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, and sits on the International Trade select committee. He is the cofounder of the UK-China Young Leaders Roundtable and author of Turning to Face the East: How Britain Prospers in the Asian Century.

Getty
Show Hide image

What Charles Windsor’s garden reveals about the future of the British monarchy

As an open-minded republican, two things struck me. 

First we are told that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has lost his battle for a “soft” Brexit. In a joint article, he and the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, the hardest of the ministerial Brexiteers, seem to agree that the UK will leave the European customs union in 2019. Then we get a reverse ferret. Hammond will go for a softish Brexit, after all. A government paper states that the UK will seek a “temporary customs union” in the “transition period” that, it hopes, will follow Brexit.

All this is a taste of things to come. We shall see many more instances of hard and soft Brexiteers celebrating victory or shrieking about betrayal. We shall also see UK and EU leaders storming out of talks, only to return to negotiations a few days later. My advice is to ignore it all until Friday 29 March 2019, when UK and EU leaders will emerge from all-night talks to announce a final, impenetrable fudge.

Lessons not learned

What you should not ignore is the scandal over Learndirect, the country’s largest adult training and apprenticeships provider. An Ofsted report states that a third of its apprentices receive none of the off-the-job training required. In a random sample, it found no evidence of learning plans.

Labour started Learndirect in 2000 as a charitable trust controlled by the Department for Education. It was sold to the private equity arm of Lloyds Bank in 2011 but remains largely reliant on public money (£158m in 2016-17). Since privatisation, 84 per cent of its cash has gone on management fees, interest payments and shareholder dividends. It spent £504,000 on sponsoring the Marussia Formula One team in an attempt to reach “our core customer group… in a new and exciting way”. The apprentices’ success rate fell from 67.5 per cent before privatisation to 57.8 per cent now.

This episode tells us that, however the Brexit process is going, Britain’s problems remain unchanged. Too many services are in the hands of greedy, incompetent private firms, and we are no closer to developing a skilled workforce. We only know about Learndirect’s failure because the company’s attempt to prevent Ofsted publishing its report was, after ten weeks of legal wrangling, overthrown in the courts.

A lot of hot air

Immediately after the Paris climate change accord in 2015, I expressed doubts about how each country’s emissions could be monitored and targets enforced. Now a BBC Radio 4 investigation finds that climate-warming gases emitted into the atmosphere far exceed those declared under the agreement. For example, declarations of methane emissions from livestock in India are subject to 50 per cent uncertainty, and those in Russia to 30-40 per cent uncertainty. One region in northern Italy, according to Swiss scientists, emits at least six times more climate-warming gases than are officially admitted. Remember this when you next hear politicians proclaiming that, after long and arduous negotiations, they have achieved a great victory.

Come rain or come shine

Climate change, scientists insist, is not the same thing as changes in the weather but writing about it brings me naturally to Britain’s wet August and newspaper articles headlined “Whatever happened to the sunny Augusts of our childhood?” and so on. The Daily Mail had one in which the writer recalled not a “single rainy day” from his family holidays in Folkestone. This, as he explained, is the result of what psychologists call “fading affect bias”, which causes our brains to hold positive memories longer than negative ones.

My brain is apparently atypical. I recall constant frustration as attempts to watch or play cricket were interrupted by rain. I remember sheltering indoors on family holidays with card games and books. My life, it seems, began, along with sunshine, when I left home for university at 18. Do psychologists have a name for my condition?

High and dry

Being an open-minded republican, I bought my wife, a keen gardener, an escorted tour of the gardens at Highgrove, the private residence of the man I call Charles Windsor, for her birthday. We went there this month during a break in the Cotswolds. The gardens are in parts too fussy, rather like its owner, but they are varied, colourful and hugely enjoyable. Two things struck me. First, the gardens of the elite were once designed to showcase the owner’s wealth and status, with the eye drawn to the grandeur of the mansion. Highgrove’s garden is designed for privacy, with many features intended to protect royalty from the prying public and particularly the press photographers’ long lenses. Second, our guide, pointing out what the owner had planted and designed, referred throughout to “His Royal Highness”, never “Charles”. I am pondering what these observations mean for the monarchy and its future.

Sympathy for the devil

Before leaving for the Cotswolds, we went to the Almeida Theatre in north London to see Ink, featuring Rupert Murdoch’s relaunch of the Sun in 1969. Many accounts of Murdoch  portray him as a power-crazed monster and his tabloid hacks as amoral reptiles. Ink is far more nuanced. It shows Murdoch as a mixture of diffidence, charm and menace, in love with newspapers and determined to blow apart a complacent,
paternalistic British establishment.

You may think that he and the Sun had a permanently coarsening effect on public life and culture, and I would largely agree. But he was also, in his own way, a 1960s figure and his Sun, with its demonic energy, was as typical a product of that decade as the Beatles’ songs. The play strengthened my hunch that its author, James Graham, who also wrote This House, set in the parliamentary whips’ offices during the 1970s, will eventually be ranked as the century’s first great playwright.

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear