Mary Macleod is MP for Brentford and Isleworth.
Yesterday’s spluttering into the cornflakes moment was provided by Rachel Reeves. Not usually someone who jolts their audience into a state of wakefulness, Reeves made the frankly alarming claim that the Labour Party is “the party of work”.
Try saying that in the streets of Birmingham Ladywood, the constituency in the UK with the highest rate of unemployment in the country. The people there had to live through thirteen years as jobs evaporated and entire streets were moved onto out-of-work benefits. The Channel 4 programme Benefits Street is only now bringing the scale of Labour’s social collapse there to a wider audience.
The picture across the country is just as depressing. 1.4 million people spent most of the last decade on out-of-work benefits. Around 2.8 million people spent at least 5 years on some form of out-of-work benefit. The number of households where no member has ever worked doubled.
Meanwhile the education system, the personal legacy of Ed Balls’ time in charge, gave too many young people a shoddy deal. Often the education system tolerated failure and aspired to second best. Worse, the rampant grade inflation they used to hide the scandal meant that the few qualifications young people left school with were almost worthless to employers.
These are the fruits of Labour – the legacy of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls’ time in Government. So it’s not just laughable, it’s infuriating, to hear their shadow welfare secretary cover up historical facts in her pursuit of headlines.
So what have Labour done in the last four years? Despite causing the problems, they have opposed every single one of our measures to clear up their mess. From capping welfare payments to reforming the education system, Labour have done everything they can to obfuscate, delay and block reform.
Even now, their proposals are weak, ineffective and a desperate attempt to ape successful government policy.
We’re introducing new rules so that all young people who do not have basic qualifications in Maths and English at sixteen are required to continue studying.
We are also piloting a new scheme for young unemployed people, where unqualified young people must learn while they look for a job. It kicks in from day one, not six weeks down the line as Labour would have it.
After 13 years of Labour running our education system, many young people looking for a job do not have the English and Maths skills they need to get one. That’s why Michael Gove is restoring rigour to the exam system and making sure qualifications actually mean something to employers.
Labour know they are losing the battle on welfare. Yesterday’s announcement was a token gesture to avoid accusations that they are ignoring it. But the truth is the only way to reduce the benefits bill and deal with welfare dependency is to help businesses create jobs. That requires a long term plan for the economy. And Labour have no plan.
Young people who were failed by Labour’s education system do not deserve to be failed again by Labour through welfare. They deserve better than this.