‘Gap between haves and have-nots in Leeds is city’s big challenge’, says MP Hilary Benn

Hilary Benn MP
Hilary Benn MP
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Leeds MP Hilary Benn says the city’s leaders cannot rest until the prosperity it has created in recent years is “shared more equally among its citizens”.

Mr Benn, elected as MP for Leeds Central in 1999, says the gap between “those who have opportunity and income and those who do not” remains the city’s biggest challenge.

In an interview with the YEP in his constituency office on the edge of the city centre, he said the glaring inequalities were caused by a number of factors including changes to the benefits system.

He said he and his office staff were often visited by constituents in a “state of despair” because they were struggling to keep up with their rent.

Describing the changes he had seen in Leeds since 1999, he said: “We have a wonderful new arena, which we campaigned for, the council and MPs, we worked really hard to get the funding for that, because that is something the city needs.

“Leeds has thrived and prospered and actually dealt better with the fall-out from the global economic crash relatively speaking than perhaps we feared at the time.

“But the biggest challenge we face as a city remains the same as when I was elected, which is the gap between those who have opportunity and income and those who do not.

“You look at the figures for the percentage of children in the Leeds Central constituency growing up in poverty and we cannot rest as a city until the prosperity that has been created is shared more equally among the citizens of the city.”

He last week attended St George’s Crypt in Leeds city centre to meet Yorkshire Water staff who had brought in food for the homeless, a visit that prompts him to reflect on the increased use of food banks in the city.

“It is not right that people find themselves in those circumstances and it means there is a city where there is division in terms of aspiration and opportunity and we should not rest until we do something about that.

“I have always said the businesses in the city have a responsibility to make sure that all of our citizens have a chance to participate in that wealth, because some people look at the city centre and think that’s a different planet, and nothing to do with my life, but it is our city, we share it.”

One Yorkshire

The MP is backing the ‘One Yorkshire’ proposal that would see powers handed from Whitehall to a regional mayor, and says devolution to local leaders would help the city tackle the problems it still faces.

He said: “Why does it still take 55 minutes to travel from Leeds to Manchester by train, why?

“I can guarantee you that if the money and the power to take the decision had been devolved 30 years ago, I think Leeds and Manchester, and then go out to Liverpool and Hull would have said ‘we should do something about this’.”

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Just £150 more per person will help narrow the North/South divide, says Leeds council leader