Local solutions are the key to full employment

Labour is learning from countries where local services are trusted to match job seekers with vacancies.

In the pages of this week’s New Statesman the ever excellent Ian Mulheirn takes a look at this government’s employment policy. Needless to say it’s not a roaring success.

For proof, you need look no further than Wednesday’s unemployment figures. For the second month in a row, the number of people actually in work fell; that means our economy has quite simply stopped created jobs and is starting to lose them. Unemployment rose. Long term unemployment rose – and we now live in a country where one in five people out of work has been on the dole for more than two years. Yet in spite of the obvious need Ministers continue to resist Labour’s calls for a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee to end the prospect of a life on the dole.

Instead Iain Duncan Smith presses on with a Work Programme that doesn’t work, leaving more and more people getting further and further away from the labour market. And what’s more he has failed the very test he set himself his during fleeting reinvention as a compassionate conservative.

Back in Easterhouse the future Secretary of State for Work and Pensions told the world that, “A nation that leaves its vulnerable behind, diminishes its own future.” But after three years of power he isn’t bringing unemployment down on Britain’s poorest communities, he’s watching it rise.

Today, three quarters of the British estates most blighted by unemployed have seen worklessness rise since May 2010, and in two thirds long term unemployment has continued to spiral out of control.

Yet for all the promises they made in Opposition, this government has done nothing to re-skill the unemployed for the jobs that do exist. And the truth is skills are more important than ever – in today’s global market place, low skilled British workers are competing with workers paid twelve times less. The result is more than half of those without a skill are out of work, and the number is rising.

More and more of our low-skilled or no-skilled workers now live in Britain’s poorest communities. In fact, some of Britain’s poorest communities are home to five times more unskilled workers than Britain’s richest communities, and the truth is Ministers are allowing them to fall further and further behind.

The answer to the problem of poor places - as I argued in my speech to IPPR North last night – can be found in countries that are localising back to work services so workers can be better connected with local jobs, saving the state a fortune in benefit payments along the way. In times as tough as these we certainly shouldn’t be afraid to borrow the best ideas from our friends and neighbours.

In Germany, their more localised approach has contributed to saving billions of euros in welfare payments by driving up the employment rate. Local jobcentres work closely with surrounding schools and have deep roots in the local labour market which allows them to engage with employers far beyond the traditional low skill, low pay sectors.

Whilst in Canada, localised delivery of back to work programmes give local government the flexibility to establish their own priorities and to develop programmes to achieve them. Provinces and territories control how the funding is allocated in order to meet the needs of their particular labour markets, which in turn gives them the opportunity to apply local expertise to skills development, allocating targeted wage subsidies, and creating Job Creation Partnerships, to help provide useful work experience that leads to sustained employment

But it’s not just on foreign shores that decision makers are changing things on the ground with a more localised approach. Here in the UK, Labour authorities are already leading the way. Places like Glasgow, Wales, Newham and Liverpool are seeing Labour leaders innovate in a way that DWP officials in Whitehall cannot, by using local expertise to tackle unemployment head on. That’s how we start on the path back to full employment – and that’s how we rebuild Britain.

For Labour, that goal of full employment has always been the foundation for getting our country back on its feet. It was for Atlee’s Labour. It was for New Labour. It will be once more for One Nation Labour. Today the goal of full employment is important for a very simple reason. The faster we return to full employment, the faster we can pay down our debt. And the faster we can put the “something for something” back in to social security.

The Tories’ problem isn’t just that they are failing, but that they lost a belief in full employment many years ago, and never rediscovered it. That means more money spent on unemployment, so there is less to go around for working people and less for care.

After three years of failure we’ve got to find new ways to break out of this viscous circle. Seventy years ago, we set out a new path to full employment. Just as the Beveridge Report is a still a good roadmap for today, so too is the 1944 White Paper on Full Employment. It teaches us to be radical reformers to bring down the costs of social security; building exports; supporting public investment; fanning consumer demand – and taking determined action on jobs. It is a long road, but tackling poor places would be a big first step to getting our country back to full employment.

Next year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the white paper on full employment. We should mark that anniversary not with empty words but with big plans. Plans to rebuild the path to full employment for new times. Plans which could help us modernise our social security system, rebuild trust, and crucially put its finances back on an even keel for the future.

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

Theresa May "indifferent" towards Northern Ireland, says Alliance leader Naomi Long

The non-sectarian leader questioned whether the prime minister and James Brokenshire have the “sensitivity and neutrality” required to resolve the impasse at Stormont.

