As the head of NATO recently stated: the world is at its most dangerous point in a generation. Catastrophic weather events, millions trying to escape violence, the threat of conflict, or destitution, all point to the unprecedented times we live in.
The United Kingdom may seem on the periphery of these tragedies – and there are those who will want us to remain on the fringes – but there is no doubt that these events will impact upon us. The importance of strong, principled leadership could not be more evident. Unfortunately, this great country is being badly let down by a weak Prime Minister and those willing to prop her up.
The Conservative’s all-consuming Brexit chaos has meant complete inaction in every other area of government. Not least in my brief as Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, where progress is sorely needed: over seven million people in work live in poverty while, according to IFS analysis, the income gap between the rich and poor has doubled since 2000; sick and disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as non-disabled people following this Government’s cuts; and though Labour lifted nearly a million pensioners out of poverty in a decade, 300,000 more have since slipped below the breadline. The plight of 2.5 million women born in the 1950s who have had their state pension quietly pushed back is particularly reprehensible.
But it doesn’t stop there. As the recent IPPR Commission for Economic Justice report showed, there are inequalities across the country reflected in regional economic growth and the labour market. The International Monetary Fund has described these widening inequalities as the ‘most defining challenge of our time’, stifling economic growth.
You can see the divisions everywhere; from the greater difficulty that a young person has in finding a job in the North East compared with the South East, to the wide disparity in life expectancy in different postcodes; in the prejudice too often faced by disabled people or those from BAME backgrounds trying to earn a living, to the fact that Britain’s top bosses are paid on average 312 times more than a care worker. Despite their warm words, under this Conservative Government opportunities are not evenly distributed. And a dysfunctional, unequal economy has been coupled with a warped social security system.
Labour believes that we must transform the economy if we are to create a society that no longer holds people back. This will increase opportunities for all of us to succeed. But it needs to be supported by a transformed social security system, providing dignity and security for older people, for sick and disabled people and for those that have been left behind under Tory rule.
That means local investment across the country, through our National Investment & Regional Development Banks, to create jobs, invest in our ailing infrastructure and rebalance our economy.
We will tackle the huge inequalities in pay by finally giving low paid workers the rise they deserve, closing the widening divisions in our labour market by introducing a real, Living Wage of £10 an hour. And we will provide a safety net that makes work pay, while providing dignity for all.
Our manifesto for disabled people ‘Nothing about you, without you’ set out a series of measures that we will take to ensure disabled peoples’ rights. From scrapping the Work Capability Assessment, to reviewing and expanding the Access to Work programme, we’ll provide disabled people with the support that so many have been demanding. We believe that people with an impairment or condition are disabled by society and society needs to address this, an approach driven by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Unlike the Tories who have raised the State Pension Age to 68 by 2037 we will leave it at 66 while we review the latest evidence around healthy life expectancy. We want to ensure the next Labour Government gets the balance between contribution, security and dignity in retirement just right.
Lastly, alongside the extension of Pension Credit to hundreds of thousands of 50s-born women struggling to cope under this Government’s chaotic pensions changes, we will work with 1950s born women (and men), providing additional transitional protections and recognising the contributions that they have already made.
These are just some of the changes a Labour government would make, healing a divided nation, and building a country for the many, not just a privileged few.