As a result of tough decisions made by Conservative-led Governments, the UK’s fiscal position has improved enormously since 2010. Contrary to the consistent predictions of doom-mongers on the Opposition Benches, during that process UK employment has also grown consistently. It now stands at record levels, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest in 40 years. However, we are further supporting job growth through the lowest corporation tax rate in the G20, and reduced employment costs through the employment allowance.
My right hon. Friend will know that our track record stands in stark contrast to that of Labour. No Labour Government have ever left office with unemployment lower than when they entered it.
The Chancellor is right. Record numbers of women are in work in this country, but I would like to see more of those women in better-paid jobs. Does the Chancellor support the Prime Minister’s view that all jobs should be flexible from day one, and will he be doing anything to turn those words into practice in all our businesses?
Yes. Female employment is indeed vitally important, and it has grown to a record high of 71.3%. As the labour market tightens, it is not just fair for us to make it possible and attractive for women to take part in the workforce; it is absolutely essential from an economic point of view. Dealing with any concealed discrimination is key to making it possible for women not only to enter the workforce, but to progress within the workforce to highly paid and rewarding jobs.
One way to reduce unemployment is to encourage self-employment, and 4.8 million people are now self-employed. While that is welcome, there is a real problem of bogus self-employment, which is costing workers their rights and depriving the Treasury of tax revenue. Next week it will be a whole year since Matthew Taylor published his review “Good work” for the Government. When will they finally implement his recommendations and crack down on bogus self-employment?
The hon. Lady is right on both counts. Self-employment is an important contributor to our economy and genuine self-employment is very much to be encouraged, but there is a problem of bogus self-employment. People who are essentially employed are not paying the proper taxes and operating according to the proper rules for people who are employed, and in some cases employers are concealing the employment of people for their own selfish reasons. We need to deal with both those counts.
Given that we are a Government and a party that strongly supports business and entrepreneurs, what estimate has my right hon. Friend made of business investment in the UK during the last eight years?
Business investment in the UK over the last eight years has recovered significantly since the financial crisis, but right now, as my right hon. Friend knows, there is a degree of uncertainty. We need to get through this period of uncertainty in order to see a continuing commitment by business to invest in the UK economy, and that is what the Government are committed to doing.
The Chancellor says that we need to deal with bogus self-employment, and I absolutely agree. One in 10 workers in the north-east are on zero-hours contracts, in temporary roles, or in low-paid and often bogus self-employment. What will the Chancellor do to ensure that these new jobs are genuinely sustainable roles, and that people are not leading their lives in insecure work without real employment rights?
The overwhelming majority of the over 1,000 new jobs a day that have been created since the 2010 general election have been conventional jobs; only a tiny fraction of people in the workforce are on zero-hours contracts—less than 2.8%. Zero-hour contracts do have a role to play, but the Government have taken action to make sure they are not abused, and we will continue to take action to make sure that the flexibilities that are essential to the operation of our labour market and the attraction of the UK for international investment are not abused.
Businesses in my constituency have been telling me that as we leave the EU they want to have the assurance and clarity of security of their supply chains, not to be burdened with undue regulation and paperwork in relation to customs, and in financial services both clarity and certainty of alignment and regulation; they also want the ability to fly in key personnel across our EU markets to advise clients. Does my right hon. Friend agree that their views should be treated with respect and seriousness?
Yes, the views of business, which is the great generator of employment, wealth and prosperity in our country, should always be taken very carefully into account. We should listen to what business is telling us and make sure that we deliver a Brexit that delivers on the needs of business.
The Chancellor lauds both the employment rate and the fiscal steps the Government he has been a part of have taken, but that data masks a host of problems, so can he confirm to the House today that he thinks a rising child poverty rate is a price worth paying for his spin and rhetoric?
No, and I should tell the hon. Lady that the proportion of people in absolute poverty is at a record low. Since 2010 there are 1 million fewer people in absolute low income; there are 300,000 fewer children in absolute low income and 200,000 fewer pensioners in absolute low income, and 881,000 fewer workless households. That is a great result and a great record, and we are proud of it.