Ross Clark

A legacy Theresa May can be proud of

A legacy Theresa May can be proud of
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Theresa May is said to be desperately searching for a legacy in her last few weeks at Number 10. It is staring her in the face.

Today, the Office for National Statistics published its latest employment figures which confirm, against all odds, that we are in the midst of a jobs miracle of which any previous prime minister would have been proud.

The employment rate climbed again to 76.1 per cent, the equal highest on record. The unemployment rate fell to 3.8 per cent, the lowest rate since the autumn of 1974. The rate for economic inactivity – which takes into account people who are not working but not looking for work either – is also at its lowest rate ever, at 25.2 per cent of the working age population.

As for the frequent claim that falling joblessness has come at the expense of low-paid employees on insecure zero hours contracts, that doesn’t stack up. Average earnings have risen a healthy 3.4 per cent in the past 12 months – an increase of 1.5 per cent when adjusted for inflation. Only 2.6 per cent of the working population are on zero hours contracts – and of them only a third of them actually want more hours.

This isn’t zero hours Britain – it is full employment Britain. How Mrs Thatcher would have loved such a legacy, or Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Major or Jim Callaghan. I am not sure exactly what Theresa May has done to bring the jobs miracle about – or at least continue it, as it started under Cameron – but I would claim it as my own triumph if I was her.

Remarkably, employment has continued to grow in spite of a hefty increase in the National Living Wage. That is another thing to add to the long list of predictions on which the CBI has been proved hopelessly wrong – it has consistently warned over the past two decades that introducing, or increasing, a national minimum wage would increase unemployment. It hasn’t.

Balanced against the continued good news on the jobs front, of course, was Monday’s dreadful GDP figures showing that the economy contracted by 0.4 per cent in April. That is all the more remarkable given than it was the month when we failed to leave the EU – and, according to some Remainers – you might have expected to see the economy undergo a relief rally.

Yet the economy still managed to grow by 0.3 per cent in the three months to April, so it is not yet clear whether April’s dive was the start of something ominous or a statistical quirk caused by a late Easter or something.

But as far as Theresa May’s horizon is concerned, she is leaving office with an economy which has consistently outperformed the doom-laden predictions. There are a lot of negatives to go on her personal balance sheet, but employment is a very big positive.