It is a great pleasure to speak about this Gracious Speech, which puts opportunity and life chances at the heart of our society. It is a one nation Queen’s Speech, and Britain is forecast to grow faster than any other major advanced economy in 2016. Growth is forecast to exceed 2% each and every year this decade, meaning that in 10 to 15 years we could be the biggest economy in Europe, outstripping the German economy. Average weekly wages have risen by 2.1% since last year, and the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that 2.9 million workers will benefit directly from the introduction of the national living wage, and estimates that a further 6 million could see a pay rise as a result of the ripple effect.
This Government were elected to back working people, and the best way to do that is to let them keep more of the money they earn. The personal allowance will rise further to £11,500 by 2017-18, giving 31 million people across the country a tax cut. This Queen’s Speech makes it easier for people on low incomes to save. The lifetime savings Bill will introduce a help-to-save scheme, providing a 50% Government bonus on up to £50 of monthly savings, helping more than 3 million of the lowest earners to put money aside.
Over the past year, we have got on with delivering our manifesto commitments to give people security and opportunity at every stage of their life. Some 16% of working age people in the UK are disabled or have a health condition. The Government are committed to halving the gap between the employment rates of disabled and non-disabled people, to ensure that disabled people have opportunities to fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations. We spend around £50 billion every year on benefits to support people with disabilities or health conditions, which is 6% of all Government spending. That represents 2.5% of our GDP, and is significantly above spending in countries such as France and Germany, and the OECD average of 2.2%.
In the past two years, 365,000 disabled people have moved into work, with more than 3.3 million now in employment. Halving the disability employment gap, means helping around 1 million more disabled people to achieve their ambition of finding work. Later this year, I will be holding my first Weaver Vale Disability Confident fair. I give the Government credit for bringing forward this fantastic scheme to truly challenge attitudes to employing those with disabilities.
As a Cheshire MP I can say that INEOS Chlor and Tata Chemicals are significant employers for those living in Runcorn and Northwich. I recently met Ginni Rometty, the CEO of IBM, to talk about cognitive technology and artificial intelligence. Cognitive technologies are the future for this country.
Energy-intensive industries, and the jobs associated with them, are almost exclusively located outside of London. They are often high-skill, high-wage jobs. They form a vital part of the northern powerhouse, and regional growth and development. I am committed to closing the north-south divide. Our great northern cities and regions can be greater than the sum of their parts. The northern powerhouse is underpinned by world-class transport linking our great cities and regions to drive up productivity and our economic revival.
Colleagues will know that I have been campaigning to reinstate the Halton curve line for many years now. I am delighted to report that the final business case was examined by the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority in April and it has approved the plans. That is significant because it will enable travel from north Wales to Cheshire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester.
This is a one nation Queen’s Speech from a one nation Government. As someone who was born and grew up on a council estate, the Conservative party is the party of aspiration. I commend the Speech to the House.