LAST week I was very proud to represent the UK at the G20 – the premier annual forum for international economic co-operation.
As Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, most of my time has been dedicated to business and employment issues.
For example, I have spent time with my counterparts from countries such as Germany, Australia, Brazil and Italy to exchange ideas about boosting employment and productivity.
This has included how we can break down barriers to employment, help the long-term sick and disabled into long-term employment, and how to build a modern and efficient welfare system.
I spoke in the plenary session on how the UK is helping people adapt to new and emerging markets, how the UK welfare system is supporting job coaches in job centres, and how we are providing extra support for those who are long-term sick or disabled.
I was encouraged by the positive feedback I received on our programmes to help more people into employment.
Equally, I was eager to listen and to learn from others and I was particularly interested in how the Indian government is looking to reduce youth unemployment (which is around 25 per cent) through the country’s first Skill Impact Bond.
Private investors are funding skills training for around 50,000 young people, 60 per cent of whom are women, and will see a return on their investment when these people secure and retain employment. I saw first-hand some of the training during a visit to a Learnet Skills Centre.
I also visited BT India for a briefing on its expanding investment across India and how it is supporting girls’ education, particularly in rural areas.
Youth unemployment in the UK has fallen significantly since Labour left office in 2010 (it was around 20 per cent then and is now around 11 per cent).
But there is a lot more to be done to drive this down further and key to this is ensuring young people have the skills and key subject knowledge that employers are looking for.
It is why the government has focused so strongly on English and Maths in our schools, resulting in England climbing up international rankings for reading.
We are now fourth, ahead of every other European country, including Finland (fifth) and Germany (19th) - two of the world’s strongest education systems.
Regarding education, I am delighted that the four education unions representing teachers and head teachers have advised their members to vote in favour of a government offer for a 6.5 per cent pay rise for most teachers from September.
This was the amount recommended by the independent School Teachers’ Review Body – which the government has accepted.
It is a fair deal, both to our hard-working teachers and the tax payer, and I hope it will end the prospect of further strikes and associated disruption this autumn.