By Lord Dolar Popat
For the best part of three years, Britain has become synonymous with one word and one event: Brexit. Following the giant referendum in June 2016 news bulletins in the UK have been filled almost every day with Brexit updates, to the exclusion of almost every other event. In normal times, the fact that the UK economy continues to grow – and prosper would be the cheer of my fellow countrymen and yet nobody seems to be talking about it. But we should be.
The UK economy grew by 0.3 per cent in the three months leading up to February, with the services, manufacturing and construction sectors all showing growth. The economy has now grow by over 17 per cent since 2010, outperforming most other advanced economies.
Nowhere is this under-reported miracle more obvious than in the UK’s labour market. Unemployment – at 3.9 per cent – is down to the lowest level the UK has seen since the 1970s, with a record high of 32.7 million people in employment, up nearly half a million in the last year and 3.67 million since 2010. There is also now a record number of women in employment, one million more disabled people in work since 2013 and nearly half a million fewer young people out of work. This is a great triumph for the British Government, having reformed the welfare system and created a friendlier environment for businesses since taking office in 2010.
Foreign investment in the UK is also booming. Recent research shows that Britain is the most popular country in Europe for foreign direct investment, almost doubling the amount invested in Germany. The British Government can also be proud of their decisions on tax and spending matters, resulting in government borrowing now being at its lowest level in 17 years, down to £24.7 billion in 2018-19. A long way from the £150 billion it reached in 2010.
This is all a far cry from where the economy was in 2010, when the last Labour government was booted out of office after their appalling handling of the financial crisis. As they left office, Britain was borrowing £1 for every £5 we spent, unemployment was up by nearly half a million and – as a former minister left in a note to his successor – there was “no money left”. That the Conservative government has reduced the country’s deficit by 80 perc cent is a remarkable achievement.
The success of the British economy must be put into context. Despite the current uncertainty around Brexit, the UK economy is still set to grow by 1.3 per cent this year, according to the Ernst & Young Item Club. Compare this to the German economy, which has had its predicted growth rate slashed to just 0.5 per cent this year, and you begin to see how well Britain has weathered the last decade of economic storms.
The resilience of the British economy is a real testament to the hard work of the British people and the smart policies and choices of this Conservative government. Austerity is coming to an end and the government has been able to announce a huge increase in spending on the NHS. The health service will now be getting an extra £394 million every week, an unprecedented increase to tackle the challenges of an ageing population.
Debt is falling, investment in public services is increasing, unemployment is at a record low and 32 million people have had a tax cut. The government have introduced and subsequently increased the National Living Wage – helping those who earn the least – and extended free childcare to millions of parents. Leaving the Brexit debate aside for a few moments, you can begin to see what a success the last few years have been for the British economy – and it is time we got back to focussing on this astounding progress.