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Economy and Jobs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:46 pm on 20th January 2020.

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Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 9:46 pm, 20th January 2020

It is an honour for me to conclude this debate on the Gracious Speech, Mr Speaker, and a great pleasure to see you in the Chair.

At the start of a new Parliament, we have particularly enjoyed hearing the maiden speeches of many new Members. Today we have heard from Beth Winter, my hon. Friend Andrew Griffith, the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson), my hon. Friends the Members for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Aaron Bell), for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon), for North West Durham (Mr Holden) and for Loughborough (Jane Hunt), and Nadia Whittome. We have also heard again from my hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell) and for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller). All of them have shown their passion and their commitment to their constituents.

Hon. Friends will be friends for life. I encourage them—and, indeed, all hon. Members—to be civil and respectful of each other across the Chamber, recognising that each of us was democratically elected to this place; but to respect the mandate that was given to this Conservative Government by the electorate last month, on which we set out the first part of honouring our manifesto commitments in the Queen’s Speech.

After a decade of recovery, we have a decade of renewal ahead of us, and the road map for a renaissance of our great country as we leave the EU next week and can take advantage of the opportunities to truly unleash Britain’s potential. The last decade has been challenging as we have had to recover from Labour’s record peacetime deficit. The famous note—“I’m afraid there’s no money”—reflected the economic crisis. Labour had splashed the cash, and took their eye off the horizon without being prudent about the unforeseen storms, particularly the global economic crash. We ended up with unemployment and income inequality both higher after they left office than when they had entered it.

We made some tough calls on spending, but we steadied the ship, and thanks to the resilience of the great British people, we have seen both economic growth and a record number of people working: 3.7 million more than in 2010, including record numbers of women and people with disabilities who are being supported so that they can fulfil their full potential. That record of success has not come about by chance. We have had a proactive, pro-business Government who have reduced taxes for employers and allowed businesses and employees to keep more of what they earn, which actually leads to increased tax revenues to support our public services. We have lifted more than 4 million people out of income tax altogether, and have increased the national living wage so that everyone gets a share in the country’s economic growth. We have also seen over a million new businesses start up, as people have the confidence and support to go out on their own and start to create new jobs. Behind the numbers are the inspirational stories of lives transformed by work: stories of hope, pride, determination and horizons opening up to new skills and better prospects.

Work is not just a wage. We will continue to help those who can work to work, not because we want them to get off our books but because a working life offers so much more purpose and potential than a life on benefits. I pay tribute to the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, my hon. Friend Justin Tomlinson, because this is shown by the numbers of disabled people entering work. In the last six years, 1.3 million have joined the labour market. No longer are they written off; they are contributing their considerable talents to the workplace and holding a stake in society. As a Government, we will not stop there. The new national strategy for disabled people will draw together how we operate to optimise the experience and participation of disabled people in society, better co-ordinating policy across Whitehall to meet their needs.

After challenging times for families in the country, we now have wages increasing ahead of inflation consistently. That has also helped pensioners, who will see a 3.9% increase in their state pension this April, and income inequality has yet again reduced under the Conservatives. Compared with 2010, there are 1 million fewer workless households, and 730,000 fewer children in such households. That is a record low number of children in workless households.

One of the Government’s fundamental principles is to help people get on in life, and my Department has a key role to play in that. The transformation in that approach is underpinned by the key principles of universal credit: people will be better off in work than not in work, unless they cannot work. We are removing the dystopian disincentives for people who wanted to work and earn more but were penalised under the legacy benefit system. This is a Government who do not just think that getting a job is job done. Work coaches across the country are helping people to get a job and to get on in that job. Helping people to progress in work is the future of employment and skills support. We will deliver this new approach through more support for childcare, creating a £3 billion national skills fund and repatriating the EU funds to create a UK shared prosperity fund. We will work as one Government with one vision to ensure that wherever you live and whatever your background, you can achieve your dreams and ambitions through work.