The Chancellor has taken measures that most people would have thought unthinkable from a Conservative Chancellor. In his statement this afternoon, he said his response to this crisis would be unencumbered by dogma. We welcome that approach and we hope that others in his party were listening. In recent weeks and months, we have seen the penny drop for the champions of small state, free market, low tax economics about the limitations of their blinkered ideological dogma. As they look to the future, perhaps they might reflect on their past failures, because if we are to build a better country in the aftermath of the crisis, we have to be honest about the state of the country as we entered it.
The ideological dogma that underpinned the last decade of Conservative economic policies has made this a lost decade—a decade of low productivity, stagnant wages, rising poverty and mounting debt, the slowest growth since the war and, perhaps the most damning indictment of all, child poverty rising on their watch. More children in this country are living in poverty—and not by accident or because of factors beyond the Government’s control but because, as the Chair of the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission said,
“welfare changes over the past ten years have put many more children into poverty.”
People may not talk of their own life experiences in terms of a failed economic model or a broken social contract, but they experience it when their bills rise faster than their wages, when their public services are not as good as they were, or when they hit glass ceilings because of their class, gender, race, religion or disability. Those people who have stared into the grim reality of Britain’s social insecurity system—many for the first time in their family’s living memory—and have contemplated what life would be like on universal credit can see that broken system, too. Those living outside London and the south-east can see it, and clearly resent the concentration of so much power, wealth and opportunity in one corner of our country. Even within our capital city, between the glittering lights of the City of London and Canary Wharf, those families crammed into temporary bed-and-breakfast accommodation can see the injustice under their noses. People may not always talk in terms of paradigm shifts, but they know that after this crisis, we simply cannot return to business as usual.
The Chancellor said he wants to
“heal the wounds exposed through this crisis”,
but the wounds were already there for anyone who wanted to see them. This has got to be a turning point for our country—one that tackles injustice and gives everyone a stake in success; that fixes our broken social care system, so that never again are older and disabled people left as dangerously exposed as they have been during this crisis; one that addresses the social insecurity experienced by people in precarious work and builds resilience for the challenges ahead posed by technological revolution; one where we seize the opportunity to make the recovery a green recovery with the green new deal that our country needs; and where we argue with renewed vigour and conviction that global problems require global solutions, and where we play our part in rebuilding the institutions needed to provide safety and security in a dangerous world.
For the sake of our country, I hope the Government rise to the challenge, because ours is a great country, full of promise and opportunity, one of the richest countries in the world, with world-class universities, entrepreneurialism and successful business, groundbreaking science and technology, world-renowned arts and culture and a vibrant civil society, and that is what we are fighting to save. But this is also a country of staggering inequality, intolerable poverty and wasted potential, and that is what we are determined to change. As history has shown us, when the country provides the call for change, it is in a Labour Government that they find the solutions.