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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Mumslink shows how online parenting networks are coming of age

Women online are changing the relationship between digital domesticity and digital independence. 

The habit of “speaking as a mother” came in for its fair share of criticism this summer. Andrea Leadsom’s insinuation of superiority over Theresa May, her rival for the Tory leadership, elicited widespread scorn – not least from those who have done most to strengthen the voice of mothers as a group: internet mums.

Over the past 15 years, the ten million users a month who log on to Mumsnet have been courted by politicians in webchats and speeches alike. The 2010 general election was even named “the Mumsnet election” in their honour.

From the start, parenting networks attracted users interested in comradeship, as much as those after information. 

For Jo Williamson, a mother-of-two, the trigger was the day her second child left for school, a jarring experience. “I went into a blind panic, thinking: ‘Blimey, I’m going to be sitting in an empty house just waiting for everybody to come back.’” In response, Jo and her business partner Jane Pickard came up with the idea for a new site that focuses on the fluid nature of many women’s professional and family lives.

The resulting network, Mumslink, uses carefully edited news feeds to introduce readers to ideas, businesses and charities that complement all aspects of their lives – from recipe tips to volunteering. “There are so many women out there with a plethora of talents but most of the time, because you’re with your children, nobody asks you to get involved,” Williamson says.

Similar feelings of isolation led Siobhan Freegard to found Netmums, one of the UK’s largest parenting sites. Back in 2000, she had barely heard of “social networks”, nor of Mumsnet, which launched around the same time, yet she knew that mothers needed a place “to share their stories and maybe meet up in the offline world, too”.

Such identity-building led to divisions over “the right way” to be a mother. A tense rivalry developed between the slightly younger Netmums and the more educated and affluent Mumsnetters (Tesco and Waitrose didn’t sponsor different networks for nothing). Within the sites’ pages, differences of opinion over working v stay-at-home parenting sparked allegations of hostility and bullying. Still, the media researcher Sarah Pedersen says there’s an argument that these sites have helped produce a reduction in depression and anxiety, as well as greater opportunities for women to negotiate “the tension between themselves and their role as mothers”.

There are signs that this online culture is growing up. The perception of mums as “a bit insular and thick” is more easily countered, says Justine Roberts, the founder of Mumsnet, “now that so many mothers are able to express their individuality, their interests and their expertise in the public domain”.

According to Freegard, the very act of online sharing has helped begin to repair the rifts within the parenting debate. “With social media, we see working mums and part-time mums, and we see mums changing roles as their children change ages, and we understand that there are different angles to things – that everyone has their story.”

This is more pronounced in the world of video blogging, Freegard says. On her YouTube channel, Channel Mum, people talk calmly about controversial subjects that would have been a “bloodbath” on Netmums, such as ear piercing for very young children. “With video, you can see the person in real life and that helps you feel for their story,” she says.

Perhaps the greatest effect, however, has been on how the internet allows parents to work from home. As many as 160,000 part-time ventures have been started by British women in the past two years alone, self-styled kitchen-table start-ups. Sites such as Mumslink (similarly funded by Williamson and Pickard and run out of the former’s front room in Hertfordshire) aim to help this home-based workforce with new clients. One Mumslinker visits the site to write about her own line of natural nail varnish, another to promote her hot-tub business. The company Digital Mums uses it to encourage women to expand their digital skills.

Commercial savvy is something that Freegard is also keen to develop at Channel Mum – equipping her contributors with financial advice and small stipends. “I remember looking at mummy bloggers and thinking, ‘You guys didn’t get properly organised,’” she says. Freegard points out that most early mum bloggers never grew their audience beyond those already involved in parenting online, and struggled to become more professional as a result.

Quite what the future relationships will be between the brands, businesses and audiences for information on parenting has yet to be established. Some users will baulk at being increasingly cast in the role of consumer. At the same time, the networks’ names – Mumsnet, Netmums, Mumslink, Channel Mum – suggest that parenting is still a woman’s domain.

Yet a better balance seems to be emerging in the relationship between digital domesticity and digital independence. Greater gender equality in the distribution of start-up funding, more job vacancies that allow flexible working, and increasing numbers of prominent women in the tech industry are just some of the things the community is striving to promote. In Britain, which has an ageing population and an ever-growing community of carers, the rise of these networks seems sure to be a net gain for us all. 

For more, visit: mumslink.com

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser