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.