It is a pleasure to follow Barry Gardiner, but I am pleased to rise to speak in support of the Gracious Speech. I do so for three main reasons. First, it recognises that businesses create jobs. Secondly, it confirms that we want to ensure that people keep more of what they earn. Thirdly, it allows the Government to support families in looking after themselves better in the years ahead.
Businesses are creating jobs in North East Hampshire and the surrounding area, and people in my constituency are doing very well under this Government’s long-term economic plan. The reality is that only 0.5% of the economically active people there are unemployed. That is excellent news, but we must not be complacent. There are still 255 people who need work, and we must ensure that we create the opportunities for business to provide it. That is why I am pleased that small businesses will be helped by the universal service obligation for broadband. That is a major issue in some of the more rural parts of my constituency. People often want to set up their own business in those areas, and they need to be able to access the internet but cannot do so at the moment.
Further, I want to make the point on behalf of my constituents that their taxes must be well spent. They expect that, because North East Hampshire receives just over £350 per head on average in benefits, which is the lowest amount of all the constituencies in the country. This is a result of the strong economy, and taxpayers recognise that while there should be a welfare state to act as a safety net, it must not be a lifestyle choice. That is why it is important that we help people to keep more of what they earn, to incentivise work. The tax-free allowance has risen to £11,000, and we must go further in the future. Three million people pay no income tax at all, but many people in my constituency pay the higher rate of income tax. The rise in the threshold to £43,000 is a good step, but we must go further. Edward Miliband was on to something when he talked about the “squeezed middle”. It is true that there are people with reasonably paid jobs who need support because they still find things tough. That is what we are trying to address by increasing the threshold for the higher rate, and I encourage Ministers to go further.
The last thing that I want to cover in the time available is the most local issue of all: families and life chances. It is right that we create good schools for everyone and that people’s lives should not be dictated by where they came from, but by their skills and abilities and by where they want to go. A key part of all that is the family in which they live. I am pleased that the Conservatives, in coalition with the Liberal Democrats between 2010 and 2015 and now in a Conservative majority Government, have recognised marriage in the tax system. The marriage allowance is an important step, but we should go further, because family breakdown costs the Government and taxpayers £48 billion a year. If we could tackle just a fraction of the family breakdown in this country, not only would we save taxpayers’ money, but we would improve people’s life chances. All the research shows that people with stable family backgrounds enjoy better educational prospects and better jobs in the future. While we must focus on ensuring that individuals get life chances, this is also about ensuring that we bring the public finances under control. By doing all these things, we will do just that.