This is where New Labour came in. Unemployment is now back to 1997 levels and the claimant count has seen its biggest increase in over 15 years as the global economic and financial crisis sweeps through the highly vulnerable, debt-ridden British economy. It ought to be where New Labour goes out.
The Brown-Blair governments participated enthusiastically in the build-up of debt and fantasy finance that is now wreaking its havoc in terms of its devastating impact on real people who are losing real jobs that have paid mortgages and fed and clothed families.
Losing your bank through reckless, speculative behaviour entitles you to massive state bail-outs. By contrast, losing your job in Brown’s Britain plunges you into instant poverty. The Job Seeker's Allowance (JSA) for a newly unemployed single person over 25 is just £60.50 a week. New Labour has not only made it far harder to claim, but has also reduced the JSA’s real value year by year.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) calculates that if JSA had been increased in line with earnings over the last 30 years, the rate for a single person over 25 would now be more than £100 a week. To make matters worse, workers have no right to any redundancy pay until they have been working for their employer for two years and roughly one worker in three is excluded by this rule, the TUC says.
Despite the bleating of the TUC and pleas for an increase in the JSA, New Labour doesn’t give a damn that recent research into minimum income standards has shown that a single working age adult needs an income of at least £153 a week “in order to have the opportunities and choices necessary to participate in society”.
Spurred on by the Blair-Brown governments’ infatuation with financial services and the City of London, the productive economy has fallen into sharp decline; the number of manufacturing jobs has plummeted to 2.86 million, the lowest figure since records began. And today’s unemployment figures take no account of redundancies announced yesterday, with 5,000 jobs going at firms that include Virgin Media, Yell, Taylor Wimpey and GlaxoSmithKline.
New Labour is not the only thing that isn’t working. The government presides over a free-for-all capitalist system that is clearly heading for slump at a rapid rate, with all that means for the lives of millions of ordinary people throughout the world. The crisis is way beyond solving through interest rate reductions or even modest tax cuts.
People are being laid off because their employers – over whom they have no control – can no longer make a profit selling the goods or services they supply. Yet in many cases, although not all, the jobs that are going are socially useful in terms, for example, of building new homes or researching new drugs.
Therein lies the problem – and the solution. We could keep the jobs, scrap the profit-driven approach and run an economy on the basis of social need rather than the requirements of shareholders and stock markets. Getting there is obviously a major, revolutionary challenge. It entails getting rid of governments like New Labour and turning the state into a democratic instrument for social change in place of one that turns its back on the unemployed. A first step would be the occupation of all workplaces threatened with closure or job losses.
AWTW communications editor