Esther McVey is Minister of State for Employment and MP for Wirral West.
2014 was a record-breaking year for employment. In fact, the rise in employment in the UK has been greater than the whole of the EU put together and Yorkshire alone has seen a bigger rise in employment than France.
Remember what Labour said in 2010 about what would happen if Conservative policies were pursued? They said there would be a million more people unemployed. Instead there are nearly 2 million more people in work. No wonder the two Eds have no credibility.
Even in the face of record-breaking falls in unemployment – which include the biggest fall in youth unemployment since records began and the biggest fall in long-term unemployment since 1998 – they still rail against what this Government has done, protesting now that these aren’t “real jobs”. How wrong can they be? 95 per cent of the rise in employment over the past year has been in full time employment; and of the increase in employment since 2010, three quarters has been amongst managers, professional and technical workers. For women, the figure is higher at almost 80 per cent.
Labour are trying every trick in the book to talk down the figures whilst opposing absolutely every welfare change that this Government has brought in. If ever there were a reason to keep Labour in opposition, their inability to embrace this Government’s welfare changes and job creation has to be it.
Whilst employment figures are improving everywhere, it’s time to focus and raise ambition in other areas. A particular area of attention as we start the new year is the over 50s, for whilst recent trends show significant improvements, with almost 250,000 more people aged over 50 in work compared to a year ago, more support and a new kind of support needs to be offered to this age group, who often face higher risks of long-term unemployment and can be out of work for longer before they get a job.
We all know that we are living longer (the Queen has never signed so many 100th birthday cards – over 7,500 this year and a rise of 17 per cent since 2013!), people are feeling fitter for longer and, as we’re constantly told, 50 is the new 30 and 60 the new 40. As a country we need to catch on to this, as do businesses. We need to ensure older workers wanting to make the most of their skills and experience in a new career can do so, and that we value their contribution to the workforce.
Contrary to what the scaremongers may say about more older workers in the work place, there is a mutually beneficial element of having both young and older workers in the same company. A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has revealed a “positive correlation” between the employment of a younger worker and that of an older worker in the same business. Many businesses also report greater productivity too as a result of a multi-age, multi-skilled workforce.
A recent study carried out for Saga by the independent Centre for Economic and Business Research concluded that employed over 50s’ spending supported some 5.7 million full-time equivalent jobs in the UK in 2013. As Saga has recently commented, “we need to ensure many more older workers are enabled to continue to work for as long as they choose to”.
That is why I have announced the creation of regional ‘older worker champions’ in Job Centres across every part of the UK, who can use their expertise with local businesses to help people over 50 find employment – whether it’s a second career, returning to work after having a family or simply wanting to use their skills in a different way. Intensive work support will be offered through the scheme with a ‘career review’, digital support for older jobseekers to get online, and link-ups with local small and medium sized businesses with vacancies to fill. The champions will complement the work of the Government’s ‘Older Workers’ Champion’, Ros Altmann.
Whilst at a central level I’m bringing in these changes, I’ve been impressed by what Conservative MPs are doing at a local level, making a real difference on the ground by understanding their constituents’ needs and responding to them. A prime example of this is Nick de Bois MP (Enfield North), who has recently set up an older people’s job forum which provides support and guidance for those over 50 who want to find work through an online forum. Also, Graham Evans MP (Weaver Vale) has hosted a series of jobs and apprenticeship fairs, and Richard Graham MP (Gloucester) has an entire section on his own website dedicated to tips for job hunting.
However, it’s not just Conservative MPs who are doing their bit locally; thousands of Conservative volunteers support their local communities, through charities and voluntary groups. Each and every one is supporting others to realise their full potential. That is at the heart of what Conservatives do – providing a network of support for those people in need, at a time when they require it most, to achieve something that will improve their own lives and that of the people around them.
I’m also pleased to say we have adapted these natural Conservative instincts into a working policy at the Department for Work and Pensions through the successful New Enterprise Allowance (NEA). The scheme supports those people on benefits who have a sound business plan to become their own boss.
Since its launch in 2011 we have seen over 60,000 business start ups, and many of those have been from people who are aged 50 and over. Ian Hunt was made redundant from a glass firm after twenty-nine years, but through the NEA he has utilised his skills in a different way to set up a business creating bespoke fairground galloper carousel horses and fairground products. His work is now being used by the likes of Beyoncé on her tours and videos, making them the most famous fairground horses on the planet…not bad for an older worker to be setting the trend for the younger pop audience!
There are thousands of other similar stories around the country. I am proud that members of our party at every level from the Government down are living by the core Conservative values of supporting people to help them make the best for themselves and their families. The Conservative Party is the only party that will continue to support people of every region, age and background to realise their full potential.