Full employment must be at the top of Labour’s 2015 agenda

employment

Austerity continues to ruin economies across Europe; the EU’s unemployment rate has hit a record high of 11%, France has been plunged back into recession and Britain has narrowly avoided a similar fate.

Even Germany’s economy only grew by 0.1% in the last quarter. 

Despite the OECD’s recent downgrade of its growth forecast for the UK economy this year and next, Osborne is ploughing ahead with a new tranche of £11.5 billion spending cuts. It is becoming increasingly clear that by 2015, Tory austerity will have delivered a flatling economy for five years.

For Labour the challenge at the next election will be to deliver a positive agenda that rejects the failed and discredited Tory cuts and embraces a pro-growth investment strategy – and this programme must have full employment as a key objective.

It is not just figures on the left who recognise the damage that austerity-induced unemployment is having, Chairman of the US Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke said last week that “high rates of unemployment and underemployment are extraordinarily costly: Not only do they impose hardships on the affected individuals and their families, they also damage the productive potential of the economy as a whole.”

He added that “the loss of output and earnings associated with high unemployment also reduces government revenues…thereby leading to larger budget deficits and higher levels of public debt than would otherwise occur.”

Getting people into work means they’re paying taxes and spending money in their local shops; generating the demand in our economy that spending cuts have sucked out. It would also slash the amount being spent on out-of-work benefits and neutralise the poisonous debate on welfare the Tories hope will kill off chances of a Labour majority in 2015.

Labour cannot allow the Tories to set the agenda for the next election. Accepting their spending plans would be disastrous for jobs, living standards and the economy and mean cutting deeper than Osborne already has.

This government has shown that the Tories don’t know best when it comes to the economy and the persistent levels of unemployment are a testament to their economic failure. A Labour plan for a growing economy could create no better contrast with Osborne’s jobless millions than to put full employment at the top of our 2015 agenda.

Join Next Generation Labour for a discussion on Labour’s economic plans with Peter Hain MP, John Healey MP, Cllr Catherine West, Mick Burke and Heather WakeField – 6.30pm on Monday 10th June 

 

Collusion with cutters won’t win it for Labour

Sunday’s Observer article, ‘Ed Miliband to wage war on Osborne over benefit cuts, was interesting, in that it revealed some of the darker tendencies of the Blairite right’s apparent collusion with Cameron and Osborne over the continued savaging of the country’s most basic mechanisms of social security. The first I could see to publicly associate themselves with the ‘senior Labour insider’ was former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who outed herself in an article for Progress, ‘The Osborne Trap’, as a member of the pro-cuts ‘caucus’.

Smith’s message, one that veterans of the worst extremities of New Labour’s triangulation strategy will know all too well, is that, whatever our own personal opinions on the policies concerned, what is priority is what the polling says, as therein lies the perpetual nirvana that is an election victory. But ignoring for a moment the technical or strategic reasons why an ‘anti-scrounger’ narrative harms rather than enhances Labour’s electoral chances, let’s just be clear what Smith’s message is saying, the part that I am most uncomfortable with. She says that the Tories want to give off the image of Labour as a party which ‘cares more about those unwilling to work than those struggling in work and who are careless with taxpayers’ money.’ So then, does she offer a compelling exposition as to why this is wholly hypocritical, given the Coalition government’s austerity agenda has kept people out of work and on the dole, costing the Exchequer more in benefit payments? No, she merely concedes that,’This is a nasty way of pitting one set of poor people against another set, but the Tories’ polling will tell them that this is a strong message with voters.’

There has to be more to politics than this ruthless segmentation of the issues on the basis of what chimes well with a focus group and what doesn’t. What is a political movement without values underpinning the existence of it? In the labour movement, we show compassion to those on the lowest incomes, those who genuinely struggle daily. This should be the cornerstone of our values, we should support to right to dignity in and out of work. If our movement doesn’t defend the poorest and most vulnerable, we cannot complain when the Tories continue to champion the concerns of millionaires, bankers and big business. If Labour equivocates on the need to be the chief advocate of the welfare state, which protects both those in employment and the unemployed alike, it only makes it easier for Cameron and Osborne to openly hack away at it until it no longer exists.

