I completely agree. It is a major problem for Labour Members that they are unable to welcome any positive move. They look around and must surely see that a recovery has been building and the situation is improving, but all they can do is stick their heads in the sand and issue a cry of complete and utter denial.
Some years ago, the Leader of the Opposition said that the Conservative plans would mean the loss of 1 million jobs. Far from that, 30.19 million people are in employment, up by 1.3 million since the election. There are 1.7 million new jobs in business. We have an employment rate that is up since the election and an unemployment rate that is down since the election.
Then Labour Members moved on and sought other ground on which to go around stirring up negativity and spreading apathy, as they do, up and down the land. They thought they might find a more profitable situation in drawing a distinction between full-time and part-time jobs. For a while, as we repaired their damage, that rather seemed to work for them, and they thought there was some profit in it. They glossed over the fact that during the previous Parliament the number of full-time jobs fell by 320,000, because they found that inconvenient and wanted to seize on the problems of people in full-time jobs as the economy recovered. Unfortunately for them, the number of people in full-time employment has been rising. In the past year it increased by 430,000, and there are now more people in full-time employment than there were at the time of the general election. Then, there were 21 million people in full-time employment; today, there are 22.1 million people in full-time employment. This Government have done well not only on jobs but on full-time jobs.
Seeing that that line of attack did not render profit to them, Labour Members then thought they would start talking about long-term unemployment and seize on the long-term unemployment figures for young people, which Julie Hilling, who would have made a very good cornet at the charge of the Light Brigade, said were going up. Unfortunately for her, that is not the case. During the previous Parliament they did go up, across the country, by 311%, but in the past year they have gone down by 30%. Their whole theory about long-term unemployment does not work.
I congratulate the hard-working people of Birmingham, Ladywood, who saw their long-term unemployment among young people rise by 103% under the previous Labour Government but have seen it fall by 4% since this Government were elected and by 31% in the past year. In my constituency of Dover, the figure went up by 700% under the previous Labour Government. That was a very sad, despairing thing. So much hope was taken away from so many of the young people I represent. I welcome the fact that the figure has fallen by 22% in the past year.
Bit by bit, the Opposition’s case disintegrates—nowhere more so, hon. Members may be interested to learn, than in the constituency of the Leader of the Opposition, who gave such a fascinating response to the Budget the other day. In his constituency, long-term unemployment among young people rose by 1,600%—not under this Government but under the previous Government in which he served as a Cabinet Minister. Since the general election, that figure has fallen by 9%, and it is down by 31% in the past year alone.
The Opposition have no long-term economic plan, just pure negativity. In each negative case they raise, every figure or statistic they snatch at seems to disintegrate in their hands. They would have better spent their time putting forward a true alternative economic vision for this country than seeking to attack a Government who have been trying to fix the problems that this country has had and repair the toxic legacy that they inherited.
I turn now to the cost of living—after all, that is the latest part of the Opposition’s case. They are keen to point out that wage inflation has not kept up with real prices. That has been the case after every single recession, which is why I made the point that in 2010 we were not simply going to get an immediate, overnight repair after Labour’s crash—it was going to take some time. We now stand on the threshold, as the time is fast approaching when wages are likely to outstrip inflation. We have seen the latest figures: inflation is now at 1.7%, down from 2.8% a year ago. Wages have grown 1.4% in the three months to January when compared with a year ago. The moment is therefore approaching when the cost of living argument will face a challenge of its own. What will the Labour party say then? What case will it take to the country, as people see that the Conservatives’ work to repair the country’s finances and the value of work is taking hold?
Of course, Labour has also latched on to the issue of energy prices, but we have seen the Government’s action to undo the hard work done by the Leader of the Opposition when he was Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change in putting green levies into our electricity bills. Those have been rolled back and we have seen a positive impact and a positive announcement from SSE, which has pledged a freeze until 2016. Again, that is positive action from the Government, who understand the challenges that people have faced because of the legacy we were left.
We have seen council tax frozen. We have seen the fuel duty rises planned by the previous Government held back. In this Finance Bill we have seen particular help for the least well-off, with the increased personal allowance. I have long been an advocate for increasing the personal allowance, to take the least well-off out of tax all together. The allowance is rising to £10,500, which is welcome.
It is not just about hard-working people, however. We also need to be concerned about people who are retiring. The work we are seeing on pensions—with a higher flat-rate pension and a move to get people out of the annuity requirement, to give them greater choices about what to do with their hard-earned, hard-saved money—is really attractive as well.
This Finance Bill does a great job in extending the Government’s work on recovery and ensuring that we are set fair for the future. Thankfully, it was not a give-away Budget and it is not a give-away Finance Bill. It should be, and is, steady as she goes: the work is not yet done. This Government recognise that much has been done but there is much yet to do. This Bill is a key part of the way back for Britain and of the kind of future that we can build, for people who work and for businesses that are growing today, and also for our young people tomorrow.