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Successive Tory governments have abandoned workers

The shadow minister for business, employment rights and levelling up on Labour's plans for economic renewal.

By Justin Madders

Like many areas of life under Conservative Britain, the Tories’ “levelling up” façade has shattered and been exposed for the sham it really is. Despite it being a centrepiece in the Conservatives’ 2019 manifesto, months out from the next election it is clear that Britain has not been levelled up.

Communities across the country have been let down by the Tories’ fundamental lack of ambition and a lack of willingness to affect genuine change.

Too much time and money has been spent on headline-grabbing gimmicks rather than resolving the problems that many of our communities actually face. Instead, through the Tories’ beggingbowl approach, communities have been pitted against each other for relatively small amounts of funding often reflecting Westminster’s priorities. It is no surprise that this has been a resounding failure, as those sitting in Whitehall cannot possibly understand the local conditions in the same way those on the ground do.

Of the money allocated to the funds, not only is very little actually “new” money, but only 10 per cent so far has been spent. The parliamentary cross-party Public Accounts Committee recently judged that the government could not provide “any compelling examples of what had been delivered” by these funds. Given that the UK has some of the highest levels of regional inequality in the OECD, the Tories’ failure to address this is deeply concerning.

It is abundantly clear to me that regional inequality is hurting the pockets of working people, constricting our economy and embedding insecurity into our way of life. Nowhere is this more evident than in the conditions of work. For too long our labour market has been characterised by poor productivity, insecurity, and low pay.

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Successive Tory governments have abandoned workers over the past 14 years. Their stickingplaster politics has failed. They have burdened working people with stagnant wages, leaving the average worker an estimated £14,000 worse off since 2008 due to the pathetic rate of wagegrowth. Near-record numbers of workers, 1.1 million, work on zero-hours contracts, leaving them unable to plan their lives or get enough hours even to pay for the essentials of life.

Insecurity is rife in our modern economy and the problem is only getting worse with increasing numbers of people being dragged into insecure work. The Work Foundation recently estimated that 21.4 per cent of workers, roughly 6.8 million people, were in “severely insecure work”. These are, quite frankly, frightening numbers.

Though I am, unfortunately, not surprised. When I go out and speak to people in surgeries and on the doorstep, I can see that many are now living to work, not working to live. The Conservatives have acted like vandals, dismantling the foundations of a good life. Working hard is no longer a guarantee of a decent income, secure home or even a good quality of life.

The tide will change under a Labour missionled government. Our first mission centres on economic growth, with good jobs and productivity growth in every part of the country making everyone, not just a few, better off.

Core to this mission is implementing our New Deal for Working People, which will ensure that prosperity is built on a foundation of rising pay and better workplace security.

Our New Deal will be front and centre of the next Labour government and we will bring forward legislation to implement it, including an Employment Rights Bill, within 100 days of entering office. Boosting wages, baking security into the workplace, and setting higher standards for everyone to follow will be transformative for workers in every part of the country.

Our New Deal will deliver a genuine living wage for workers, a ban on exploitative zero-hours contracts, an end to the plague of bogus selfemployment, as well as finally providing workers with key basic protections, such as statutory sick pay, from day one. It will be a vision of hope for workers after 14 years of misery under the Tories.

Our plans will not just benefit working people. As both a pro-worker and pro-business party, our plans will be good for businesses and the economy too, ending the Tories’ cycle of low pay, low investment and low productivity. By boosting incomes, strengthening workplace rights so they’re fit for a modern economy and tackling insecure work, we’ll increase productivity, help keep more people in work and create the right conditions for sustained economic growth. Through better enforcement, the New Deal will also create a more level playing field, which will particularly help local businesses, the backbone of regional growth and employment.

The New Deal is just one strand of many interventions a Labour government will take to kickstart economic growth and deliver prosperity to all corners of the country.

It will act in conjunction with our Green Prosperity Plan, our Industrial Strategy, and our plans for local government and greater devolution. On the latter, we will expand devolution further and faster, with our landmark Take Back Control Act providing a clearer framework.

Local growth plans will direct these authorities with devolved powers towards building on their existing economic advantages. Complementing this approach, we will provide the certainty local authorities need through longer-term funding settlements.

This is the difference a Labour government will make. It will be a government focused, from day one, on delivering change that makes people’s lives better from the bottom up.

This article first appeared in a Spotlight print report on Economic Growth, published on 3 May 2024. Read it in full here.

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