Why Labour is the party of work

20th January, 2014 8:15 am

Today I’m setting out how reforms to earn our way out of the cost-of-living crisis and social security changes to ensure the system is fair and affordable go hand in hand. To have a system that’s fair and affordable we need to help more people into work, make sure we have decent and secure jobs, and ensure that the work that people have done throughout their lives is properly recognised when they lose their jobs and in old age. Labour has always been the party of work. As Ed Miliband reminded us, the clue is in the name.

Of course there are people who, either because of sickness or disability, can’t work, in the short term, and sometimes throughout their lives. That’s why it’s even more important that we have a system which supports them with dignity and empowers the many disabled people who desperately want to work to do so.

But to make that system affordable, our first task must be to get more people into work. Despite the fact that we’re finally seeing welcome falls in the short-term unemployment figures, we have levels of long-term unemployment not seen since the last time we had a Tory government.

That’s why Labour’s Jobs Guarantee, offering a paid job to all young people unemployed for more than a year, or over 25 year olds unemployed for two years or more, jobs they would have to take or lose their benefits, is at the centre of our plans for welfare reform.


And it’s why today I’m announcing new proposals to ensure that the poor English and maths that leave too many people locked out of work for years on end, are addressed up front. Labour’s Basic Skills Test will ensure that the one in ten jobseekers who lack numeracy and literacy skills take action to address the problem as soon as they start claiming benefits.

We have to recognise that the basic bargain that people used to understand: get a job and you’ll be able to support your family, is breaking down. Today, for the first time, more than half of those in poverty have got a job, and a shocking two thirds of children in poverty live with a parent who works.

The spread of low-paid and insecure jobs doesn’t just have consequences for these families, it has huge costs for our country. New figures from the House of Commons Library reveal that the record number of people working part-time who want to work full-time is costing the public purse £4.7 billion a year. That’s why our reforms to earn our way out of the cost-of-living crisis, including reforming our banks, strengthening the minimum wage, tackling the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts and encouraging employers to pay a Living Wage are so vital, not just for the prospects of thousands of working families, but for making sure that our social security system is sustainable.

We need that system to be affordable because we know that many people will still need to rely on social security at some point in their lives, including many of those who never thought they’d need it. It’s worth bearing in mind that when we talk about the unemployed today, on the latest figures, this includes over 130,000 former managers and senior officials, over 100,000 professionals and over 170,000 who previously worked in skilled trades such as engineers, electricians or IT technicians. People who had paid into the system all their lives, but felt that when they came to rely on it, too often it offered ‘nothing for something’, and failed to recognise the years of contributions they’d made. That’s why I’ve asked the IPPR to look at how we can make sure that people know that work will pay throughout their lives.

This is the agenda of the British public and it is Labour’s agenda based on the right values for the times we face. It’s the agenda we need to get started on now so that a One Nation Britain can work and earn its way to a better future.

Rachel Reeves is Shadow Secretary of State for Welfare and Pensions

Value our free and unique service?

LabourList has more readers than ever before - but we need your support. Our dedicated coverage of Labour's policies and personalities, internal debates, selections and elections relies on donations from our readers.

If you can support LabourList’s unique and free service then please click here.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • FMcGonigal

    This is very positive, but I hope that resources will be put into Basic Skills teaching for Adults to address the problem. Up to a few years ago I taught Numeracy part-time in Adult Education. I gave this up because the paperwork became too onerous – I was spending ridiculous amounts of time form filling and box-ticking instead of actually teaching.

  • Grytpype

    You also said, “The shocking levels of English and maths among too many jobseekers are holding them back from getting work”. No, the shocking level of UNEMPLOYMENT is what’s holding them back from getting work. How does it feel to have entered politics only to try to ‘out-tough’ the pathetic Tories? You should burn with shame.

    • Doug Smith

      Same old LibLabCon – three parties, one policy.

      • swatnan

        Same old treboc.

        • Doug Smith

          Same old misconception.

        • treborc1

          The easy way of sorting out this is to look at what labour are offering us to day, and go back and read labour’s Manifesto in 1997.

          In one section Blair says we are One nation.

          Everything which labour is now promising is basically the same as Blair new labour so really does this mean New labour has been rushed to hospital and resuscitated even to getting 250,000 unemployed young back to work, only now we have a million unemployed young people, does that mean that John Major was better then Blair, not to sure seeing as many in labour now praise him for not being that bad.

