The UK currently has the 3rd lowest unemployment rate in the European Union, and it has fallen faster than that of any other G7 economy in the past year. Thanks to welfare reform and our long-term economic plan, businesses are creating jobs, and 1.85 million more people are in work than in 2010. For interest, that is more than the total population of Estonia.
I do recall that the Opposition extolled the virtues of the French Government and what they were doing. It is worth bearing in mind therefore what would have happened if they had followed the French example—which I think they still plan to do. If the UK had the same employment rate as France, employment would be 3.5 million lower in this country. If the UK had the same unemployment rate as France, unemployment would be nearly 1.5 million higher. But there you go—the truth is that every time a Labour Government leave office, they leave unemployment higher than when they arrived.
I welcome the steps my right hon. Friend is taking to create jobs and reduce unemployment, which has fallen by 40% in Macclesfield over the last year. I have recently been on a delegation to Spain where we discussed the challenges they are facing of 25% unemployment and 50% youth unemployment, so does my right hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely vital for the UK to stick to its current course for the years ahead?
Yes, I do. This Government—under the Conservative party—with our long-term economic plan, will stick to those plans, so we would continue to see unemployment fall. Spain has taken huge strides in trying to make changes, but they still have more to do, as they said to me, to deregulate the ways in which they work, but none the less they are at least making real efforts to do so, and they look to us for some examples. Our unemployment and employment rates are better, but I would like to think they are trying very hard to get there.
May I remind the Secretary of State that the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, which was set up by Ministers, has pointed out that 40% of unemployed people in Britain are under 25? There are 550 unemployed young people in my constituency. Is not the Secretary of State missing an opportunity to rebalance the regional economy, to address the skills shortages and to target resources at those areas that need it the most?
Absolutely, but the point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that I would love for somebody on his side to get up and say, “The economy under Labour crashed with a 6% fall in GDP.” Does he honestly think that had no effect on his constituents? [Interruption.] Since then, we have got unemployment down below 2010 levels and got employment levels up, and we are doing our best to reskill people through work experience and so forth—[Interruption.]—and for all the shouting on the Opposition Benches, they blame everybody else for the crash but they do not give us the credit for the changes and improvements.
Order. Mr Hopkins is on his feet, seeking to ask a question in his normally robust but courteous manner, and being shouted down by a Member on his own Benches. That is not satisfactory. I want to hear Mr Hopkins; the people of Luton North want to hear Mr Hopkins, the nation wants to hear Mr Hopkins.
I am most grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for that help. Would the Secretary of State like to thank the former Labour Government for keeping Britain out of the euro, which is the principal cause of the devastation of the southern European members of the eurozone?
It is a very good thing that we are out of the euro—I am very happy about that. As far as credit is to be given, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I have been opposed to entry into the euro and my party was, under my leadership, absolutely opposed and continues to be so, and I am very pleased about that. May I finish by reminding the House of what even those in Europe say when they look at us? The OECD said of the UK that
“the performance of the labour market has been remarkable!”
That is the point: the rest of Europe says the UK has done better on employment and unemployment than anybody else, and that is down to the Government, thanks to their long-term economic plan. We have got it right; they have got it wrong.