It was good news on the economic front this week with news that the unemployment rate has fallen again and is now at 4.7 per cent – the lowest level since 2005. Since the Conservatives entered government, employment is up by over 2.7 million – that’s well over 1,000 more people in work on average every day – and today’s record-breaking figures show unemployment falling to its lowest level in 12 years. Employment is at a joint-record high, more women are in the workforce than ever, wages are up and there are more people working full time. But there is always more to do, especially to increase the productivity of the way in which we work to create more high-paying jobs and to keep spreading job opportunities right across the UK. It has been striking that the fastest rates of job creation have been outside London, however, we need sustained investments in transport infrastructure and skills expansion, especially in the Southwest and North, to ensure that this growth continues.
We also need to keep up the reforms of our welfare system to ensure that work always pays more than being on benefits, and that people who have left paid work have as much help as possible if they want to return. There were two little-noticed announcements on this in the Budget last week that I particularly welcomed. The first was a reduction in the “taper rate” for Universal Credit that means people can keep more of their earnings as they move from benefits into work. This all sounds horribly technical I know, but Universal Credit is the most important reform of the benefit system in decades as it simplifies dozens of benefits into one simple payment, and ensures that when a person returns to work they are always better off – under the old system the way that benefits were stopped meant that there was often little incentive to find a job, as work just did not pay. Also of note last week was the introduction of £5 million of funding for developing “Returnships” to support people who are returning to work after a career break. As someone who took time out of paid work to bring up my family, I know just how tough it can be to get up the confidence and skills to get back into the work place. I was lucky enough to start by volunteering, which hugely boosted my confidence to move back into work. But I know that I was very lucky, so if I can help anyone in the same situation with information about the new scheme, then please do get in touch.