Wednesday’s employment figures reminded us that, when it comes to the immigration debate, we need to stick to the facts.
Remember the beginning of the year? The endless predictions from Ukip and others that, as transitional controls on Bulgarians and Romanians entering the UK expired, we would find ourselves overrun, with British workers paying the price? Nigel Farage’s party even issued a leaflet claiming that we were opening our doors to 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians. That would be quite something. The combined population of these countries is actually 28.6 million.
In reality, there has been no such surge. On the contrary, there has been a modest drop. And the real story told by Wednesday’s numbers is that a record number of people are now in work in the UK and, crucially, youth unemployment is coming down.
This is extremely welcome news. Youth unemployment has been a problem since well before the crisis in our banks. Between Tony Blair entering Downing Street and Gordon Brown leaving it, the number of young people out of work rocketed from 650,000 to 930,000 – an increase of 40 per cent.
The numbers are, of course, still too high. Any young person having their hopes and ambitions thwarted by a lack of opportunities is, in my view, a young person too many.
But what is clear is that the Coalition’s rehabilitation of the economy is working and the emphasis we have placed on helping young people must be continued – whoever is in power after the election next year. For me this will be the great test of the next Parliament. We are eliminating the deficit, we have restored growth, but can we make Britain a place where every young man and woman can get ahead?
I believe we can. This Coalition has already invested in: more apprenticeships than ever; new technical colleges across the country; tens of thousands of work experience places; billions in additional funding to help the poorest pupils in our schools. We’re scrapping the National Insurance businesses pay when they employ anyone under 21.
Some 1.7 million jobs have been created in the private sector – jobs the Liberal Democrats are determined to protect as we fight to keep Britain in the EU. Despite the controversy surrounding tuition fees, I insisted on a fairer, more affordable system and, right now, more young men and women are in university than ever before.
What matters is that we keep our foot on the pedal: youth unemployment won’t come down on its own. We must actively create the opportunities for them to seize. This has been a priority for me in this Parliament. After this good news I am even more determined to make it a priority in the next.
Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister