Jeremy Corbyn has used prime minister’s questions a week before the budget to pressure Theresa May over cuts to public services and benefits, highlighting what he said was a crisis for emergency services, schools and the NHS.
On police funding, the Labour leader prompted laughter by highlighting a tweet from Boris Johnson expressing his anger at the planned closure of the police station in his west London constituency.
“I’ve been following some of the tweets from some of her friends along the front bench over there,” Corbyn said. “One of them, and I quote, says: ‘Very disappointed and mystified at the closure of Uxbridge police station.’”
May brought laughter from her own benches when she argued this was mainly down to the actions of the Labour mayor of London.
“He might not have notice but the police and crime commissioner in London is the mayor,” she said. “The last time I looked Sadiq Khan was a Labour mayor, although perhaps the leader of the Labour party thinks he’s not Labour enough for him.”
Corbyn used his questions to push May over cuts as well as what he said was the disastrous rollout of universal credit.
Following the Grenfell Tower fire in June, which killed at least 80 people, he challenged May to provide central government funding so that all similar high-rise buildings could be fitted with sprinklers.
“In the wake of the terrible Grenfell Tower fire, the prime minister was very clear when she said this could not be allowed to happen again, and money would be no object to fire safety,” Corbyn said.
“Will she therefore now back the campaign to provide £1bn to local councils to retro-fit sprinklers to all high-rise blocks?”
May replied: “Some owners do retro-fit sprinklers, but there are other safety measures that can take place.”
She stressed that some Labour-run councils in London, including Haringey, Lewisham, Lambeth and Islington, had expressed doubts about the wisdom of the sprinkler policy, with concerns including that the work could undermine compartmentalisation, which limits the spread of fire in tower blocks.
Corbyn devoted two questions to universal credit. The government is under intense pressure to amend the new benefits system, especially the initial six-week wait for payments, which critics say pushes many people into debt or rent arrears.
The Labour leader said he had been sent a letter from a lettings agency in Lincolnshire, where universal credit is about to arrive, giving a pre-emptive notice of eviction for all tenants on benefits over worries the system would cause rent arrears.
He said: “Will the prime minister pause universal credit so it can be fixed, or does she think it is right to put thousands of families through Christmas in the trauma of knowing they’re about to be evicted because they’re in rent arrears, because of universal credit?”
May said she hoped Corbyn would pass her the letter, and she would look into the issue.
She added: “There have been concerns raised in the house previously over the issue of people managing their budgets to pay rent. But what we see is that after four months the number of people on universal credit in arrears has fallen by a third.”
Corbyn questioned May on the rise of food bank use in areas where universal credit is in place, and on funding for the NHS and what he called the “longest and deepest financial squeeze in history” for schools budgets.
May responded confidently on most issues, clearly buoying her MPs after a tricky couple of weeks in which her government has lost two cabinet ministers and faced a rebellion over its Brexit plans.
This article was written by Peter Walker Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 15th November 2017 13.29 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010