David Cameron is to reiterate the Tory commitment to full employment outlined by George Osborne last year. In a speech today, he is to emphasise his party’s call for achieving this aim, presenting his election manifesto promises on jobs and enterprise.
Full employment may be an economic term, but this is what it means in human terms: it means more of our fellow men and women with the security of a regular wage; it means you, your family and your children having a job and getting on in life.
Are these hollow words or a compelling promise from a Prime Minister desperate to convince an electorate largely yet to feel the so-called recovery that the Tories offer a bright future?
The Labour party has jumped on Cameron’s commitment as “empty words”, considering this government’s record on employment as seen throughout this parliament. The shadow work and pensions secretary, Rachel Reeves, commented:
David Cameron’s talk of full employment will seem like empty words to working people after five years of talents wasted and opportunities denied.
The Tories’ low wage economy has left millions of people stuck on low pay, or unable to get enough work to pay the bills. The average wage has fallen more than £1,600 per year, 3.5 million people want to work more hours, and the number of people paid less than a living wage has risen to nearly five million, driving up the benefits bill and leading to more Tory Welfare Waste.
Meanwhile young people aren’t getting the support they need to make the most of their talents and help our country earn its way out of the cost-of-living crisis.
Indeed, although employment levels have been increasing, the number of low-paid and low quality jobs, and unemployment among young people, remain a stubborn scar on the face of the coalition’s jobs record. Cameron’s pledge to aim for full employment makes his party vulnerable to fair criticism from Labour, which has long been banging the drum for its own plans for higher quality jobs and working conditions.
Labour has promised a Compulsory Jobs Guarantee to help the long-term unemployed off benefits into work, a crackdown on zero-hours contracts, raising the minimum wage to £8 an hour and helping more workers be paid the living wage. The PM’s speech simply gives the opposition a good opportunity to champion its promises on living and working standards.
Labour is the party that has been consistently stronger on living conditions, summed up by its incessant “cost-of-living crisis” narrative, which makes Cameron’s speech today on full employment a little risky for the Tories. His promise begs the question of how he would ensure that, once he’s given such a big boost to the country’s employment, workers are working and living satisfactorily.