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Mike Wood: It seems slightly rude to intrude on the private squabbles between the Labour and SNP Front Benches, but I am delighted to speak in support of the Finance Bill, which implements many of the measures in the summer Budget.
Last week’s Black Country Day celebrated our region’s industrial heritage, and the measures announced in the Budget will do much to develop the framework for
businesses in my constituency and across the country. In Dudley South, many of the businesses that I visit are thriving, whether we are talking about Pressvess, which exports to South America and the middle east, or Mechatherm, which designs and exports foundries all the way to Taiwan. Those small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of our local economy and the driving force behind securing economic recovery, increases in employment and greater prosperity for our constituents. Those businesses and others like them account for 60% of employment and almost half of turnover. The measures announced by the Chancellor a few weeks ago will ensure that such businesses can go from strength to strength and create the new jobs that our communities need—for example, the increase in the employment allowance from £2,000 to £3,000, cutting non-wage costs and making it cheaper to create new jobs and to invest in local people.
One of the first companies I visited as the local Conservative party candidate ahead of the general election makes tools and components for the aerospace and automotive industries. Among the frustrations it voiced to me was that, while it invests large amounts of money, effort, staff time and good will in apprenticeships and in training all its staff from apprentice to the boardroom, other companies seem to want a free ride on the backs of those who invest in that way. I therefore welcome the apprenticeship levy on large firms that the Chancellor announced in the Budget, because it will reward businesses that invest in their workforce and penalise those that attempt to get a free ride.
I am proud that the Government have demonstrated their recognition of people’s natural aspirations. They are on the side of people who want to succeed and make the most of their lives. It is vital that we press ahead with the economic reform we put to the country in the general election in May to ensure we secure the financial stability that safeguards people’s jobs and mortgages.
In the past few years, we have seen spending on out-of-work benefits fall to its lowest level since before the recession. The number of people in work in my constituency, and elsewhere across the country, has shot up. For far too long during the boom years before the recession, welfare spending spiralled. We know that many measures were introduced with the very best of intentions. I do not think anybody would argue with those intentions, but unfortunately it sometimes seemed as though too little thought was given to the consequences of the complexity of the systems being built.
Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole
I agree with everything my hon. Friend says about the complexity of the system. Does he agree that in making changes and trying to get away from the laudable aim of reducing in-work benefits, we have to be incredibly careful and ensure that the changes coming in next April do not go too far? I hope that—I am glad Ministers on the Government Front Bench will hear this—as we scrutinise the proposed reductions further, we will perhaps think a little more about the impact some of them could have on some of our working constituents.
Mike Wood: I am not sure that that intervention was necessarily directed at me. I agree with much of the sentiment behind it, but we have to be firm in the need to continue with reform while, as my hon. Friend says, being aware of the impact it will have. I am sure, like other hon. Members, he will have his attention drawn to that impact very regularly through his mailbox.
The consequences of the complexity of that welfare system did not help the millions who were trapped within the system, with little hope or opportunity to escape and to progress. It is important that the Government’s reforms continue to support people into work, but it is just as important to make sure that it pays to be in work. The Finance Bill moves the Government another step closer to achieving that goal. Securing our finances and ensuring welfare reform are essential to our long-term economic plan. Enormous progress has been made in the past year and in the past five years. We can see the evidence in our communities and in the employment statistics. There are more than 250,000 more people in work in the past year alone and nearly 2 million more in work over the past five years. The economy is continuing to recover and job creation is booming, which is why the measures in the Bill to secure that recovery are so important.
In my constituency of Dudley South, the claimant count has fallen by 29% in the past year, with 584 fewer people out of work and claiming benefits. Across the west midlands overall, the unemployment rate has fallen more than in any other UK region. This is not just a recovery for London and the south-east. The Government’s long-term economic plan offers the best strategy to ensure that that continues. They have shown that they have the courage to take the difficult decisions needed, and to put the measures in place to support working people. The measures we have already discussed go hand in hand with tax cuts for working people: the increases in the personal allowances rising even further than announced in the April Budget, alongside the new national living wage. A new, higher guaranteed wage will mean an immediate pay rise for 2.5 million people.
Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cities)
Does the hon. Gentleman consider it fair that people under 25 will not see the benefit of that pay rise? The differential between those earning this wage at the 16 and 17-year-old rate and at the 25-year-old rate has now expanded significantly and could have a detrimental effect on their ability to live their lives.
Mike Wood: The hon. Lady raises a good point, but she should recognise that while the national living wage will be mandatory only for the over-25s, that does not mean that businesses should not pay young—[Interruption.] When the national minimum wage was introduced, there was a lot of controversy regarding the under-21 rates. The evidence, however, did not back up the idea that employers who were paying the national minimum wage rate for the over-21s were necessarily paying the under-21 rate for 18 to 20-year-olds. I would certainly hope that responsible employers invest in and value their workforce, and pay them accordingly.
The introduction of the national living wage will mean that a full-time person in Dudley South will earn an additional £5,000 in wages during this Parliament alone. The living wage will provide my constituents with the financial security of being able to enjoy higher earnings and a bigger wage packet. The message is loud and clear: the Government want people and businesses to succeed, but while we want the regulation of business to be as low as possible, there is a responsibility on employers, as part of that social contract, not to expect taxpayers to subsidise low wages.
The Government were elected in May because of the prospectus we presented to the electorate, which focused on the future. The Bill continues the strategy that will deliver a more prosperous and more successful future. Only by continuing to focus on our businesses, our apprentices, our jobs and our industries can we deliver for Britain. That is what the Budget set out and what the Bill will achieve. The summer Budget and the Finance Bill build on the success of the past five years to secure a better future for Britain and for our constituents.