Theresa May’s decision to call an early election reflects her “indifference” towards the Northern Ireland peace process, according to Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, who has accused both the prime minister and her Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire of lacking the “sensitivity and neutrality” required to resolve the political impasse at Stormont.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman, Long – who is running to regain her former Belfast East seat from the DUP for her non-sectarian party in June – accused the Conservatives of “double messaging” over its commitment to Northern Ireland’s fragile devolution settlement. The future of power-sharing province remains in doubt as parties gear up for the province’s fourth election campaign in twelve months.

Asked whether she believed the prime minister – who has been roundly criticised at Stormont for her decision to go to the country early – truly cared about Northern Ireland, Long’s assessment was blunt. “We have had no sense at any time, even when she was home secretary, that she has any sensitivity towards the Northern Ireland process or any interest in engaging with it at all... It speaks volumes that, when she did her initial tour when she was prime minister, Northern Ireland was fairly low down on her list.”

The timing of the snap election has forced Brokenshire to extend the deadline for talks for a fourth time – until the end of June – which Long said was proof “Northern Ireland and its problems were not even considered” in the prime minister’s calculations. “I think that’s increasingly a trend we’ve seen with this government,” she said, arguing May’s narrow focus on Brexit and pursuing electoral gains in England had made progress “essentially almost impossible”.

“They really lack sensitivity – and appear to be tone deaf to the needs of Scotland and Northern Ireland,” she said. “They are increasingly driven by an English agenda in terms of what they want to do. That makes it very challenging for those of us who are trying to restore devolution, which is arguably in the worst position it’s been in [since the Assembly was suspended for four years] in 2003.”

The decisive three weeks of post-election talks will now take place in the weeks running up to Northern Ireland’s loyalist parade season in July, which Long said was “indicative of [May’s] indifference” and would make compromise “almost too big an ask for anyone”. “The gaps between parties are relatively small but the depth of mistrust is significant. If we have a very fractious election, then obviously that timing’s a major concern,” she said. “Those three weeks will be very intense for us all. But I never say never.”

But in a further sign that trust in Brokenshire’s ability to mediate a settlement among the Northern Irish parties is deteriorating, she added: “Unless we get devolution over the line by that deadline, I don’t think it can be credibly further extended without hitting James Brokenshire’s credibility. If you continue to draw lines in the sand and let people just walk over them then that credibility doesn’t really exist.”

The secretary of state, she said, “needs to think very carefully about what his next steps are going to be”, and suggested appointing an independent mediator could provide a solution to the current impasse given the criticism of Brokenshire’s handling of Troubles legacy issues and perceived partisan closeness to the DUP. “We’re in the bizarre situation where we meet a secretary of state who says he and his party are completely committed to devolution when they ran a campaign, in which he participated, with the slogan ‘Peace Process? Fleece Process!’ We’re getting double messages from the Conservatives on just how committed to devolution they actually are.”

Long, who this week refused to enter into an anti-Brexit electoral pact with Sinn Fein and the SDLP, also criticised the government’s push for a hard Brexit – a decision which she said had been taken with little heed for the potentially disastrous impact on Northern Ireland - and said the collapse of power-sharing at Stormont was ultimately a direct consequence of the destabilisation brought about by Brexit.

 Arguing that anything other than retaining current border arrangements and a special status for the province within the EU would “rewind the clock” to the days before the Good Friday agreement, she said: “Without a soft Brexit, our future becomes increasingly precarious and divided. You need as Prime Minister, if you’re going to be truly concerned about the whole of the UK, to acknowledge and reflect that both in terms of tone and policy. I don’t think we’ve seen that yet from Theresa May.”

She added that the government had no answers to the “really tough questions” on Ireland’s post-Brexit border. “This imaginary vision of a seamless, frictionless border where nobody is aware that it exists...for now that seems to me pie in the sky.”

However, despite Long attacking the government of lacking the “sensitivity and neutrality” to handle the situation in Northern Ireland effectively, she added that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn had similarly failed to inspire confidence.

“Corbyn has no more sensitivity to what’s going on in Northern Ireland at the moment than Theresa May,” she said, adding that his links to Sinn Fein and alleged support for IRA violence had made him “unpalatable” to much of the Northern Irish public. “He is trying to repackage that as him being in some sort of advance guard for the peace process, but I don’t think that’s the position from which he and John McDonnell were coming – and Northern Irish people know that was the case.” 

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

0800 7318496