Yesterday’s news that unemployment is down to 5.3% and employment up to 73.7% of those of working age was good. There are now 2.1 million more people in work than in 2010. The employment rate is up 3.5% from 70.2%. 760,000 people have moved from unemployment to employment over the same time period.
Wages are up by 3% over the last year, at a time of no overall inflation. Three quarters of the growth in employment has come in full time jobs. Some people are better off because they have found a job, some are better off because they have found a full time or better paid job, and some are better off thanks to pay rises. Now it is important that the government builds on this success, and comes back with revised proposals on tax credits.
In the budget debate I offered the following advice:
“I welcome the emphasis on prosperity in the Budget. I want a party and a Government who drive more prosperity for everyone in our country, and I want that to benefit people on all income levels. I especially want to see more people get into work and find other routes out of low incomes and poverty. The Chancellor is right to say that Britain deserves a pay rise and that we need to reinforce that pay rise as people get it, or reinforce their success in getting into a job and getting a pay packet, with tax cuts. I want tax cuts for all, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend has made a start on the promises made in our Conservative manifesto.
It is crucial that, as the Chancellor goes about the task of getting rid of unemployment and poverty through supportive policies, people are better off. What I want to do when we get to the detail of the welfare cuts is to see what the impact is, because we need to look at the overall impact. If people are going from unemployment to work, staying in work, getting a pay rise or getting a tax cut, those are all positive things that will make them better off, and we need to make sure that they are not completely offset or badly damaged by the welfare changes he is making. I look forward to those more detailed debates.
…………………… People need to work smarter to be paid better. We need a pay rise but we have to earn it, and that is the purpose behind many of the measures.
The economic background to the official forecasts shows that the growth figures are still pretty good and we have had a welcome upward revision to figures for the immediate past. We also see a welcome upward revision to the number of people in employment, which is fundamental to the whole strategy. There has been a modest deterioration in the balance of payments, which shows that there is more work to be done.
The productivity work will link into that to make us more competitive. We have to earn our living, so we need more competitive products. All that growth and improved revenue is taking place despite higher interest rates—the forecast assumes a modest increase in interest rates compared with past forecasts.
On productivity—working smarter and working better —I welcome the scheme that the Chancellor outlined today. It will mean better roads and spending money on railways more wisely to get extra capacity in the parts of the system where we need it and increased efficiency. There will have to be a lot of work on energy, because we will need cheaper and more energy: as the march of the makers begins and the northern powerhouse cranks up, more electricity and more gas will be required. I hope that we will find cheaper ways to produce them than we have under the policies followed in recent years. It is important that we price people back into energy-intensive markets, rather than export all our energy-intensive business to other countries. It is no great win for those who want to cut carbon dioxide emissions if it is poured out of a factory in China rather than one in the United Kingdom. We need to be conscious of the need to be competitive in our energy generation.
We will need more on broadband, and clearly much more on housing, as many people have mentioned recently. I look forward to an investment-led recovery, with much more private sector investment coming in. We need to pay special attention to cheaper energy and to fix the railways, where we are spending too much and getting too little. It is not just a question of big investment programmes; it is a question of managing them better. Above all, we need to make sure that, as we implement the welfare reforms, everyone is better off and gets the benefits of tax cuts and higher wages.”
Therein lies the challenge. When reforming welfare it is often better to cut entitlements for future recipients, but to allow those already in receipt of benefits and relying on them to continue drawing them until their circumstances change.