The Tories' Help to Work will do nothing to solve the jobs crisis

Unlike Labour's Jobs Guarantee, Osborne's plan will mean people are still allowed to languish on the dole for years without ever having a proper job.

The Tories have not had a good week. Our energy freeze will save consumers £120 and businesses £1,800. Rather than welcome it, every time a Conservative appears in front of a television camera they have embarrassed themselves trying to defend the energy companies and a market that is letting Britain down. It's been toe-curling stuff. These Tories can't deal with the cost of living crisis, because when push comes to shove they only stand up for a privileged few.

Once again, David Cameron has shown how he's back in his comfort zone defending the few, not the working many.

Today, we have the Chancellor’s keynote speech replete with his second uncosted proposal in two days. Hot on the heels of a universally derided marriage tax allowance that won't help two-thirds of married couples (and which offers the rest just £3.85 a week, a drop in the ocean compared to the higher VAT and cuts to child tax credits and benefits which have left families worse off), today we have Help to Work - the latest Tory plan to deal with long-term unemployment.

George Osborne, we hear, has decided that Iain Duncan Smith, who is Work and Pension Secretary in name only, is "not clever enough" to do the job. You can understand why. Last week's Work Programme figures showed the scheme has now failed over a million people and even after two years in its good care, 80 per cent of people don't get a steady job. The Youth Contract is even worse, it's failing 90 per cent of people on it. Worse, the nation's auditor has slammed Universal Credit – the Tories’ only proposal to make work pay - and the programme is so out of control that personal assistants are signing purchase orders for tens of millions of pounds.

So Mr Osborne has stepped in with a policy that just hours later is already unravelling. Long term unemployment is at a record high - nearly a million people. And what will this scheme do for those people? Nothing. They won't be offered the scheme at all. In fact, just two per cent of job seekers - you heard that right - just two per cent - will be covered under the Tories' plan today.

My view is very simple. Labour is the party of work, and the party of the better off in work. We need to get the long-term unemployed off benefits and into work - full stop. Not just shoved around from scheme to scheme. Off benefits and into work, guaranteed. And that is exactly what Labour’s Compulsory Jobs Guarantee would do.

Under the next Labour government, if you are out of work for two years - one year if you are under 25 - we will insist you take a job paying the minimum wage, with job search and training alongside it.

Where would the money come from? Well, unlike the Tories, our scheme is fully costed. After just two days of their Conference, the Tories have made £1bn of unfunded spending commitments. Add in a week of the Lib Dems and ministers have so far made £1.6bn of spending commitments during the party conference season - without a clue how they would be paid for. In contrast, we'll reform the pension tax perks of the very rich and place a tax on bankers' bonuses to create our fund to get the long-term unemployed back into work.

We would work with employers like Fujitsu to make sure the jobs are there. In fact, all over Britain, Labour councils and the Welsh Assembly government are running this kind of programme for young people with huge success. The deal under Labour will be straightforward - we will make sure there are jobs, but if you're fit to work, you will have to take them. No ifs, no buts. So: under Labour, no-one will spend more than two years on the dole - no-one.

The Tories cannot - and will not - say this. Their scheme will mean people are still allowed to languish on the dole for years on end without ever having a proper job. And the fact that the Tories won’t tell you today is that this announcement is little more than reheating of a Labour scheme - ‘Work for your Benefits’ - which the Tories scrapped when they came into power. Since then, long-term unemployment has increased by nearly 400%. This is a crisis. That’s why only Labour’s jobs guarantee will do.

After three years of failure it is no surprise the government has finally felt the need to act. This government has utterly failed to tackle Britain’s jobs crisis - and now the social security bill is £20bn higher than forecast. We can't go on like this. We need more action to get the unemployed into jobs, more help for the hardworking people who have seen prices fall faster than wages for the last three years, and more help with the cost of living crisis.

A Compulsory Jobs Guarantee, help with childcare to make work pay, and a freeze on energy bills. That’s how we get Britain back on its feet and give hardworking people a hand against David Cameron’s cost of living crisis.

It’s been a bad week for the Tories and if they don’t come up with some real answers in the next few days it’s going to get a lot worse. Britain can do a lot better than this.

Unemployed young people stand in line outside a job centre in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Liam Byrne is Labour MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, cofounder of the UK-China Young Leaders Roundtable and author of Turning to Face the East: How Britain Prospers in the Asian Century.

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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.