Maeve Sherlock on our plans to tackle long term unemployment, increase the hours of those in work and tackle the cost of living crisis
The announcement yesterday of a fall in overall unemployment is of course, welcome. But when millions of people are still out of work and so many with jobs face a cost of living crisis, it is complacent for the Coalition to crow about how well things are going. Unemployment still stands at 7.2%, which means over 2.3 million of our citizens are unemployed – each one a story of human need and anxiety.
There is a worrying rise in the number of people unemployed for over two years, and a serious youth unemployment problem which threatens the hopes of 1 in 5. Over one million are not in Employment, Education or Training (NEETs), and the figure for claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance for more than 12 months has doubled since 2010.
These national figures also hide local problems. Not far from my home in Durham is Stockton, where the number of young people claiming JSA for more than 12 months has nearly trebled. Elsewhere in the north, in both Dewsbury and Burnley, long term youth unemployment is over ten times what it was in 2010. Even Swindon, in the south of our country, has seen a five-fold rise.
It is a tragic that we miss out on the energy of these young people, but we also risk marginalising them from mainstream society.
Labour would put the long term unemployed back to work, with a guaranteed job that they have to take – paid for by a tax on bank bonuses and restricting tax relief on pensions for high earners. We would also ensure their progress in the labour market, and will take action. Nearly 1 in 10 of those claiming JSA don’t have basic English skills, over 1 in 10 are without basic maths, and almost half don’t have the basic email abilities needed for most job applications. So we’ll require jobseekers to take training to tackle these skills gaps.
Meanwhile, many people in work are face rising insecurity, stuck in temporary jobs or on zero hours contracts, all of which make it harder to get a mortgage or save for a pension. The numbers feeling insecure at work has almost doubled in the past three years. And the Coalition’s action, whether watering down protections against unfair dismissal, removing civil liability for employers breaching health and safety law, or trying to bribe employees to give up employment rights in return for shares, has made the situation worse.
A record number of people, 1.47 million, want to be working full time but can only get a part–time job, adding further to the social security bill. The total cost to the exchequer of those working part time who want full time jobs is estimated to be £4.6bn, including housing benefit of around £1.8bn.
2014 marks the fifteenth anniversary of one of Labour’s great policy successes – the National Minimum Wage (NMW). It boosted pay at the bottom without leading to job losses, and received wide industry support as a result. But under David Cameron, the value of the NMW has declined by almost 5% and his government has failed to ensure that it is properly enforced.
Labour would ban zero-hours contracts where they exploit people, end the scandal of false self-employment, strengthen enforcement of the NMW and incentivise employers to pay a Living Wage through ‘make work pay’ contracts. We would also enable those who want to work to do so by expanding free childcare for working parents to 25 hours a week for 3 and 4 year olds.
Working people have seen their earnings fall by an average of £1,600 a year in real terms since 2010. The Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed that people will be worse off in 2015 than they were in 2010. Energy bills are up an average of £300 over the same period. Yesterday’s budget will do nothing to tackle it.
Labour wants a recovery focused on the many not just those at the top. The Coalition can’t deliver this because they stand up for a privileged few – and this is plain to see in their record.
Baroness Maeve Sherlock is Shadow Work and Pensions Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @MaeveSherlock
Published 20th March 2014