Employment has not been as prominent an issue as it should be in this election. Long-term unemployment blights lives and mass long-term unemployment blights cities and regions – it is the key issue of the moment.
It isn’t only how much time or how many column inches are devoted to jobs; it is also about the degree of thought and ingenuity going into questioning the Parties on this issue. How realistic are their plans? Are the leaders serious about full employment or have they decided to accept high unemployment for a long time to come?
Every leading politician should recognise the importance of unemployment and make it the centre-piece of the economic policies they put to the voters at the next election. In concrete terms, this means that they should give unemployment the highest priority in designing their broad economic policies. This Report has highlighted the fragility of the recovery – it would be all too easy to throw away the relatively strong labour market performance of the last six months. As a recent letter to the Times by a group of leading economists remarked, “this is not the time for such a destabilising action.”
Prioritising unemployment also means finding resources for large and effective employment programmes. The approach the TUC prefers is to offer unemployed people ‘job guarantees’ – temporary jobs, created by the government, offering real wages and the chance to contribute to projects of genuine community value. Job guarantees offer a higher income than Jobseeker’s Allowance and a chance to maintain one’s dignity and self-respect.
An important step in this direction has already been made with the Future Jobs Fund, which offers participants six months’ work, paid at least the national minimum wage. Parties that plan to end the Future Jobs Fund or replace it with a low quality workfare programme are not taking the challenge of unemployment seriously. Job guarantees, on the other hand, offer unemployed people what they want: a real job.
We want the parties to answer two questions about their commitment to helping unemployed people:
- Will their economic policies strengthen demand and reduce unemployment?
- Will their employment programmes match the scale of the challenge?
In our new Economic Report, we analyse their manifesto committments in these areas. See how the parties stack up here.