It is an honour to have the opportunity to talk in this important estimates day debate. I congratulate Alison McGovern on introducing the debate.
Record and rising employment is the central fact of the Government’s economic record. It is sometimes easy to brush over the fact that we now have the highest rate of employment in this country than at any time since the early 1970s. That is not only important on an economic level, although obviously it has wonderful economic benefits for the country, but extremely important on a social level and a personal level, because of the way it benefits families and communities and gives people opportunity and optimism that they otherwise might not have.
For four years before I came to this place, it was very much my privilege to serve as the director of policy at the Centre for Social Justice, which is a think-tank that looks at the root causes of poverty in the UK. That background is what lies behind my exchange with the hon. Member for Wirral South earlier. One can of course say that the root cause of poverty is people not having enough money. It is true that poverty is people not having enough money, but it is unquestionably the case that the reason why some people do not have any money is that they do not have a job in order to earn money, and that the reason why some people—not everybody at all—are unemployed is that something has gone badly wrong in their life, and that thing needs to be corrected with the help of public services, with the support of their family and with their own personal determination. That must always be an absolutely essential part of any welfare policy, which is why it is so important that the significant changes that have been introduced in the Department for Work and Pensions have been coupled to the work of the troubled families programme in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. It is by helping people to overcome some of the root causes of poverty that we can help more people to move into the workplace and so help to support themselves and their families.
There is a group of people who are lucky enough and fortunate enough to come from stable homes, to get a decent education and not to suffer from addiction or any such problems, who still find it difficult to make ends meet, which is why it is extraordinarily important that any Government have an economic policy that generates jobs and drives up wages. The Government have been extraordinarily successful, without parallel, in the creation of jobs. Life has undoubtedly been harder in the generation of higher wages, but it feels like in recent months—over the past 15 months, I think—we have turned a corner on that score and, for the first time since the financial crisis in 2008, we are starting to see wages rise above inflation. Ultimately, that is excellent news for people who are moving into the jobs market and for people who are starting off on low salaries.
It must be remembered that none of that success was predicted by commentators before the 2010 general election. I remember in 2009 listening to a Bank of England economist forecast that the incoming Chancellor of the Exchequer would have to deal with unemployment of more than 5 million. In 2011, he repeated that the policies of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition would unquestionably lead to record unemployment and a massive social security problem. That simply did not happen, because of the business-friendly policies that the Government adopted, which increased investment and business growth and saw employment rise in very many parts of the country.
It was a pleasure to sit and listen to the speech by my hon. Friend Mr Clarke. I do not believe it can be an accident or a coincidence that his constituency has not traditionally had a Conservative MP, yet after seven years of Conservative employment growth in his area, it elected a Conservative. After seven years, following a major economic meltdown under the previous Labour Government, the Conservatives delivered the job growth in his area that Labour had been incapable of doing for the 13 years that it was in power. We see it not just in Middlesbrough, but in a whole range of seats from Mansfield to Stoke-on-Trent. This new era of Conservative representation in parts of the midlands and the north is a result of this policy, which has helped people to find jobs and improve their lives and the lives of their families. This has been termed the British jobs miracle, because unemployment is now at about 3.8% in the UK, compared with 7.5% in the euro area.