          Look at the fact that labour stated the Tories were not trusted and that spin was every where and New labour would be trusted and trustworthy and honest and a bright light in the heaven.

          We now distrust politicians even more.

    • treborc1

      This is Byrnes plan and actually was brought up under that great socialist the no more boom and bust Brown.
      It is out doing the Tories and playing games, and I’m fed up with it, the fact is if your going to out do the Tories then we may as well vote Tory.

    • RD54

      I could not agree more strongly. This test will discriminate against the disabled and those with Special Educational Needs (SEN). This could lead to some of the most vulnerable suffering sanctions and absolute poverty. Labour have also promised a job guarantee for the young despite the fact there is currently a 2 million jobs shortfall. Are they going to have a fairy at each Job Centre who will wave her magic wand and create a job for each young person? I rather suspect they will, in fact, use their promise as justification for continuing workfare or unpaid work and continue to lie that this is beneficial. Each unpaid job placement takes a paid job out of the employment market. If those at the top of Labour are so enamoured of benefit sanctions and workfare they should join the conservative party. The Tories at the top of the Labour Party are destroying it.

      • Doug Smith

        “The Tories at the top of the Labour Party are destroying it.”

        It’s not just the LP these people are determined to destroy – Rachel Reeves was one of the Progress bigwigs who wrote to Brown when he was PM requesting more privatisation of the NHS.

        And to think – this is the person who is regarded as a potential leadership candidate…

        • treborc1

          Yes but sadly when New labour was killed off they had a doctor and nurse standing by just in case, Progress is now the biggest group within labour and that shows by the front bench it has 15 Progress MP’s.

      • Mark Reilly

        The Job Guarantee Scheme the Labour have announced, is to provide ” a real paid job for all those under 25 who’ve been out of work for a year. ”

        So that would be a job with at least the minimum wage — hopefully a Living Wage rather than unpaid workfare. Now you might argue that these are temporary subsidised jobs but they will be paid.

        • RD54

          How are Labour going to put the Job Guarantee Scheme into effect if the jobs don’t exist? I repeat there is a 2 million jobs shortfall. This means that there are 2 million blameless unemployed people who cannot get a job whatever they do. They are blameless because they did not contribute to the high levels of unemployment due to the sorry state of the economy, the politicians, bankers and non-tax paying wealthy are to blame for that.

          • treborc1

            In an article for Politics Home calling for a One Nation approach to
            welfare reform shadow chancellor Ed Balls says that, under the jobs guarantee, government will ensure there is a job for every adult who is long-term unemployed and people out of work will be obliged to take up those jobs or face losing benefits.
            There are currently 129,400 adults over the age of 25 who have been out of work for 24 months or more – a rise of 88 percent since the same month last year and a rise of 146 per cent in the last two years.

            The £1 billion costs can be funded by reversing the government’s
            decision to stop tax relief on pension contributions for people earning
            over £150,000 being limited to 20 per cent.

    • Gary Hills

      Oh get a grip, giving people better Maths and English is a good thing, it’s not negative and it is not harsh, it’s just reality the reality of what is needed to gain jobs today. It will help those who need the help get on in work and will likely earn them a bit more as well.

      It is for those who need the help and it will not be given to everyone unemployed who have the skills already. You vile comment is worthless. Try seeing what is actually said and not what you assume has been. You horrible burn remark is totally out of order and it is you who should be ashamed of yourself.

  • markmyword49

    Listening to her on Today this morning what Labour are promising is a nuanced approach which I tend to agree with. However, it will be cut to pieces by the media who don’t do complicated only simplicity (all unemployed are scroungers!!!)which fits with the owners political bias and their headline writers need for pithy one liners. Labour are going to have to work hard to get this message across.

    • treborc1

      I think the media enjoy complicated because for a long time new labour was not complicated and Reeves idea are simplistic. You send a young person for six months training or work he or she finishes it goes back down to the job center and gets told OK college for you.

      So why not end the sixteen to twenty even looking for work and keep them in education,and train them to do the jobs which are around in the area. My area most will end up if lucky working in Tesco or Asda filling shelves.

      We need is a government which is getting a recovery and falling unemployment to explain to use where are all the jobs coming from and remember that every person looking for a job here will have to compete with maybe two or three coming here from the EU, the idea that labour will stop housing benefits to people out of work from the EU is again stupid, labour was in love with migrants and immigrants so now they try to out do the Tories.

