Getty
Show Hide image

Philip Hammond is making the disabled a scapegoat for the Tory failure on productivity

The Chancellor's buck passing is lazy and offensive. 

Yesterday, Philip Hammond tried to pass the blame for the Tories’ economic failures onto disabled people. We’ve already been made to bear the brunt of cruel and unnecessary austerity measures and now the Chancellor is trying to blame disabled workers for Britain's low productivity. These comments were lazy and offensive and show a complete lack of understanding of the real issues.

Over the past seven years, the Tories’ economic policies have failed to deliver better living standards. We now have the lowest growth in the G7, average real wages have not increased since 2006 and, in the budget, the target for clearing the deficit was moved back to 2031,16 years later than George Osborne’s original target.

At the root of this is Britain’s productivity crisis. Productivity growth collapsed after the 2008 financial crash and has yet to recover. This means that families across Britain are still struggling to make ends meet. But, instead of trying to tackle this crisis and reverse their failing policies, Philip Hammond decided to scapegoat disabled people for those political failures.

Not only were his comments deeply offensive, but, they also make no economic sense. Productivity started to stagnate in 2008, but, in that period, the disability employment gap - the difference between the proportion of disabled and able-bodied people in work - has barely moved from just over 30 percent. That represents millions of disabled people who, with reasonable adjustments, could be working and fulfilling their potential. According to the charity Scope, if we reduced the disability employment gap to the EU average of 20 per cent, that would grow the economy and contribute an extra £12bn to the Exchequer over the next few years.

The real cause of Britain’s productivity crisis is not people like me working. It’s austerity. The Tories’ ideological obsession with shrinking the state has led to a decade of underinvestment. In fact, we now have the lowest investment rates in the G7. In order to improve productivity, we need new technology, new infrastructure and new ideas. These will only come from a strategic investment plan which creates secure, meaningful and well-paid jobs right across Britain.

What I find particularly troubling about Philip Hammond’s comments is that they show a complete lack of awareness of the issues and barriers disabled people face when we look for work. By spreading this kind of misinformation, he has given legitimacy to one of the founding myths around disability and employment, a myth that stops disabled people from finding employment every single day. Surveys have found that nearly a third of business leaders don’t feel confident about employing a person with hearing loss. For other forms of disability that figure will be much, much higher. Tackling those myths should be the number one priority for a government that claims to want to get more disabled people into work. Philip Hammond’s comments will have made that job immeasurably more difficult.

It was only last week that the government finally published Improving Lives – The Future of Work, Health and Disability. The policy document confirmed that they have quietly dropped their ambition to halve the disability employment gap by 2020. It then went on to praise existing schemes like Disability Confident, despite there being no real evidence that they are working. It offered warm words but no new ideas and no serious policy announcements. Philip Hammond’s comments yesterday revealed why. They’re don’t believe that disabled people like me have anything to contribute to society.

We have a Chancellor who’s in denial about the causes of our productivity crisis and who wants to pass the blame onto disabled people. This is unacceptable. A society that works for all can’t hold disabled people back. If society is organised in a way that allows us to fulfil our potential, then everyone would benefit. We can’t allow this Tory government to get away with scapegoating like this. Philip Hammond should apologise immediately.

Marsha de Cordova is the Labour MP for Battersea.

Getty
Show Hide image

Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.