Shaun Bailey is a Conservative member of the London Assembly.
Growing up in a disadvantaged community, I know from personal experience the challenges people from my background face. If we are to widen our appeal as Conservatives we must continue to make inroads into new areas and win over people, like those I grew up with, who do not traditionally vote Conservative.
I firmly believe that we can become a vehicle for social mobility in these communities. As the party of Government, it is our duty to represent everyone and it is critical that we are able reach out to demographics that may not currently vote for us.
In the 2017 general election, we saw how the Conservative Party made strides into areas it has never won before. The trend is clear; our voter base is becoming more working class. Some of these people voted Conservative for the first-time ever and the new areas we now represent are not made up of our core voters. We must look again at our offer to these communities. We have to demonstrate how we are a party for everyone, including those suffering from the burning injustices Theresa May spoke about on the steps of Downing Street.
We must have a plan for disadvantaged communities, including black and ethnic minorities (BME), disabled, white working class, and all those struggling to make ends meet. Overall, people from these communities have lower incomes, lower employment, higher inactivity, and lower levels of social mobility than the general population. As the Conservative Party continues to expand into areas which have never voted Conservative before, and as our politicians are elected to represent these places, we will be faced with challenges we may not have encountered before.
To add to the work we have already done, we need to fully grasp and understand the issues these communities face. In my role as a member of the London Assembly, I am launching a commission which will bring together a range of experts who have experience working on some of the biggest challenges around employment and skills at the grassroots level. They will explore and discuss how we can help get more people into higher skilled and better paid work.
As Conservatives, we know the best route out of poverty and disadvantage is work. I have personal experience of working on the ground in some of the most deprived areas across London. I organised job-clubs for young people and was fortunate enough to see how employment completely transformed lives. Once in employment, people were not just better off economically but were healthier, happier and more confident. Employment is an area where I am very proud of our record.
Indeed, employment is currently at a record high. The total number of people who are employed in this country stands at 32.34 million. This is up 396,000 over the last year. Since David Cameron first entered Downing Street, a phenomenal 3.3 million more people are in work. That’s 3.3 million people who are no longer forced to rely on our benefits system. 3.3 million who now have the security of work and can fend for themselves.
During this period, London alone added almost one million jobs, with London’s unemployment rate plummeting from 9.5 per cent to around five per cent today. This is a clear example of us helping the least fortunate. Let us remember, these are people who were unemployed when the Conservative Party assumed power.
The National Living Wage (introduced by the Conservative Party) means everyone aged over 25 will earn at least £7.83 per hour. This year, weekly earnings rose by 2.9 per cent compared with a year earlier. Wages are now rising faster than prices and living standards are improving. Our increases in the personal allowance benefit the least wealthy, allowing them to keep more of their money.
Despite this, London is still facing its challenges. The rate of NEETS in London was 10.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2017. Whilst it is a decrease of 1.3 percentage points from the same quarter last year, it is still unacceptably high. The London unemployment rate was 4.9 per cent for March 2018, 0.7 percentage points higher than the UK average.
Getting people into work must be at the top of our priority list. Once in work, we need to offer people the training to allow them to acquire the skills to climb the ladders in their respective workplaces, leading to more pay and more opportunities. If people are not in work or are underqualified, we need to look at the complex and often linked set of barriers to this and tackle them head-on. This is why my work at the London Assembly will look at these challenges and how best they can be overcome.
Disadvantaged communities are crying out for help. They are fed-up of years of stagnant wages, low income growth, relative poverty, and a lack of opportunities. They feel left behind and untouched by the economic progress that has been made. We need to be at the forefront of securing the future of disadvantaged communities