      Problem is we can see it.

  • Redshift1

    I have to say that the one thing that is thrown at jobseekers heavily is numeracy and literacy tests. I was made to do about 3 when I was unemployed, which I aced every time – which was always pretty obvious given I had a post-graduate degree.

    Frankly, we need less of the automatic tests and such, these have reduced the sign-ons with job centre advisors to pointless tick-boxing exercises that do little to help people find work. What they need is more discretion to act in a way appropriate to that jobseeker.

    That said, I think the Jobs Guarantee is an excellent idea in the same way I thought the Future Jobs Fund was great. But that is solid help to work.

    • treborc1

      But surely the future job fund or the job guarantee will not be needed if the Tories carry on with the recovery, the issue for labour is winning the next election by showing people it has something to offer, which is better then a recovery and falling unemployment today.

      The fact is when Labour produced all those jobs in the public sector people took them and showed that people want to work, what is needs for labour to state how they are going to make real jobs not short term fixes.

      • Redshift1

        That kind of depends on whether you think this is a strong, stable and UK-wide recovery that will lead back to the good times of very low unemployment automatically or whether you think it is largely a south-east-based housing boom.

        But if your main point is that job creation is more important and no reform of the DWP is in itself going to sort out our problems, I’d wholeheartedly agree and that categorically is the central problem BUT having spent over a year unemployed only a couple of years ago I know that the job centre as a service for helping people find work has been totally castrated by a combination of one-size-fits-all requirements from politicians, which have had the effect of preventing advisers from doing anything more than what amounts to a survey every week or fortnight and the outsourcing to these parasitical companies who provide a worse service for more taxpayer expense. The people on JSA are very different, so you need a flexible service. A graduate is different from a long-term claimant with no qualifications, who is again different from a person who’s worked 30-odd years in the same job and has no been made redundant. So why do we do the same thing with all of them?

        • treborc1

          That goes for any party it only takes America or Germany to go into a down turn and we will head that way as well, we can only hope a recovery maybe long term and since the last recession turned into a depression with labour you have to pray the Tories one will be longer, even when I think these recoveries are out of the hands of all political parties.

          I do not think much of the Tories or labour and to be honest would not be wasting my time to vote for either as all I see now is Ms Reeves heading back to New labour.

          The job centers main duty now is not finding you a job but to ensure your looking, you do not need to come to a job center anymore or use the computers all you have to do is prove you have been looking, that can be a list of phone numbers you have called or the people you have spoken to or the jobs you have looked at.

          But the Job center will farm people out for example if your a teacher or have a degree the job center has list of Job providers they will send you to.

          I was sent to A4e which wasted my time for the first six months, then I got sent to Remploy and nearly ended my life with boredom, I use to sit in the office watching them drink tea laugh and joke before calling us in to say they had nothing to offer.

          I will agree the job center is well below par, and sadly I still use them because believe it or not I really do want to work.

          • Doug Smith

            If you really want to work you won’t be much use to our politicians – they prefer to crack the whip over people who can be portrayed wanting to avoid work – the scroungers and shirkers.

            Cameron and Miliband will have both commissioned polling which shows that ‘scroungers’ are not popular. Therefore, as wannabe men of action prepared to make tough choices in difficult times, they’ll want to be seen being ‘tough’ on scroungers.

            Of course, if polling indicated wide enthusiasm for purple kerb-stones, Reeves would offering pots of purple paint and paint brushes to all.

            The problem with the politics-by-polling approach is that it leaves policy in the hands of those able to influence/manipulate public opinion – i.e. not conventional political parties. This means that membership of political parties is no longer worthwhile and interest in our mainstream parties, which are identical because they all respond to the same polling, is at an all time low.

          • rekrab

            Here’s the rub, those who are deemed to be below basic maths and English will be refused benefits and housing benefits, so will they also be banned from putting an X in a political voting paper?

            Maybe they’ll fill the gap be given those university students two votes? is democracy something we’ve ever truly embraced?

    • Steve Stubbs

      Yes but where are the guaranteed jobs coming from? Government cannot magic jobs out of the air, other than by gross overmanning of an already overmanned public sector. To do that, they take money from the real businesses and taxpayers, thereby reducing jobs and demand, only to use the cash to manufacture non-jobs elsewhere.

