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Alison McGovern: “people want respect and dignity”

The shadow minister for work and pensions on Labour's plan for improving employment in the UK.

On this episode of the New Statesman podcast we’re bringing you a conversation from the New Statesman’s Path to Power conference which looked inside the Labour Party machine as it gears up for the next election.

In this session Rachel Cunliffe, associate political editor at the New Statesman, was joined by Alison McGovern, MP for Wirral South and Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, to discuss Labour’s plans for labour. Listen to the episode in the player above, or on your favourite podcast app. Read on for an excerpted transcript of the discussion.

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Podcast transcript (excerpts)

Rachel Cunliffe: What are the main barriers and what are the main things that a government could do to address some of those so that the people wanting jobs and the businesses needing good people can match up better? 

Alison McGovern: Having grown up somewhere, Merseyside, where we had very bad labour market issues when I was young. I feel like often the whole employment conversation gets quite pejorative actually. I suppose I would say, well what would I want if I was not able to work because I was in significant amount of pain? The first thing that I would want would be a well functioning National Health Service.

I’d want not to be stuck on a waiting list for months and months on end. That’s just a dream for some people at the moment. The second thing that I would want would be advice about the sorts of work that might be on offer. It might be a career change, or it might be something that I’d always wanted to get into where I could get some training and get and develop my skills.

I think that’s what I would want. I would want information and a bit of respect and dignity, and I think that’s what most people want.

The employment agenda and the green vision for Britain

RC: How does the skills agenda and the employment agenda fit into that wider green vision for Britain?

AM: It’s massive, actually, it’s massive, and there’s a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, if you look at those places, which comes back to the geography again, that are most likely to benefit from the kind of skills and jobs that we need on our journey to net zero, it is those places that previously had manufacturing and engineering industries in their area, such as the Northeast and its shipbuilding history and it’s industrial engineering traditions. I think there are massive opportunities there for us to get more good jobs. in the kind of energy sectors that will take us to net zero. I think the thing that’s missing is that supply side reform where job centres should be really focused on understanding those plans and helping people get into those sectors. And I just don’t think that we have been doing that.

Unpaid care

RC: There is a question on the issue of unpaid care and the effect that has on people being out of work, not because they don’t want to work, but because they are caring either for children or for older loved ones. There has been a failure of the state to provide the support that they need. This is from Marianne Stevenson from the Women’s Budget Group: what is Labour’s strategy when it comes to addressing that area of economic activity? I feel like economic activity is a very insulting term to use for that particular group. They are not inactive; they are actively trying to fill a gap that the state has left.

AM: It’s funny that ‘economically inactive due to caring responsibilities’ thing, isn’t it? It’s like, a.k.a., what women do. Our strategy is on childcare in particular. I’m sure most people will know that Bridget (Phillipson, shadow education secretary) commissioned David Bell to investigate what’s going on in the current system. We need to be clear about that and figure it out. There is a myriad of challenges in terms of having places for childcare to be, particularly in cities like London where space is at a premium. We’ve got challenges in the childcare workforce and so on. We’ve got that investigation ongoing and on social care, which often we think we have thought about less in politics, about the impact of our social care crisis on the labour market. But actually, I think it’s huge.

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