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I rise to support this Budget—a Budget that allows our country to say with confidence, after staring into the economic abyss 10 years ago, that our best days lie ahead.
We are talking today about families and communities. In that vein, before drilling into the specific measures in the Budget, it is helpful to take stock of how far we have come in respect of jobs. Why is that? It is because there are some in this House who are in danger of forgetting what unemployment means for families and communities. It means misery, lack of self-esteem and wasted potential. It means hollowed-out communities and a grinding, corrosive sense of despair. Unemployment in our country is just 4%. In Cheltenham, it is under 2%. Yet in France it is 9% and in the eurozone it is 8%. In April 2010, there were 2.5 million unemployed people in our country, over 900,000 aged between 16 and 24, with a lack of opportunity and a lack of life chances. This country is turning that around.
There is no true economic strength without fairness too. It was the right decision in the Budget to raise the national living wage, which will go up by nearly 5% to £8.21 per hour. That will deliver an extra £690 to a full-time worker, while ensuring that businesses can thrive and expand. Raising the personal allowance one year early to £12,500 will save a typical basic rate taxpayer £130.
Stronger families mean healthier families. We should be in no doubt about the steps that this Government have taken to invest in the NHS. The figures are stark, and they are so great that it is sometimes hard to take them in. Some £122 billion is spent annually today, but by 2023 that figure will go up to £149 billion—the largest peacetime investment in history. In Cheltenham, that is over and above the £39 million capital investment in Gloucestershire’s hospitals.
Stronger families need good housing too. That is why I welcome the measures in the Budget to help turn derelict retail outlets into homes. Before carving up the countryside, we should look to meet as much of our housing need as possible from brownfield sites. With every challenge comes an opportunity, if we have the vision and energy to seize it, and that is the opportunity that arises from the changes in retail. We can consolidate our shopping districts, rebalance our town centres and make them vibrant and prosperous.
On education, there is more to say and much I want to discuss. At the comprehensive spending review, we need to look at how we can support those with the greatest needs. But overall, the careful stewardship of this economy and the hard work of the British people mean that tough decisions have been made—the right ones—and the future for our country is bright.