The 20 year anniversary of the 1997 general election is as good a time as any to reflect on the achievements of the last Labour government. To remind ourselves that Labour radically re-shaped Britain after 18 years of Tory failure and to re-learn the lesson that only Labour governments bring about transformative change for the many, not just the few.
During 13 years in government, Labour vastly improved the living standards of millions of families and created a fairer, more equal society. We helped to secure a lasting peace in Northern Ireland and we delivered devolution to Scotland and Wales. Our national minimum wage made work pay while the New Deal helped millions into work. At the same time, Sure Start centres gave children the best beginning in life and tax credits helped lift 500,000 children out of poverty.
We lifted nearly a million pensioners out of poverty and, after 18 years of the Tories running the country down, we revitalised Britain’s schools and hospitals. A generation of children were educated in the thousands of schools rebuilt and refurbished under Labour by some of the 40,000 extra teachers. We doubled education spending per pupil and schools saw some of the best ever results because of Labour investment.
We undertook the largest hospital building programme in history with more than 100 new hospital schemes, 44,000 more doctors and 89,000 more nurses driving up standards and driving down waits. By 2010, waiting lists were at their lowest since records began and three million more operations were carried out every year. After 18 years of Tory decline, it fell to a Labour government to save the NHS.
Now, under Theresa May and the Tories, the progress we fought for and the gains we made are being rapidly rolled back. Living standards have fallen sharply, pensioner poverty and child poverty are rising and over a thousand Sure Start centres have been lot. Meanwhile, the Tories are cutting support for working families, the NHS is once again starved of vital investment and there is an urgent funding crisis in our schools.
So the challenge facing Labour is the same today as it was two decades ago. To pick our public services up off their knees and to re-build Britain so that instead of a country run for the richest, it’s one in which all of us can lead richer lives. How we achieve that is exactly the same in 2017 as it was in 1997: by persuading people to vote for change, to vote for Labour and to vote for a country for the many, not the few.
Here are just 50 of the things Labour achieved in government between 1997 and 2010:
- A national minimum wage
- The shortest waiting times since NHS records began
- Three million more operations carried out every year
- Over 44,000 more doctors
- Over 89,000 more nurses
- Over three quarters of GP practices offered extended opening hours for at least one evening or weekend session a week
- All prescriptions made free for people being treated for cancer or the effects of cancer, and teenage girls offered a vaccination against cervical cancer.
- The guarantee to see a cancer specialist within two weeks
- Over 100 new hospital building schemes completed
- 12 million pensioners benefited from Winter Fuel Payments
- 900,000 pensioners lifted out of poverty
- 500,000 children lifted out of relative poverty
- Free TV licences for over-75s
- The New Deal helped over 2.2 million people into work.
- Over 4.8 million Child Trust Funds started.
- 3,600 Sure Start Children’s Centres were opened, reaching over 2.8 million children and their families.
- Over 42,000 more teachers and 212,000 more support staff, including 123,000 more teaching assistants, than in 1997.
- Around 3,700 rebuilt and significantly refurbished schools; including new and improved classrooms, laboratories and kitchens.
- A free nursery place for every 3- and 4-year-old
- Doubled the number of registered childcare places to more than 1.3 million
- More young people attending university than ever before
- More than doubled the number of apprenticeships starts
- In 1997 more than half of all schools saw less that 30 per cent of their pupils fail to get 5 good GCSEs including English and Maths. By 2010, that was only 247 schools – less than one in twelve
- Increased school funding to support the delivery of higher standards. Between 1997-98 and 2009-10, total funding per pupil more than doubled from £3,030 in 1997-98 to £6,350 in 2009-10 in real terms, an increase of 110 per cent
- The Northern Ireland peace process
- The car scrappage scheme
- No smoking in most enclosed public places
- A 21 per cent reduction to the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions
- Over £20 billion invested in bringing social housing to decent standards
- A two-thirds reduction in rough sleeping
- Free off-peak travel on buses anywhere in England for over-60s and disabled people
- Reduced crime by 36 per cent
- Brought 1.5 million council houses up to a decent standard, with over 700,000 new kitchens, 525,000 new bathrooms and over a million new central heating systems fitted
- Increased police numbers by almost 17,000, alongside more than 16,000 Police Community Support Officers
- A dedicated neighbourhood police team in every community
- Equalised the age of consent and repealed Section 28
- Through the introduction of civil partnerships, Labour for the first time gave legal recognition to same-sex partners
- Tripled Britain’s overseas aid budget
- Cancelled up to 100 per cent of debt for the world’s poorest countries
- Ensured Britain had more offshore wind capacity than any country in the world
- Embarked on the biggest program of council house building for twenty years
- Launched the Swimming Challenge Fund to support free swimming for over 60s and under 16s
- Banned fox hunting
- Led the campaign to win the 2012 Olympics for London
- Free admission to national museums and galleries
- Devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, an elected Mayor and Assembly for London and directly-elected mayors for those cities that wanted them
- Created a new right of pedestrian access to the English coast
- In Europe we signed the Social Chapter and introduced measures including: four weeks’ paid holiday; a right to parental leave; extended maternity leave; a new right to request flexible working; and the same protection for part-time workers as full-time workers.
- Led efforts to agree a new international convention banning all cluster munitions and made Britain one of the first countries to ratify a convention to ban anti-personnel landmines
- Introduced the first ever British Armed Forces and Veterans Day to honour the achievements of our Armed Forces.
Andrew Gwynne is Labour’s national campaign co-ordinator.