Labour's plans are too weak to cut inequality

Submitted by Matthew on 25 October, 2014 - 11:24 Author: Colin Foster

Former Labour minister Alan Milburn is not left-wing. When Labour lost office in 2010, he did not start campaigning against the Tory and Lib-Dem government.

He took a job from that government, running its “Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission” with a Tory, Gillian Shepherd, as vice-chair.

Probably he is speaking out now, in the second report of that commission, published on 20 October, because he thinks his term is coming to an end anyway.

But by stating a few facts, and drawing obvious conclusions, he ends up criticising the current Labour leadership from the left.

“2010-2020”, his commission reports, “is set to be the first decade with a rise in absolute poverty since records began in the early 1960s”.

The official target for reducing child poverty by 2020, set by the Blair government, supposed to be legally binding, and not officially rejected even by the Tories, is nowhere near being met. One child in five lives in poverty, and it is getting worse.

“Social mobility” is different from equality: it measures the chances of people moving from the “bottom” to nearer the “top” of an unequal society. On the whole, it is decreasing.

Young people from better-off backgrounds are six times more likely to go to university than the worse-off.

University courses today are more often “calling cards” for access to better-paid jobs (usually not or scarcely using the knowledge gained in the degree) than means of access to knowledge. The report finds that “top employers recruit from an average of only 20 out of 115 universities”; in other words, even if young people from worse-off backgrounds get to university, most likely they get to universities whose degrees are poorer “calling cards” than the better-offs’.

And “non-graduate routes are limited”. Apprenticeships are few, and mostly offer no routes to get to much better jobs.

Milburn notes that £33 billion of cuts are coming just from the flow-through of government decisions already made, and that the Tories’ plan to make further cuts in the real value of working-age benefits will make things worse.

But, he says, Labour’s promise to increase the minimum wage is far too minimal (despite the outcry from the bosses who denounce it as over-generous).

He proposes that it should be official policy to make Britain a “Living Wage country”.

The commission proposes a series of other measures: more early-years provision, higher pay for teachers, more apprenticeships, longer-term private tenancies, pressure on top universities to admit more students from worse-off background, a ban on unpaid internships.

Labour and trade union activists should ask why Labour’s official policy remains even weaker than these modest proposals from a Blairite and a Tory.

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