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How Labour can replace Britain's broken economic model

We must prioritise the things that really matter to people: decent work and wages, secure families and households, and prosperous local places to live.

As we leave the EU, the Labour Party must create its vision of a post-Brexit Britain. The neoliberal economic model is exhausted, but we do not yet have an alternative. Labour needs to develop a new political economy. National renewal must begin with the everyday economy of work, family and the places people live.

The everyday economy is the combination of private, public and social sectors in every region of the country whose services, production and social goods sustain all our daily lives. The foundation of our country is the taken for granted, hard work by underappreciated people earning an often meagre income. Without them our schools, nurseries, care homes, warehouses, food processing centres, supermarkets, hotels, cafes and restaurants, and hospitals would close. The utilities, broadband and our public service infrastructure would fall apart.

Forty years of globalisation have given us growth in trade and lower prices. But we went further in the liberalisation of our economy than our European neighbours. Privatisation and outsourcing created a crony capitalism, enabling companies like Carillion to avoid market competition while their directors enriched themselves on a steady flow of taxpayer-guaranteed revenue.

The balance of power between capital and labour shifted decisively away from working people. Wages suffered a 10 per cent fall from 2007-2015. Household debt is rising while the saving rate has fallen. We have become an economy of wealth extraction rather than wealth creation. It has been the monopolies of the new platform capitalism - Google, Facebook and Amazon - that have been the most voracious.

And in the old industrial regions, jobs have been exported to low wage economies or lost through new technologies. The pride and dignity of skilled work was lost to low paid jobs, unemployment and poverty. A hidden Britain grew up in the shadow of the new economy. A country of high levels of chronic physical and mental illness in which people work hard for their poverty, families live in cold and damp homes, and children go to school hungry.

We are two nations, each unknown to the other. The elites and the professional middle class who voted Remain live in the globally connected places of the economic winners. The working class who voted Leave are trapped in the low-skill, low-wage economy. Schooling and the housing market reproduce this segregation. We are wealthier as a country but more divided and unfair, freer but lonelier, more plural but less sure of who we are.  

We need change to safeguard the good in our society. The first step is a national plan for improving the quality, pay and productivity of jobs in the everyday economy. Industrial policy in this country has had little or nothing to say about the everyday economy. Instead it has concentrated on the cities as engines of growth, in property development, technological innovation and the high productivity trading sectors. It neglects the middle and low paid in the low productivity, non-traded sectors. It neglects the civic infrastructure required to develop research and innovation across the whole economy, not just the high performing firms. And it tends to exclude rural areas and towns from the wealth creating activity it is promoting. 

We must prioritise the things that really matter to people: decent work and wages, secure families and households, and prosperous local places to live.

Workers need more control in their workplace. At least two elected employees should sit on company boards, with similar representation on remuneration committees. Stronger rights to collective bargaining are vital as are new models of labour solidarity to protect workers in the gig economy. New Royal Colleges in sectors such as social care and retail can improve standards and enhance their status. And we need to invest in a high quality national system of vocational education.

Stable family relationships are the foundation for a successful life. Labour needs to protect those services that support families and do much more to eradicate child poverty. The health and wellbeing of our citizens is a vital part of a national plan to improve the productivity of the everyday economy. 

We need to prioritise care both in the early years and in a properly-funded elder care system. A fully functioning mental health care service with talking therapies, and a long-term strategy to tackle the rise of chronic illnesses can start to tackle the scourges of depression, obesity and diabetes. It means improving funding to the NHS but also switching resources from the high cost of caring for symptoms, to the prevention, reduction and patient led management of their causes.

Labour must break with traditional top-down, command and control politics and devolve decision making, resources and tax raising powers to our English cities, towns and counties. Involving local communities and their insights will lead to better policy. Effective devolution demands a radical change in how central government works.

A Unit for Local Wealth Building based in No 10 could create a national economic plan to build local capacity, and organise the cross-departmental collaboration necessary for its implementation. We need to spread capital across the country with a British Investment Bank, or the partly-nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland or a decentralised Citizens' Wealth Fund providing commercial loans on a long-term basis. "Anchor institutions" such as hospitals, universities, large businesses and schools can be used to help develop local economies through their procurement policy, by driving up wages through Living Wage deals, and by spreading innovation down the often poorly performing companies in their supply chains.