      You could argue that increasing investment in structure and public works will generate jobs, but in construction there is a huge lead time due to our onerous over-complicated planning laws (See the timescale for HS2 for an example). We could of course expand the services to mop up some of the unemployed young, but that would require huge salary hikes. The starting salary of a basic trained soldier is about half that of a police constable and about a third of that of a tube train driver.

      • Redshift1

        I think I half answered this in my other response, but yes I would say construction would be a big one. House-building is clearly an area of potential jobs as are infrastructure projects in general. A proper industrial strategy would help to. As for the cost to the taxpayer, I think medium-term these would pay for themselves and certainly long-term would do so.

        RE HS2 and planning, yes I can understand that being difficult but it is a very, very large project compared to most.

    • Gary Hills

      It is not for everyone unemployed it will be a basic test to see if people have the skills already. If not then those are given help to improve basic skills. It’s a good thing and it will make the individual more confident and more likely to stand a better chance of getting a job that they can progress in.

      I spent a year working in the Probation Service and one of the challenges to stopping re offending is many petty criminals had low basic skills, that meant on top of the stigma of being in prison there was little chance for them to apply for the jobs they wanted to.

      We do have problems with basic skills and it is right that Labour will help in this area. Its not workfare, its not slave work its just skills to help those who needed it.

      • Redshift1

        The Work Programme is workfare and it is slave labour.

        What Labour are proposing in the Jobs Guarantee is fundamentally different, it is a paid job, and I support that.

        What I was saying about these tests is that they already do a hell of a lot of these kinds of automatic assessments including literacy and numeracy, and far less practical help for people trying to find work (and that includes training and basic skills, etc for those that need it). My point is that rather than coming up with new ideas for how we can test everybody in a standardised way, they need to really be looking at how they can make things more flexible because believe it or not the unemployed are not a homogeneous mass of unemployable half-wits – which is frankly how politicians who come up with most of these things treat them.

        It has been standardised to death and all it has done has taken all the discretion away from the job centre advisers, which makes sign-ons just another hoop to jump through to get your money rather than actually a practical discussion to assist your job-seeking dependent on your circumstances.

        So first of all – they already do these kinds of tests. And I have a couple of questions to you really if you think this is going to be of use. How effective is this training going to be if they carry on outsourcing it to money-grabbing parasites like A4e? And secondly, what are they going to do with those that are found to have satisfactory, good or even excellent literacy and numeracy? Because at the moment they do sod all useful with them and I don’t see any proposals for addressing that.

  • Bik Byro

    “tackling the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts”
    Have you tackled this with your friends at the Co-operative and the Grauniad yet ?

  • Monkey_Bach

    Don’t we already know what the IPPR thinks about contributory social security?


    This sounds just like New Labour at its most artful. First you decide privately what you want to do and then pick some person or body to draft a report which you already know will endorse the policy or agenda that you wanted to pursue in the first place!


  • Rebecca T

    All parties are parties of slave labour…and im afraid Labour are not offering much more than the tories really, the majority of work is slave labour…in the sense that the individual is using the job only as a means to an end, that end being able to survive with a small wage and supporting their family, jobs are no longer meaningful…unless you are very lucky, thanks 😀 x

  • EricBC

    Availability of literacy and numeracy courses with standardised, nationally produced literacy curriculum including pre and post tests would enable analysis of levels and progress to be recorded with some accuracy.

    Previous interventions I have encountered with local curriculum in use have been a shambles of inappropriate work-sheets nabbed from child literacy, ESL and EFL curricula.

    Having professionally prepared government-produced curricula (ie commissioned by government agency) will also help protect end users (the young unemployed folk) from exploitation by providers using poorly qualified or inexperienced teachers.

    New Labour interventions with literacy hours in primary schools were greatly undermined by a reluctance to produce set, standardised curricula for these hours.
    As the party is currently stressing the need for qualified teachers, then we should also be stressing the need for professionally produced curricula. No point in having qualified teachers and rubbish course material.

    • AT42

      I was a numeracy tutor – I used to make course materials (computer generated) for my students. I used to teach secondary science. The pay for Basic Skills tutors is abysmal as are the working conditions.

      If you want a decent service you need to employ people at proper teaching rates.

  • markfergusonuk

    “Slave labour”? Is that really what you think is happening here?

    • treborc1

      Slave labour is the working for nothing or a pittance with no regulations on working conditions with whips and beating.

