Heidi Allen on tax credits social media and the housing crisis in Cambridge

heidi_allen_twitter08:24 Friday 23rd October 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: It has been a very busy week for South Cambridgeshire’s Conservative MP Heidi Allen. Her maiden parliamentary speech on tax credits drew praise from all sides for its compassionate tone to those who will be affected by cuts. But equally it drew criticism from those who say her voting record doesn’t match with the sentiments she expressed. Here’s a quick taste of her speech.
HEIDI ALLEN: As these proposals stand too many people will be adversely affected. Something must give. For those of us proud enough to call ourselves compassionate Conservatives, it must not be the backs of the working families we purport to serve.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Well Heidi Allen joins me now. Hello there Heidi.
HEIDI ALLEN: Good morning Dotty.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So the charge is that you said one thing, you said that changing and cutting tax credits is a bad idea. But then you voted along with it anyway. How do you plead?
HEIDI ALLEN: I plead not guilty because the charge is wrong. It’s funny actually because you’re right, I’ve had a bit of a mixed reaction. I suppose that’s largely because when people pick up trends and moods on Twitter they’re perhaps piggy-backing on the back of something and weren’t there at the beginning to hear what I actually said. Because I was very clear in my speech that I couldn’t support the motion and that I wouldn’t be voting for it. I said that probably about half way through.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So this was a motion not to change the tax credit system.
HEIDI ALLEN: The motion was to reverse it completely and stop any change to the tax credit system, which as I said in my speech was just too black and white. Because my argument was yes, things do need to change. But I think we need to do it much more slowly and with in mind the difficulty that it will put working families through who rely on these benefits at the moment. So I plead not guilty. People need to listen to my speech.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. So why do you feel so passionately about the issue of tax credits?
HEIDI ALLEN: It’s not even tax credits per se. It’s just that I feel like I’m on the side of people who need a helping hand in life really. That’s why I got in to politics. And I see it in South Cambs. all the time, because we’re such a wealthy prosperous area. And you’ll know yourself affordability of housing is spiralling out of control, and we’re reaching a position where we’re getting a bit of a have and a have-not. And I just think when we’re in government, when we’re the people that make the rules, we have a duty I feel to help those people who are behind the financial curve if you like, help them reach where we want to get to. And chopping off what they’ve been used to overnight isn ‘t going to do that. And I just think that’s not fair really.
DOTTY MCLEOD: I suppose that some people might say if you had voted in favour of this motion , which was to reverse all of the changes to tax credits, then at least you could have started from scratch again and worked towards a system which you feel might have been fairer.
HEIDI ALLEN: No, unfortunately. In theory that sounds exactly what would have happened, but it’s not. I’m learning the legal language and the processes in Westminster, but it was what they call a non-legally binding motion . We weren’t voting on changing the Bill. That would have had real effect if you like. This was about changing .. this was a motion, it was something put forward by the Opposition, so it wouldn ‘t, even if it had been voted through positively it wouldn ‘t have had legal standing.
DOTTY MCLEOD: It is complicated isn ‘t it?
DOTTY MCLEOD: How are you finding all of these kind of legal ins and outs and bureaucracy in Government?
HEIDI ALLEN: You have to take your time. The hardest part actually is because there’s so much of it going on all the time, and you’re so busy. It’s making sure you have the time to fully understand what you’re voting for and what you’re doing. And that is tricky, because it’s a phenomenally busy job. I used to think there were twenty four hours in the day. I’ve recently learned that there are thirty six, because you are just .. I’m on my emails from dawn to dusk, I really am. And you know sometimes things can slip. So you know it is important that you try and .. I’ve been really looking closely at the Order paper for next week to see what’s coming up, to see if there’s anything tax credit related in there. But it’s hard, so it’s deeply hard for members of the public when they’re just .. particularly I think Twitter had a lot to do with it, so just piggy-backing on hearing a little bit of something and not perhaps fully understanding the full story.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And I just want to talk a little bit more about something you said a moment ago about how you feel that in South Cambridgeshire you’re almost approaching a situation where there are have and have-nots. What do you mean by that?
HEIDI ALLEN: Well just that because the price of housing is just going up at this extraordinary exponential rate. I think everybody would accept in any town, any village, any society, you will have people who earn less or don ‘t live in the big house at the end of the road. But the problem that I think we’re facing is people on what you would consider a good job, all those lab technicians, all those people in professional jobs, they can’t afford to live there either. So we’re not talking about people you might traditionally think well that sort of salary, perhaps you’d be in a council home. People in what you would consider .. they’ve done degrees, PhDs, really top jobs, they’re struggling as well. And that to me is a massive wake up call. We’ve got to do something.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And six months, or nearly six months into your MP-ship, are you still confident that you can do something to help?
HEIDI ALLEN: Yes I am. Yes I am. Because I’ve got an amazing team of councillors who are determined. Yes we’ve had a bump in the road in the fact that our Inspector has challenged us on our Local Plan, which we’re doing co-jointly with the City, because they suffer from some of the same problems as we do. But I always believe when you have a great team, anything is possible, and it’s not going to happen overnight. But City, Labour, it’s a Labour MP and Labour council there, we’re Conservative pretty much in South Cambs. We’re working together. We don ‘t care what colour our rosettes are, and we’re determined to crack it together. And I think if we do that, then we’ll have a better chance than most. I’m talking to developers. Anybody and everybody who’s got an idea about how we can get more affordable housing, come and talk to me. We will do something, but it’s not going to be overnight. Not in my first six months anyway.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Heidi Allen, thank you for your time. The Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire. And I will just mention that Heidi Allen has a Private Members Bill being scheduled for its Second Reading also today in Parliament. It is on higher education transparency. And if you want to find out more I dare say there might be the odd mention in our news bulletins throughout the day later on on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.