Building on a foundation of stability in the economy, the new deal, our investment in skills and training, and our policies to make work pay mean that 28.52 million people are in work in the United Kingdom—the highest number ever and 2 million more than in 1997.
In Mitcham and Morden, we have seen staggering reductions in unemployment, but one of the biggest hurdles remaining, particularly for lone parents who want to return to work, is the concern about the reassessment of benefits and the interrelationship between benefits. Will my hon. Friend discuss with the Department for Work and Pensions and other Departments responsible how that can be smoothed even further?
I will be very happy to do that. Of course, lone parent employment is above 55 per cent. for the first time ever—10 percentage points up since 1997—but I agree that we need to maintain that progress, and I will be glad to do what my hon. Friend suggests.
I understand the Minister's pleasure at the increase in the number of people in work, but if he breaks down the figures regionally and looks at the regional economic participation ratio, he will find that the ratio in Northern Ireland is about the lowest in the entire country. Has he made any inquiries into why his policies are not having the same success in Northern Ireland as he is celebrating elsewhere?
Employment has risen and unemployment fallen in every region and every nation of the UK, and vacancies are close to record levels across the country. Northern Ireland has done very well on employment. There are still concentrations of worklessness in some localities, and we are addressing them, but the picture across the country, in every region, has been a very good one.