The United Kingdom is experiencing a gradual recovery and there are now clear signs that people are better off; employment is at a record high and average earnings are now rising faster than inflation.
The Labour Government left office in 2010 leaving a deficit of £153 billion. Between 2009/10 and 2016/17 public sector net borrowing is set to fall from 9.9% of GDP to 2.6% of GDP and the Government is committed to decreasing this even further.
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. Now that we will be leaving the EU we will be able to regulate immigration and this will form part of the Brexit negotiations. Often skilled migrants from Commonwealth countries with whom we have far closer links than with much of Europe are overlooked and Brexit will allow us to readdress this imbalance.
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 extremism and terrorism. 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 Government has added £7 billion of extra spending power over the next three years and additional resources into improving triage services in England before Winter 2017.
I am glad to see that the Government has committed an extra £2 billion in the Spring Budget 2017 to social care which shows that it is addressing concerns about social care in our communities especially with the pressures associated with an ageing population.
I have always been deeply sceptical about the European Union and glad that the nation has voted to leave. This will allow the Government to negotiate the best possible terms for leaving the EU, benefitting the whole of the United Kingdom. Members of Parliament have now been promised a vote on the final Brexit deal, which will take place before Britain leaves the European Union but cannot reverse the decision to leave. I will, of course, be following the process carefully and voice my concerns if I do not think that the needs of the British people are being met.
Damian Green, 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 modern welfare state in the late 1940s. The central policy of this restructuring is the introduction of Universal Credit which will replace benefits such as Jobseekers’ Allowance. I supported the introduction of Universal Credit as the single rate of taper is a much simpler system than the previous ‘legacy’ system of benefits. The transition to Universal Credit is intended to incentivise people to work, whereas previously they might not have taken on extra work owing to the subsequent need to re-apply for benefits.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement a change to the Universal Credit taper rate from 65% to 63%, meaning that once a claimant is earning in excess of their work allowance they will lose 63p of their benefit for every £1 of net earnings that they receive, rather than 65p before the change. This will, therefore, increase the amount of benefit received by many in-work claimants.
Prior to the Scottish independence referendum I argued that the unequal relationship between Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales as opposed to England was the price to pay for the United Kingdom. It works for both sides and as Scotland can expect to gain more powers when we leave the European Union I hope all these benefits will be afforded to all parts of the UK.