Figures published last week showed that unemployment continues to fall, both across the country and here in the High Peak. Locally there was a 20% fall in the last year, and a 63% fall in the last 5 years. These figures show that nationally, the employment rate is at a record high and unemployment is at its lowest rate for almost a decade. There are more women in work than ever before and over 130,000 more young people in work than a year ago. Interestingly, full-time employees make up the majority of the increase in employment in the last year.
Away from the statistics, I have been asked by people recently what my role and influence is as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for International Development. I was given this role after the Election and since then it has given me a greater insight into the whole issue of our International Aid budget, which I know is something that concerns people. Given the fact that money is short at home, the case is often made to me that we should reduce the International Aid budget to compensate. This is something that we can’t do as under the last Government we legislated for 0.7% of Gross National Income to be committed to International Aid, however I do understand peoples’ concerns. There are occasional stories that appear in the press about some of the projects that this money funds which also raises questions and I am always concerned that it is properly spent. Not all the International Aid is allocated by the Department for International Development (DfID), some is distributed by the Foreign Office and other departments, however the value for money on this expenditure is crucial and DfID is the most scrutinised department over its spending but it is and remains a huge priority.
The 2015 Spending Review was used to fundamentally review how the money was spent. It needed to change to command public confidence and support. This restructuring means that it now focuses on the root causes of mass migration and disease, the threat of terrorism and global climate change – all of which directly threaten British interests. So our International Aid is now also very much in our own national interest, as well as helping some of the world’s poorest people.