Inequality matters: Labour will shift the balance of power in favour of the consumer, the citizen and the worker

by Stephen Timms

Ed Miliband has set out the central challenge his government will need to address: “This country is too unequal.  And we need to change it.”  Our task is to make this change in a radically different landscape then when Labour took office in 1997.

Ed has acknowledged that inequality will have to be tackled in a period when there won’t be much extra money around.  The government’s oft-proclaimed economic plan has fallen disastrously short of its deficit reduction target.  We were promised the deficit would be ended in this Parliament.  In fact, it won’t even be halved.  That means we will be able to shift spending priorities, and to alter regulation, but big new spending programmes – beyond a small number of key priorities with specified funding – will not be on the cards for some years.

With the tools that will be at our disposal, we will need to tackle seriously long term unemployment, especially among the young; to raise real wages; and to tilt the balance of power in favour of the consumer, the citizen and the worker.

Everything points strongly to devolving power.  There is, of course, strong impetus in this direction from the Scottish referendum.  Powerful economic arguments for devolution were set out in Andrew Adonis’s growth review in July.  And the work I have been doing on employment support points to a much more localised approach too.

Andrew Adonis’s review calls for a “bold and simple offer of devolution”, ending the excessive centralisation which has held back economic growth in England.  He argues that: “spending on economic development is trapped in departmental siloes that do not sufficiently reflect economic realities”.

His case is well illustrated by the poor performance of the coalition’s approach to employment support.  Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on the government’s Work Programme, and hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on skills support – for example by increasing the number of apprenticeships.  But there has been a complete disjunction between the policies directing them.  The programmes have worked at cross purposes.

They have been overseen by two huge Whitehall departments with different agendas.  For example, the criteria set out by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills make it almost impossible for an unemployed person on the DWP’s Work Programme to start an apprenticeship.

It isn’t a new problem.  I was employment minister when David Lammy was skills minister.  He and I spent a good deal of time talking to make sure our programmes were lined up.  Our successors don’t even seem to be trying.

Directing everything from Whitehall doesn’t work.  Bringing everyone together around the table in a city region or county region can work: local authorities, employment support providers, colleges and training providers, employers, housing providers – and the NHS, because for quite a lot of people without jobs, the health service needs to be helping too.  That degree of integration cannot be delivered from Whitehall.

Over 90% of people on the Work Programme who claim Employment and Support Allowance (ie are out of work on ill health grounds) don’t achieve a sustained job outcome.  Far fewer people are gaining employment within two years than the DWP claimed at the outset would be the case if there was no programme at all.  A much more promising approach is being pioneered in Greater Manchester, for people who leave the Work Programme – having spent two years on it – but remain jobless.  This is the vast majority of ESA claimants who start on the Programme.  The Greater Manchester initiative is called “Working Well”.

The project board is chaired by one of the Greater Manchester local authority chief executives, and includes Jobcentre Plus, NHS England, the local Drug and Alcohol Team, the mental health trust, Greater Manchester Housing, Manchester College and the Adult Education Service.  The mental health trust is providing Working Well clients with an express route into support.  The Working Well cohort is a priority group for the Drug and Alcohol Team.  Housing associations are prioritising key repairs for Working Well clients.  With everybody working together, the support provided will be much more likely to be effective.  But that degree of integration can only be delivered locally.

Of course, there will be a great deal to do at the centre too.  We will need to freeze energy prices while we reform the energy market, raise the National Minimum Wage, promote the Living Wage and require it from state contractors, legislate for worker representatives on boards, shift spending from subsidising private rents to building new homes, and – with wage subsidies to deliver our Compulsory Job Guarantee – from supporting unemployment to supporting employment.

To tackle inequality we need to renew employment programmes and re-distribute power. That will require much stronger, local economic leadership at the city and county region level. Tackling inequality is a national project, but it will require radical action locally.

Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP is shadow minister for Employment. This post is based on a talk at the Fabian Society AGM, 15 November 2014

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13 Responses to “Inequality matters: Labour will shift the balance of power in favour of the consumer, the citizen and the worker”

  1. Tafia says:

    There are no British citizens. This is a Realm not a Republic and as such everyone who is British is a subject whether they want to be or not.

  2. Landless Peasant says:

    ” we will need to tackle seriously long term unemployment…….. tilt the balance of power in favour of the consumer, the citizen and the worker.”

