Traditional terraced properties with the Canary Wharf skyline behind in Greenwich. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Only Labour can offer the long-term economic plan Britain needs

We will only sustain support for an open and dynamic market economy if we show that it can work for all, and not just some.

Indiscreet comments from warring cabinet ministers have dominated our political debate for the last week. But buried under the unseemly row between Michael Gove and Theresa May was another cabinet-level disclosure which was just as significant.

The previous Conservative chancellor Ken Clarke’s public admission that most people have "not yet felt any sense of recovery" blew apart the complacent claims of the current Chancellor that the economy is fixed and there’s no cost-of-living crisis. As the election results last month showed, Ken was right. Growing numbers of people do not think the economy or mainstream politics is working for them right now. In the face of stagnating living standards and growing insecurity, they want real but credible change, not more of the same.

This is a challenge for all mainstream parties. And unlike the Tories, it is a challenge that Labour is determined to rise to. Because, despite Ken Clarke’s candour, it’s clear that David Cameron and George Osborne still don’t think there is a problem to solve. The Conservatives seem to believe that simply repeating the line that their policies are working, because GDP growth has finally returned, will see them home and dry.

Put aside the fact their plan has so far totally failed to deliver what it promised – the books balanced by 2015, sustained rises in living standards, the AAA credit rating maintained, a re-balanced economy, and all being in this together. Looking forward, the challenge for all mainstream parties is that working people just don’t believe they will share in rising prosperity, whether that is affording a home, securing a better paid job or saving for a decent pension.

And they have good reason to be sceptical. The stagnation in real wage growth is not just a problem of the last few years. It started in Britain over a decade ago as rapid technological change and global trade pressures put the squeeze on middle and lower income households. And the UK is not alone – real living standards for middle and low income households have stagnated across the developed world.

While low-wage and unskilled employment has grown, research shows that traditionally middle-income jobs, in manufacturing and services, have fallen as a share of total employment across all OECD countries. And as the recent publicity around Google’s driverless car shows, labour-substituting technological change is, if anything, set to accelerate further.

The hard truth is that there is no quick fix – we have to earn our way to rising living standards for all. And we can’t turn our face against change and the world. Britain has always succeeded, and can only succeed in the future, as an open and internationalist and outward-facing trading nation, with enterprise, risk and innovation valued and rewarded.

But nor can we succeed through a race to the bottom - with British companies simply trying to compete on cost as people see their job security eroded and living standards decline. We can only succeed through a race to the top – backing British innovation and investing in the skills of all as we make our economy more dynamic and competitive, and earn our way to higher living standards for everyone.

That is why we need a real long-term economic plan to make the reforms needed now to ensure we have a strong and sustained recovery that is built to last and which delivers rising living standards for the many, not just a few at the top. First, on housing, we need to match rising demand for housing with rising supply. The next Labour government will get at least 200,000 new homes built a year by the end of the Parliament.

We need to commit to a new generation of new towns and give real Treasury guarantees to get them off the ground. We should be giving towns a right to grow and ensuring land with planning permission is built on quickly. We need to match a reformed Help to Buy scheme with a Help to Build scheme for small and medium-sized builders. And Sir Michael Lyons’ review for Labour will soon set out more of the reforms that need to be made.

If we fail to act now, not only will the aspirational majority who want to own their own homes find it ever harder to get on the ladder, but an imbalanced housing market also poses risks to the wider economy. A premature rise in interest rates to rein in the housing market in some parts of the country will have an impact on millions of families and businesses across the UK.

After warnings from the Bank of England and the IMF, the Chancellor will belatedly claim today that the government is acting. But when housebuilding under this government has reached the lowest peacetime levels since the 1920s, we need bold action now, not tinkering that is too little too late.

Second, we need more good jobs and to make work pay. That is why we will introduce a new gold standard vocational qualification for 18-year-olds and give control over apprenticeship spending to business to ensure every young person gets the skills they need. We will repeat the tax on bank bonuses to ensure every young person out of work for more than a year has a paid starter-job. And we will task the Low Pay Commission with ensuring we restore the lost value of the minimum wage, introduce incentives for employers to pay the non-statutory living wage and expand free childcare for working parents.

Third, we need to end the dither and delay not just on housing but our wider infrastructure. Sir John Armitt has set out a clear blueprint plan for an independent infrastructure commission which will make it harder for future governments to kick vital decisions, like the need to expand aviation capacity, into the long grass.

Fourth, we need to reform uncompetitive markets that are not working for consumers or businesses alike. In energy we have seen again this week why we need Ed Miliband’s reforms when falling wholesale costs have not been passed on to customers. In banking, net lending to businesses is down by £122bn under this Chancellor. Labour will ask the Competition and Markets Authority to report on how we can increase competition with new challenger banks, establish a proper Business Investment Bank and cut business rates for 1.5 million business properties.

Finally, we need reforms in Europe – not an arbitrary referendum for reasons of internal Tory party management which is creating huge business uncertainty - and to make sure immigration is fair and managed with strong borders and tough controls. That means being properly engaged in Europe, not with one foot in the exit door. And it means reforms to ensure that EU citizens seeking work here contribute to our economy and society.

As I argued four years ago, we should extend the period of time that people from new member states have to wait before being able to come to the United Kingdom to look for work. We will work to stop the payment of child benefits to those not resident in this country, consult on changing the rules on deporting someone who receives a custodial sentence shortly after arriving in the UK, and have called on the government to double the time that an EU migrant has to wait before being able to claim the basic jobseeker’s allowance.

This is Labour’s agenda for economic change. It stands in marked contrast to Tory ministers burying their heads in the sand, repeating a hollow mantra and hoping that more of the same will restore public trust. We will only sustain support for an open and dynamic market economy if we show that it can work for all, and not just some. That is the long-term economic plan Britain needs.

Ed Balls is the shadow chancellor and MP for Morley and Outwood

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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.