      But the fact is over the years many of us have seen that period I can go back to the 1960’s when people actually came close to those conditions especially if you work in farming.

      But the issue to day is simple the Living wage because the min wage failed it was supposed to lift a Million out of the low pay one carer with me in 1993 was working 15 hours a day for £1.75 and that was with a council,caring was seen as being the lowest of the low.

      I remember some Asian shops offering jobs for £1 an hour and cleaning for the same.

      But the min wage was not expected to work the way it did and that was to drag down millions to that level retail for example started to offer it’s staff new contracts refuse to sign them and be sacked.

      Low pay is a disgrace in a country which is still seen as being one of the richest in the world.

      You had the min wage failing to lift people out of debt and you have Brown mistake in his tax fiasco then offering people the Tax credits and the child credits to make life more bearable.

  • MrSauce

    Any chance of letting workers keep more of their earnings?

  • PeterBarnard

    Sir William Beveridge would have agreed in principle to the concept of providing training (or, in this case, education) to people who are receiving unemployment benefit. In fact, he called it training benefit.
    The devil will be in the detail ….

  • Steve38

    Ms Reeves says,

    “for the first time, more than half of those in poverty have got a job,
    and a shocking two thirds of children in poverty live with a parent who

    and then goes on to outline some bureacratic measures aimed at tackling this situation. But for a Labour party supported and funded by trade unions there is a much simpler and more just approach. Rebalance power between labour and employer in favour of workers. Remove Thatcherite anti-trade union laws. Encourage and make it easier for people to join trade unions. Legislate to put employee representatives on company boards and so to take part in discussions on remuneration – for directors as well as employees. Unionised labour is always better paid.

    • robertcp

      I mostly agree, although I would retain the requirement for ballots before industrial action.

      • Mr Arthur Cook

        If as a trades union member I vote for a strike, another trades union member is entitled to vote against striking. Fine … that’s democracy.
        But if a strike ballot shows a majority in favour of a strike …. those who voted against are free to ignore the ballot and go to work!!!
        Is that the kind of democracy you like?

        • robertcp

          I don’t like strike breakers but that is another law that I would keep. Sanity is returning to the Labour Party when I am seen as a centre-right so-and-so!

      • Steve38

        There is much more to trade unionism than striking which is a rare and unwanted occurence.

        • robertcp

          I agree.

  • robertcp

    A slight correction. Labour is the party for people who need to work. The welfare state is there to make sure that we do not starve or lose our home if we lose our job or health.

    I do agree with most of the article by Reeves and thankfully she did not use the word ‘tough’. However, I do not fully understand this part of the article:

    “People who had paid into the system all their lives, but felt that when they came to rely on it, too often it offered ‘nothing for something’, and failed to recognise the years of contributions they’d made. That’s why I’ve asked the IPPR to look at how we can make sure that people know that work will pay throughout their lives.”
    I presume that these people received benefits when they lost their job, so what does Reeves mean when she says ‘nothing for something’?

    • Mr Arthur Cook

      It means that people like myself have paid vast sums into a system which was originally designed to give “social security” as of right by virtue of social insurance rather that “charity” given by the state. Entitlement was the heart of Beveridges genius and a slap in the face of the Poor law.
      We now have a government which tells me that the massive slice it takes in tax and NI each month from my pay check should not be linked to an assumption on my part of “benefits”. This assumption on my part that I will receive as right earned by contribution is seen as “a culture of entitlement”.
      When I see real £££££££’s dissapearing from my wages…I am told by the Tories…and now apparently by “junior Labour” that I should have “food stamps” if I am made unemployed!!!!
      Perhaps this all seems a little “Unreasonable” in terms of expectations. If I was earning a few quid doing a paper round and paying noting into the system I guess I might imagine that the naughty claimants should be grateful for what they get.
      Whilst I am not unemployed I very definitely DO have a sense of ENTITLEMENT.

  • Grytpype

    I should be ashamed of myself? Maybe if I would, if I knew what ‘you horrible burn remark’ actually meant. As for ‘giving people better maths and English’ being ‘a good thing’, so are millions of other possible courses of action, but none of them will lead to one single job being created. What we need are REAL JOBS, not useless PR exercises designed to give the appearance of actually doing something. These people are just INSULTING us.

  • Pingback: Compulsory Skills Training, Will It Work? | Shifting Grounds()


LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends