Family is the bedrock on which our ailing economy can be rebuilt

13th November, 2012 1:30 pm

The Labour Party has always been at its best when it is challenging received wisdom. When the Second World War had bankrupted us, Attlee and Bevan found the time to build a ‘New Jerusalem’. When the Labour Party found itself criticised for being wedded to the industries of the past, Wilson pledged ‘the white heat of technological revolution’. When Thatcher’s disciples dictated that a strong public sector was the biggest obstacle to growth, Blair and Brown carved a third way that showed they were inseparable

One Nation Labour should aim to scale the same heights, leaving behind the dogmas of politics before the Crash. The biggest of those is the idea that deregulation is the answer to every problem – and an answer that has no social consequences. It is ever-present in the Treasury papers that float around Whitehall. So axiomatic has it become that our anaemic economic recovery has not prompted a reappraisal if the fiscal policy that is weighing down on growth, but rather more breathless requests to ‘unshackle our economy’ from the ‘burdens’ of regulation and red tape.

Britain is, in fact, 7th in the world for ease of doing business – ranking above 181 countries in the World Bank’s annual rankings. But no matter. The deregulatory call-to-arms has been met with unbridled enthusiasm from economic liberals that pepper the Tory benches in Parliament. Calls were made to temporarily lower or suspend the minimum wage – from those, it should be noted, who opposed its introduction. Lord Beecroft’s government-commissioned report proposed the abolition of unfair dismissal claims entirely whilst Steve Hilton was said to have explored the scrapping of maternity leave altogether.

Worryingly, the latest permutation of these ideas looks likely to make it to the statute books. Today, the government is re-announcing their pledge to extend the right to flexible work to all employees despite the fact George Osborne and the Treasury are plotting to do the exact opposite. The government’s ‘employee-owner’ initiative will see workers exchange their flexible work rights in exchange for a tax break on share ownership (which are meaningless to most employees). But not only will there be no ‘right to request’ – you could be sacked simply for asking.

In opposition David Cameron promised to make Britain ‘the most family friendly country in the world’. In government the Treasury has taken over, with social life and the vision of warm human relationships prized by the ‘Big Society’ disappearing from view. One Nation Labour must not follow them. Families do not exist in a vacuum. We already work the longest hours in Europe and more than five million Britons exist on wages that are ‘insufficient to provide a minimum quality of life’. Access to flexible work is many parents’ escape hatch from the cruellest of choices – work long enough to be able to provide for your children or have enough time to care for them. These rights are not for sale.

One Nation Labour has to articulate that the family, far from placing the brakes on our ailing economy, is actually the bedrock on which it can be rebuilt. The family home is where our character and values are formed. It is there that we first learn to speak to others, to feel compassion and forge our first relationships. Get this wrong and we are more likely to drift towards crime, depression and dependency. Get this right and we are on track to lead healthy, successful and productive lives.

Opposing this wrong-headed move points the way for One Nation Labour – making the connection between working and family life, bringing together trade unions and family campaigners, speaking not just about macroeconomics but also to everyday issues that people feel a connection to. The Tories modernisation project has ground to a halt, overtaken by an unreconstructed economism. The opportunity is ours to seize.

David Lammy is the Labour MP for Tottenham

This piece forms part of Jon Cruddas’s Guest Edit of LabourList

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  • Perhaps I am just in a bad mood this afternoon which is making me sensitive to these things, but this article appears to be a long list of unsubstantiated allegations wrapped up in an anodyne shell, summarised as “family is important, innit”.

    Which is a shame, because this is an area where Labour can take the lead, but only by being bold and positive, not expounding the politics of beige.

    To put my money where my mouth is, here’s a bold idea – not fully thought through but a starter for ten:

    The problems under consideration:

    1. The NHS is widely believed to be unable to cope with increasing age of population as currently structured at an economic cost, and specifically the future of hospice care is uncertain

    2. Childcare costs are unaffordable to all but the moderately well off

    3. Youth unemployment is sky high, and work in formative working years is believed to promote good working practices

    4. Elderly solitude is a problem which can lead to loneliness, depression and other problems.

    5. Youth discipline and a general “lack of respect” are seen to be problems by older generations (although whether this is a real problem or simply a perception is not by any means proven)

    The proposed solution: The National Age Service

    The NAS would complement the NHS, with a specific remit towards elderly social work, hospices and childcare.

    It would consist of a reasonable number of permanent staff (particularly focussed on childcare and social work), but primarily be made up of a conscripted draft of the young who would be an army to deal with these problems: they would be trained, and carefully monitored, to undertake a role to visit and spend time with the elderly, as well as providing some care, and provide carefully controlled assistance to qualified childcare professionals in crèches, allowing these services to be offered much more widely and more cost effectively than at present.

    As conscripts, this would be equivalent to National Service draftees, lasting a year, with an aim to connect young and old and enable experience, stories and understanding to connect the two. NAS conscripts would also learn valuable life and working lessons which they could take forward, and would have the confidence that they could expect the same treatment themselves when they have families, or get old.

    This would be radical, and could be argued to be overkill in the current situation, but with more and older people, this would take a lot of the everyday strain off healthcare professionals, freeing the NHS up and at a stroke eating up a vast swathe of youth unemployment. It could also allow more forward thinking solutions to the problems of maternity/paternity leave and pensions.

    Discuss.

    • Dave Postles

      Iniquitous. Why not conscript all those people made redundant from financial services instead of penalizing the young?

      • Wow you really are on one about the banks today aren’t you?

        Let me ask you: do you want a former LIBOR-trader looking after your Grandmother?

        As to why “penalizing” the young: my point is that they are far from being penalised, they are buying into a system that they will know will support them at the times of their life when they need it. Better that than the current system where most young don’t even bother with a pension ‘cos “what’s the point?” Also it is not iniquitous: my proposal is that everyone does it: to apply the classic generalisations, little lord Fauntleroy learns humility, while Wayne and Waynetta get into a habit of work.

        • Dave Postles

          ‘while Wayne and Waynetta get into a habit of work.’
          That says it all, really.

          • Yes: Harry Enfield’s famous characters. Don’t be so po-faced.

          • Dave Postles

            It doesn’t matter whose (in)famous characters they are: it rhetorically stigmatizes all the less privileged who are unable to respond. It’s thoughtless and mindless.

          • Wow, is that really the key issue for you?

            I guess you must just be superior in all moral aspects to me. Please have pity.

          • Having now had dinner I feel I can answer more coherently:

            Wayne and Waynetta (and indeed Little Lord Fauntleroy) represent absurd extremes of societal stereotypes that say less about the “less privileged who are unable to respond” than about the comedic value society places on them.

            All of which are an interesting location of deckchairs on the societal Titanic that is our looming pension and old age care crisis.

            On which I note your only constructive comment was to lay the entire solution on a unemployed strata of society who you happen to have a totally partisan problem with, without any concern about the legislative and legal impossibility of what you suggest.

            More fool me for engaging, however.

        • Serbitar

          I’m not really sure that many elderly people would appreciate forced visits from conscripts like Wayne or Waynetta when all is said and done. While I realise that social care is a pressing subject and that nobody wants to grasp the nettle, surely, as a developed first world nation, we ought to be able to provide better care for our aged than a civilian army of juvenile draftees?

          • Dave Postles

            A better idea would be to implement Dilnot.

          • A good idea yes, but a sticking plaster solution at best.

          • I’m all ears as to your suggestions to what that developed first world solution will be.

          • Dave Postles

            For a start, remove it from the private sector. Care home companies are currently burdened with about £9bn of debt, even after Southern Cross. Lloyds Bank will likely become a manager of care homes, as the companies which it bankrolled collapse under their debt. That amount of debt had accumulated already, but is being exacerbated by the government’s stringent reduction of local authority funding. We’ve recently experienced this catastrophe in Nottingham:

            http://www.itv.com/news/central/story/2012-11-05/residents-moved-out-of-care-home/

            It’s time, as Burnham suggests, to have an integrated public service with the synergy of local government (social and care services) and NHS. Dilnot combined with taxation should be implemented to assure that service.

  • But what do we mean by ‘family’?

    This seems vague , even vacuous. Families come in many guises – do we welcome them all?

    Is it necessarily true that close families are beneficial? There’s nothing closer than the ‘gangster’ families – clannish and tight knit in the extreme, but is this really the model we wish to follow?

    There are families which are harmonious and successful at a relational level and others who are far from the ‘ideal’

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