Keir Starmer today set out his vision for the nation’s recovery. After a bruising year, we have seen the very best of our public services and the resilience of our communities. But it is unavoidable to reflect on the damage that a decade of irresponsible choices by the Conservatives has done to the foundations of our country. More deeply, and a problem that strikes at the core of our values, is that the British contract has been broken: the promise that if you work hard, roll your sleeves up and contribute, you can get on in life. For millions of working people, it makes little difference how many hours they work or how many jobs they hold down. The reward is insecure work, low pay and week after week filled with worry about making ends meet.
The fact that the £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift is the difference between survival or sinking for so many is evidence of this broken promise, with 700,000 facing being pulled into poverty if it is not extended. Of those affected, more than half are in work, but simply cannot make work pay. That is why it’s so important the government acts on our demands. Firstly, by reversing planned cuts to Universal Credit, benefiting six million families by £1,000 a year. Secondly, by providing local councils with the funding they need to prevent Boris Johnson’s council tax bombshell. Thirdly, by extending the business rate holiday and the VAT cut for hospitality and leisure.
The need to rebuild an empowering state so it can be fit for the challenge ahead is critical. Without a foundation of decent public services we cannot hope to put power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of working people. Only with an active state – one that takes determined action – will be rebuild our fragile nation. Simply sitting by and seeing what happens will lead to a deeper recession, further job losses and millions not realising their full potential. We must rebalance an economy that currently only seems to work for a minority of powerful people, while those who work hard to create the value and wealth are left to rely on top-up benefits just to put food on the table. Without action, there is little chance of any meaningful change.
But in search of solutions, we can take comfort in our collective achievements. If you wanted to give young people the best chance in life, you would look to the success of Sure Start. If you want to build an inclusive economy – rooted in community, returning value and acting in the long-term interests of our nation – then co-operatives provide the answer. The time to act is now. With the Budget due in just a couple of weeks, the Chancellor has choices to make, and it is vital he makes the right ones. With Keir’s longstanding support of the movement, and with the Shadow Chancellor as one of seven Labour and Co-operative MPs serving on the shadow cabinet, you would expect policies being developed to be co-operative proof, and that is exactly what has been delivered.
A new British recovery bond is a prime example of the radical ideas we need. A fund to create new 100,000 businesses including a new generation of co-operatives, will give working people a stake in the future and a dividend on the contribution they make. The co-operative movement is strong, with over 7,000 independent co-ops employing over 240,000 people and have over 14 million members, worth over £38bn to the UK economy. It will be the foundation we will build on as a movement.
Labour’s proposals would help spread small businesses, which are rooted in their local communities by design. It would encourage more businesses to consider registering as social enterprises, co-operatives, employee-owned businesses, as well as establishing a preference for joint ventures, as evidence suggests that these are more successful and durable in the long run.
The recovery fund will also allow investment in our communities, so sadly lacking over the last decade. No more warm words that fail to deliver, but reimagining vibrant high streets and investing in people to realise their full potential in every part of the country. As we think ahead to the new economy a true partnership between government, enterprise and people will tackle the climate crisis and support the creation of new skilled jobs. This is a moment to start a new chapter for our country, one of hope and a collective endeavour. Co-operation will be at the forefront of our renewal.