The United Kingdom is experiencing a gradual recovery and there are now clear signs that the cost of living is falling; employment is at a record high and average earnings are now rising faster than inflation.
The last Labour Government left office in 2010 leaving a deficit of £153 billion. However, by the end of the last financial year, 2014-15, it had been reduced to £91 billion. This represents a decrease of a little over 40 percent over the course of this parliament. The Conservatives have pledged to eliminate the deficit by the end of 2018.
While some level of immigration is beneficial to society, the decisions made under the Labour government allowed it to get out of control. In my view our commitments to the free movement of people within the EU compromises the rest of our immigration policy. As long as migration from Europe remains unlimited these reductions have to be made up of migrants from outside the EU. Unfortunately, these are often skilled migrants from Commonwealth countries with whom we have far closer links than with much of Europe.
Defence of the Realm is the first priority of any Government and it is important that the military has a sufficient budget to perform this function. The recent memory of war makes the yearning for peace all the greater. This has inevitably influenced policy making with the underlying expectation that we will try to avoid all such engagements if possible.
Global threats now exist from Russia, the problem of ISIL and the need to combat Islamic extremism. In challenging these forces we may be required to indirectly support allies or even nation states with whom we have difficult relationships and provide military advice rather than troops on the ground. Either way this will be expensive and it is important that our armed forces have the funds they need to provide the most suitable and effective response.
The Conservatives are committed to maintaining a National Health Service which is efficient, effective and free at the point of use. The NHS budget has increased by £12.7 billion over this Parliament and the Conservatives will continue to make real-terms increases if elected in 2015. The Government is reducing bureaucracy to pay for 13,000 more doctors and nurses and making hospitals cleaner and safer for patients and staff to avoid the spread of infections which have halved since 2010.
I am deeply sceptical about the European Union and have long expressed an interest in the need for a referendum on the issue. I believe that the situation with the EU is becoming untenable and urgently needs reviewing. Clearly there is strong public feeling towards the matter and the British people must be given a democratic chance to vote on the future of our relationship with Brussels; this can only be achieved through a Conservative majority government. The Conservative Party has committed to renegotiating the UK’s relationship with the EU and holding a referendum where the British people will be able to vote to say in on the new terms or leave.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, is overseeing one of the biggest shake-ups of the welfare system since the creation of the welfare state in the late 1940s. The central policy of this restructuring is the introduction of the Universal Credit which will replace benefits such as Jobseekers’ Allowance. The Conservatives have pledged to go further if elected again at the General Election. A Conservative Government will reduce the benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000 so that it always pays more to work than live on benefits.
In September, George Osborne announced plans to freeze working age benefits for two years after the next election. This is a sensible policy as benefits have risen faster than wages and a freeze will save £3 billion. Those in work have nothing to fear from this freeze as the loss in income will be offset by the additional income provided as a consequence of raising the personal tax allowance.
Prior to the Scottish independence referendum I argued that the unequal relationship between Scotland and England was the price to pay for the United Kingdom. However, since the referendum and the commitment to provide the Scottish Parliament with a range of new and strengthened powers, I have come to support the idea of English votes for English laws. I would prefer to see this carried out through a standing order as this could be suspended in an emergency whereas a law cannot.