It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury got it right in his introduction—I can see he agrees with that—when he set the financial scene and reminded us of the history of the past eight or so years. When this Government came into office in 2010, we faced an economic crisis of almost unprecedented scale. At around 10% of GDP, the deficit was running out of control and unemployment was at a record high. Over the past eight years, the coalition and then the Conservative Government have worked hard and tirelessly to get our public finances back under control. It has not been an easy task. Had we listened to Labour Members, who frequently challenge our agenda, the deficit would still be extremely high and the debt would be a great deal higher than it is now—[Interruption.] The shadow Minister says from a sedentary position, “You’re joking”, but I have lost count of the number of measures of fiscal responsibility that the Opposition have voted against over the past eight years. Had Labour’s programme been adopted, the deficit and the debt would both be far higher than they are today.
Next year, borrowing is going to be down to about 1.4% of GDP, and it will be down to 0.8% by 2023. Critically, the debt as a proportion of GDP has been falling since 2016. The consequence of not getting our deficit and debt under control is that we pay far more in interest payments. Even today, we are paying around £45 billion a year in interest payments, but if the debt were any higher, as it would have been under Labour’s programme, those debt payments would be higher and the interest rates on that Government debt would be a great deal higher as well. That would mean having much less money to fund vital public services.
Hand in hand with the deficit reduction programme goes the Government’s track record on jobs. The unemployment rate has decreased from around 8% in 2010 to around 4% today, and it is now at a 43-year record low. It has never been lower in my lifetime. To those who say that the jobs that are being created are not high-quality jobs, I would say that 80% of them are full time, and I would remind those who say that they are all zero-hours jobs that only 3% of the jobs in the UK economy involve zero-hours contracts.
This track record of financial responsibility over the past eight years has now enabled a certain amount of fiscal loosening, providing extra money to be spent on public services. Both Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen said that austerity was continuing, but let us look at the Red Book. The cumulative effect of all the Budget measures being announced will result, in 2023 alone—the final year of the forecast period—in a £27 billion fiscal loosening relative to the measures that were in place before. There is no way that anyone can describe a £27 billion a year fiscal loosening as a continuation of austerity. In any case, it is not austerity. Austerity implies that it was a choice. It was not a choice; it was a necessity—