Labour must marry up green ambitions with the economic needs of the country

Andrew Achilleos

‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ seems to have become the 1997-esque Labour Party mantra of the Covid era. The economic impact of the pandemic has left more than 500,000 young people out of work and nearly two million working age people unemployed nationally, so the broad message is on point.

That said, ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ can’t mean a new supermarket for every town or an entirely digital future, which I fear would produce an economy built on sand. Our new mantra must create good, meaningful work that moves us away from the society theorised by David Graeber in Bullshit Jobs. It seems obvious to me that we should tread the path of a green recovery from Covid, investing in job creation across sectors such as manufacturing, construction, energy and agriculture.

Labour should embark upon a pragmatic retelling of our national story that empowers and fundamentally employs communities in meaningful, green work. Part of the problem at present is that many jobs offer little by way of emotional or motivational reward; there are millions of people working just to live.

Social structures in the UK perpetuate the use of individuals as a means to drive economic growth and, in turn, devalue and undermine their Labour – giving many a sense of worthlessness. A helpful contrast to this is to look at the world of work during times of war. Though it was hard in the factories and working the land, people felt they were contributing to the war effort, rather than being used. Their work had meaning and national importance. They were part of something bigger.

The pandemic provides us with a unique opportunity to change the drivers of our economy and to create jobs that offer individuals well-paid work of value, which contributes to wider society. Retelling our national story means bringing people back in from the cold in rural areas and those hit hardest by the pandemic, providing the skills training necessary for them to shape our future and a new national identity rooted in green industries.

Whilst Labour has spoken about a retraining programme, it has not gone far enough. An emergency plan on green jobs for young people, a report written by Friends of the Earth, suggests that a £40bn green infrastructure programme creating one million jobs and a £10bn-a-year scheme creating 250,000 green apprenticeships in England and Wales are necessary. This may seem like a colossal investment, but the same document outlines that just one year at the current rate of youth unemployment could cost up to £39bn in wage scarring across local economies.

At present, adaptations for climate change and the ‘green agenda’ feel like an inconvenience, or something unimportant to many. This is especially true in more deprived areas. It is perceived as a middle-class problem and our policies thus far have failed to resonate with the working classes. Unsurprisingly, people do not want to hear about trees, solar panels and electric vehicle infrastructure when they can’t afford to feed their children.

But, as we stare down the barrel of a once-in-a-lifetime simultaneous employment and environmental crisis, now is the time to marry up our green ambitions with the economic needs of the country. Putting the emphasis on decent work for decent pay and saving our planet in the process is the way to bring people with us. If we fail to offer ‘real’ work that includes people in the national story, there is a risk of disenfranchising millions of people from our journey as we rebuild Britain and reconfigure society.

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