We must win the trust of the voters that we can manage their taxes in a responsible way. Over the next 30 years, the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts a widening gap between expected public spending and tax receipts. And yet we must have more money for investment in transport, health, schools and housing. Half Britain’s wealth is owned by just ten per cent of adults. We need a radical overhaul of the tax system.

Labour values have always been family, work, equality and fairness. The labour movement built its political power around the everyday economy of work, clean water, utilities, housing, education, and social services. It grew its roots in local places protecting working people, their neighbourhoods and their family life. A politics of community and belonging was forged alongside workplace struggles.

Times have changed, we are living in a digital age, but the task remains the same. It is an undertaking for a generation.

Rachel Reeves is MP for Leeds West and the chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee.

Her new pamphlet The Everyday Economy is published today

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The overlooked aspect of patient care: why NHS catering needs a revolution

The NHS performs so many miracles every day – in comparison, feeding the sick should be a doddle. 

A friend recently sent me a photo from her hospital bed – not of her newborn baby, sadly, but her dinner. “Pls come and revolutionise the NHS” the accompanying text read, along with a plaintive image of some praying hands. A second arrived the next morning: “Breakfast: cereal, toast or porridge. I asked for porridge. She said porridge would be ‘later’. Never arrived. (sad face).”

Contrast this with the glee with which another friend showed me his menu at a Marie Curie hospice a few weeks later. He seemed to have ticked every box on it, and had written underneath his order for syrup sponge and custard: “extra custard please”. It wasn’t fancy, but freshly cooked, comforting food that residents looked forward to – “like school dinners”, he sighed, “but nice”.

To be fair, though budgets vary significantly between hospital trusts, a reliable estimate suggests £3.45 per patient per day as an average – only slightly more than in Her Majesty’s prisons, though unlike in prisons or schools, there is no legally enforceable set of minimum standards for hospital catering. As Prue Leith writes in the foreword to a 2017 report by the Campaign for Better Hospital Food, “this means hospital food is uniquely vulnerable to a race to the bottom in terms of food quality, and patient care”.

Plate after plate of disappointment is not only demoralising for people who may already be at a low ebb, but overlooks the part food has to play in the recovery process. Balanced, appetising meals are vital to help weaker patients build up strength during their stay, especially as figures released in February suggest the number of hospital deaths from malnutrition is on the rise. According to Department of Health findings last year, 48 per cent of English hospitals failed to comply with food standards intended to be legally binding, with only half screening every admission for malnutrition.

The Campaign for Better Hospital Food’s report, meanwhile, revealed that only 42 per cent of the London hospitals that responded to its survey cooked fresh food for children – even though the largest single cause of admissions in five-to-nine-year-olds is tooth extraction. Less than a third of respondents cooked fresh food for adults.

Once the means to produce fresh meals are in place, they can save trusts money by allowing kitchens to buy ingredients seasonally, when they are cheaper. Michelin-starred chef Phil Howard, recently tasked by the Love British Food organisation to cook their annual lunch on an NHS budget, explained that this, along with using cheaper cuts and pushing vegetables centre stage, allowed him to produce three courses rather than the two he’d been asked for. Delicious they were, too.

Andy Jones, a chef and former chair of the Hospital Caterers Association, who was there championing British food in the NHS, told me the same principles applied in real healthcare environments: Nottingham City Hospital, which prepares meals from scratch, saves £6m annually by buying fresh local ingredients – “I know with more doing, and voices like my small one shouting out, we will see real sea change.”

Unusually, it’s less a question of money than approach. Serving great hospital food takes a kitchen, skilled cooks and quality ingredients. But getting every hospital to this point requires universal legal quality standards, like those already in place in schools, that are independently monitored.

Nutrition should be taken as seriously as any other aspect of care. The NHS performs so many miracles every day – in comparison, feeding the sick should be a doddle. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge