The Economy and Work

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 4:50 pm on 26th May 2016.

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Photo of Stephen Crabb Stephen Crabb The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 4:50 pm, 26th May 2016

It is a real pleasure to conclude this debate on the Gracious Speech. I thank all hon. Members, on both sides of the House, who have made contributions today. A wide range of subjects has been covered by Members from all parts of the United Kingdom and from both rural and urban communities. It has been a very good debate.

As the Prime Minister made clear, the Queen’s Speech is about using the strong economic foundations we have built to make a series of bold choices that will help to deliver opportunity for all at every stage of their lives. Improving life chances starts as a foundation for ensuring a healthy, strong and growing economy. Through our long-term economic plan, that is what we are doing: the deficit is being cut, the economy is growing and it is forecast to grow faster than in any other G7 economy this year.

It is true that, thanks to the strength in the economy, we have seen some remarkable things in our labour market in recent years: we have seen the highest level of employment on record ever and the annual rise in the employment rate is the largest anywhere in the G7. Now, we are not complacent. We know we need to go further. However, we also know that behind this picture of national economic recovery are hundreds of thousands of individual stories of people whose lives have been transformed. In the past year alone, over 400,000 people have moved into work. We have more women in work than ever before. In the past two years, more than 300,000 more disabled people have moved into work. We have also seen big increases in youth and long-term employment. I am delighted that the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, for the very first time in six years, has at the Dispatch Box welcomed the fact that unemployment is falling.

Let us just remind ourselves that since 2010 more than 2.5 million people have moved into work. That is more than the whole population of the fantastic city of Leicester moving into work each and every year we have been in government. It means 764,000 more households in work. It means nearly half a million more children growing up seeing a mum or a dad go out to work each day. By any measure, that is a really encouraging record. We salute, in particular, our small businesses and our entrepreneurs who are the real engines of this jobs recovery, something recognised in the excellent contribution from my hon. Friend Mr Jayawardena.

This recovery has not happened by chance or by accident, and we know that we need to go further. It happened because we had a clear economic plan for jobs and growth. I see a couple of Opposition Members shaking their head. Let us remind ourselves of what they left behind in 2010. Unemployment had risen by nearly half a million. The number of women out of work went up by a quarter. Youth unemployment rocketed by 44%. Long-term unemployment doubled. Nearly 1.5 million people had spent most of the previous decade on out-of-work benefits. That was an appalling record of wasted lives and wasted potential left by the previous Labour Government. The fact is that during 13 years in government, the Labour party stopped believing in the power of work to transform people’s lives. The Labour party gave up on welfare reform. It became the party of welfare over work. It was far too relaxed about parking people for a whole lifetime on benefits. That is why it takes Conservatives in government, with Conservative values, to bring the reforming spirit needed to transform the life chances of people in our—[Interruption.]