The ‘lost five million voters’ narrative is one that has been widely discussed in Labour circles, and certainly deserves a strong hearing in the context of this debate. Jacqui Smith rightly talks about the kind of response she gets on the doorstep. I must confess, I seldom get deficit hawks on the doorstep, but I do often get those who used to be part of the democratic process, usually ex-Labour voters, and have dropped out during the New Labour years, and who we now write-off as non-voters and therefore useless to the game of electoral politics. Or those who were never in the game to begin with, who saw politics as offering nothing for them. These aren’t the kind of people who were disgusted with expenses, or disappointed at the failure to secure electoral reform, these are people who were politicised at a time when a Labour government was seen to be not too dissimilar from the policies of the Thatcher and Major years. We know that’s not true, we know that New Labour did an enormous amount for the lowest paid, but we also know that no amount of grandstanding over the minimum wage or tax credits is enough to fire up even a handful of those five million voters who abandoned the Labour Party and disappeared into the political abyss.

I don’t want to fall into the same kind of thinking as Jacqui Smith by obsessing over the polling implications of support for the welfare state, but it is worth remembering that as long as Labour compromises on the issues closest to its core supporters, the energy and spirit of those most likely to vote Labour is weakened, and the likelihood of a Labour government is less and less assured. The historical certainty of this can be seen in 1951, in 1979 and in 2010, where Labour governments, pulled to the right by the demands of capital, lost power to a more right-wing and ideologically driven Conservative government than the one that preceded it. That Cameron and Osborne are finishing off the last vestiges of the post-war social democratic settlement – the NHS, local government, and the welfare state – is a testament to that.

The kind of politicking that Smith and her pro-cuts caucus endorse is one that is empty of values, and reduces, rather than increases, the likelihood of a mobilised fightback against the Tory government. It will make it harder, not easier, for the Labour Party to present itself as a clear and compelling alternative at the next election. Ed Miliband is right to stand up for the right of the poorest and most vulnerable in society to a basic income that keeps up with the cost of living, and he would be wise to work with the Parliamentary Labour Party to ward off the voices of collusion.

 

Dan Jeffery is a councillor in Southampton

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Action needed on black women’s unemployment

MPs have published a truly damning report which highlights the full scale of the women’s unemployment crisis. While some focus has been paid to the impact of the recession on black men, very little coverage has touched on the issue of black female unemployment. It is welcome therefore that MPs and Peers have taken up this worrying issue.

In the report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Race and Community it was found that unemployment rates of Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women have remained consistently higher than those of white women since the 1980s, and indeed the rate for Pakistani and Bangladeshi women has gone up since 2004. Current statics show that 20% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women are unemployed, with 17.7% of Black women compared of 6.8% of their white counterparts.

They found that there are a number of barriers which prevent these groups of women from gaining employment and that discrimination is present during every stage of the interview process, from the assessment of applications through to the interview itself and at recruitment agencies. Professors Anthony Heath and Yaojun Li estimated that 25% of the BME unemployment rate for both men and women may be explained by prejudice and racial discrimination. Discrimination based on religion, name and accent was also found by the Inquiry. Furthermore, the Inquiry found that some women change their names or remove hijabs in order to secure a job.

The APPG report makes a number of recommendations which it urges the Government to consider alongside ending their ‘colour blind’ approach. Ensuring work for women is essential to women’s empowerment and society as a whole. Unfortunately the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that Equality Impact Assessments will soon be scrapped suggests that they are not willing to take anywhere near the action required on this issue. It is therefore vital that Labour takes up the issue of BME women’s unemployment as a priority and puts it at the centre of the political agenda.

 

By Jyoti Bhojani