    Will the Unemployed be treated as Citizens, with a Guaranteed Citizens Basic Income/Stipend that enables them to step outside of their bedsit more than once in a fortnight and actually participate in society, network, volunteer, study, adequately eat and contribute to the economy, or will they continue to be treated as half-starved poverty slaves and political/social scapegoats hounded to death with the continued over-hanging threat of Benefit Sanctions and one step away from starvation in the gutter as a ‘normal’ way of life then blamed for not being able to better themselves? Wake the fuck up, UK is like something out of Charles Dickens, but driven by modern Capitalism, the Military-Industrial Complex and the putrid neo-liberal agenda/NWO, and it’s getting worse by the day. As for the Work Programme, been there done it, total utter waste of time, nothing but bullying and intimidating people into applying for insecure low-paid work that they won’t even stand a chance of getting, in exchange for financial gain on the part of the Provider, and at the Public’s expense! What a sham. I’m probably LESS employable for the experience. Following WP I completed 120 Hours Community Work under the Mandatory Work Activity scheme. They had me pouring paint into a bucket and stirring it with a stick, all day, every day, for a month. Not bad for a BA Art Grad.

  3. Vern says:

    No Labour won’t! Try telling the truth for once.

  4. swatantra says:

    Thats solidarity for you! Those in work orerating a ‘closed shop’ for fear that their jobs will be undermined and in jeopardy by BA Arts grads and postgrads from e europe! fixing the plumbing or building those 200 000 homes we desparately need.
    No Business in their right mind is going to guarantee, a job for one or even two years, because no SME business is knowing that they’ll be istill n business in one or two years. One solution is to start up your own business and be your own boss, with a loan from the Govt. Timms needs to speak to Chuka and get about a bit more in the real world.

  5. Madasafish says:

    IF Labour are serious about tipping the balance of power towards the consumer, they will provide us with choice in our use of punl;ioc services:

    eg education, NHS etc..

    And they will remove the power of the UNite Trade Union form striking in hospitals..

    After all, Unite are a producer.

    If not , then this is plain bull excrement.

    I write as a consumer…

    As for freezing energy prices? At what level? At the current high level which is being undermined by the collapse in oil prices?

    I assume Stephen Timms does keep up with the he’s aware of that.. so he’s basically saying we are going to screw consumers by fixing prices at high levels.

    Don’t you love politicians who say something and then ignore the implications of it? No wonder they are distrusted.

  6. Robert says:

    This should get people to vote labour sadly not me, it just the Spin machine working overtime again.

  7. Mr Akira Origami says:


    The majority of the people in Wales and the majority of people in the whole of Britain are quite happy being British subjects (not to mention quite a lot of people wanting to emigrate here).

    I’m sure the citizens of this Asian republic wouldn’t rate citizenship too highly.

    I don’t think any of the main political parties in Britain are advocating republicanism.

    Maybe some of the whacko fringe parties are trying to sell republicanism to the electorate, but I think the consensus in Britain, is that we are contented with being British subjects.

  8. John Reid says:

    Stephen Timms is coming to Haverings Fabians, in Jan, Swatantra, I see you’re on the mailing list, you could ask him then.

  9. Ralph Baldwin says:

    “That will require much stronger, local economic leadership at the city and county region level”

    Lol keep trying Stephen.

    I genuinly hope you have a Merry Christmas.

  10. mrorigami2013 says:

    Here we have the leader of a whako fringe party………

  11. Mr Akira Origami says:

    …….and Welsh Labour AM Vaughan Gething said: “This whole episode just gets weirder and weirder. It’s like a scene from Lord of the Rings.

  12. Tafia says:

    And your opinion of Westminster politicians who openly and knowingly shake hands with Irish Republican terrorists is what Mr Origami? Or a monarch shaking hands with a man who has not only ordered the execution of suspected British Agents but has personally carried it out it in some cases, along with severe torture and carried out attacks that killed her subjects, her soldiers and her police officers. Slightly higher league than getting pissed in a Cardiff wine bar I would suggest.

    You understand little of politics. You are anti the main policies of virtually every party I can think of except the BNP and other far-Right scum such as Britain First – so you either vote for them or don’t vote at all.

    Even UKIP now support increased devolutionary powers for Wales, NI and Scotland and bringing it in for England and the idea of developing federalism for the UK. The only parties that oppose that are extreme Right neo-nazis. So what are you?

  13. Landless Peasant says:

    If inequality matters then pledge to redistribute the wealth. Simple. Start off by abolishing Benefit Sanctions, and paying people enough wages or Benefits so they don’t have to rely on Foodbanks. Miliband is useless, he does and says fuck all about the real issues affecting millions of poor people. Labour even connived with the Tory scum to rob the poor by use of their Time Machine to retrospectively apply the law. Outrageous. Labour have lost the plot.

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