Last week, I had the ‘pleasure’- if you can call it that- of confronting Ed Balls during a debate on Britain’s economy, and specifically on Bournemouth East’s youth unemployment statistics. Regular followers of the news or Twitter cannot fail to have noticed the heat of this particular debate, which culminated in a Labour MP being forced to apologise for demeaning and insulting language in the chamber.
What happened during those 10 minutes is everything this country needs to know about why electing a Labour Government in 2015 would be disastrous for Britain.
Official statistics show that in Bournemouth East, since 2010 the number of unemployed (people claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance) has dropped from 2,241 to 1,501. A similar pattern is visible in the number of young people (aged 18-24) claiming JSA, which has dropped from 430 to 265 over the same period. Bournemouth East is also currently below the average for claimants in the South West, and below the average for claimants in the UK too.
Whilst I am hesitant to use these statistics to paint a rosy picture or assert that ‘the job is done’, I do feel it is important to recognise that, slowly but surely, Bournemouth along with the country is moving forward from what has been a very tough recession.
I was therefore baffled that Ed Balls in the Queen’s Speech debate said that Bournemouth’s youth JSA claimant figures had risen by over 700% since 2010. A little bit of digging showed me exactly how Ed had distorted those figures for the purposes of the debate, and shows why a Labour Government cannot be trusted to safeguard Britain’s fragile but recovering economy.
In 2011, changes to simplify the benefits system were introduced, one of which impacted upon youth Job Seekers’ Allowance figures. Whereas a young claimant was previously moved from JSA to a ‘training allowance’ if they took up a training course (something that was costly and time-consuming to administer), they now remain on JSA throughout their training course to simplify the process. This means that, on paper, the numbers of young JSA claimants who have been claiming for 12 months or more in the UK has since 2011 risen sharply, even though the figures are not comparable to previous years.
It is simply misleading to tell people in Bournemouth East that youth unemployment has gone up 700%. The childish outburst from a Labour MP during the same debate, using unparliamentary language (that he was later forced to publicly apologise for), only serves to prove further that Labour has learned little from its time in office.
It is time for Labour to face facts. This Coalition came to Government faced with an overwhelming debt burden, in large part due to irresponsible and ever-increasing levels of borrowing from the previous Labour Government. In just four years, the latest economic indicators show that GDP is improving (the best in Europe), wages are rising, and unemployment is still falling (currently at the lowest level since October 2008). Whilst we are not out of the woods yet, we are heading in the right direction.
This interesting single exchange over employment figures shows why it would be foolish to hand the reins of power back to the very party whose working of economic numbers got us into this mess in the first place.