upgrade one of the cabinets they were overwhelmed with people wanting to buy faster broadband which suggested that their estimate of demand was way off.

Ofcom – the regulator – recently looked at the performance of BT Openreach and has set out a number of new conditions for it to meet, but the truth is very simple. We all need superfast broadband, whether it’s for our homework, online shopping, running our businesses or keeping in touch while we are away. It is now time we got it right across the city to ensure that Leeds remains a prosperous and vibrant place.

So would all the suppliers out there please note!

Hilary's Article for South Leeds Life - September 2016

[First published on South Leeds Life, 03 September 2016]

Watch Hilary's challenge to the Education Secretary here


Why the return of grammar schools won't help our children to succeed

Watch Hilary's challenge to the Education Secretary here

It is deeply concerning that homelessness and rough sleeping have both risen sharply since 2010.  While homelessness fell by 62% under the previous Labour government (1998 to 2010), the number of families accepted as homeless has risen by a third since 2010, and recorded rough sleeping has doubled in the last six years and has risen by 30% in the last year alone.

Housing failure over the last six years has caused worry and misery for millions of people now struggling with the cost of the housing crisis and facing higher rents, more homelessness, the lowest rate of home ownership in a generation, and fewer homes built than at any time since the 1920s. The rise in homelessness can be traced directly to decisions taken by the Government which have led to big cuts in housing benefit support, cuts to funding for homelessness support services; and soaring private rents and the loss of affordable homes, with over 150,000 fewer council homes than in 2010. I am concerned that the Government's cuts in funding to supported housing providers, including homeless shelters, will add to homelessness if specialist housing, sheltered accommodation, refuges, and homeless hostels are forced to close.

By contrast, the Welsh Government has recently introduced a Housing Act with a new focus on early action to prevent homelessness. People living in Wales who find themselves at risk of homelessness receive assistance before they actually lose their home and thereby avoid the distressing experience of eviction and homelessness. Welsh local authorities have a legal duty to provide a "person-centred approach" through the use of Personal Housing Plans, which are developed in consultation with anyone at risk of homelessness.

The spiralling scale of homelessness shames us all when Britain is one of the richest countries in the world.  The UK Government should follow the example set by the Welsh Government and urgently tackle the root causes of homelessness in England, in particular evictions from the private rented sector and the availability of housing, which are among the key drivers of homelessness.

In the March 2016 Budget, the then Chancellor pledged £115 million to help homelessness. However, this is not new money and I am concerned it will do very little to recover the funding that the Government is set to strip from homelessness hostels and other specialist housing. Indeed, the National Audit Office has found that funding for homelessness services was cut by 45% between 2010 and 2015.

I am aware that charities such as St Mungo's and Crisis are calling for reform to the law on homelessness in England in order to focus more on intervening early and on preventing homelessness. The Government has stated that it will explore options, including legislation, to prevent more people from facing homelessness in the first place. However, the Government failed to include legislation on this in the Queen's Speech in May 2016.

As you may be aware, in August 2016, the House of Commons' Communities and Local Government Select Committee published a report which recommends a cross-Departmental Government Strategy on homelessness. The committee has also called on the Government to support the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which, as you may know, is a Private Members' Bill. I intend to be in the House of Commons to support the Bill when it has its Second Reading on 28 October 2016.

The Government urgently needs a clear plan to help those currently homeless and to address the root causes of homelessness. A failure to do so would betray some of our society's most vulnerable people.

Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central



It is deeply concerning that homelessness and rough sleeping have both risen sharply since 2010.  While homelessness fell by 62% under the previous Labour government (1998 to 2010), the number...

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