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We need a new approach to help businesses get the staff they need

3 min read

Listening to the Conservative party, you would think that the economy was their get out of jail free card. Labour MPs ask about the parties in Downing Street? “But the economy!” they bellow from across the chamber. 

We point out chronic problems in the NHS, with staff burnt out, and waiting lists even longer than they were before the pandemic. “But we have more jobs than ever before!”  they respond.

It’s almost as if they think they are playing political top-trumps. Boris Johnson’s poor score on truth-telling can be beaten, if only they play an economic statistics card. Unfortunately, neither politics nor economics is a game. The successes they claim are, in fact, chronic flaws in the current economy. 

Speak to any business, and you hear the same message: we need staff. 

Our country has had many unemployment crises brought about by economic shock, and they’ve often been mismanaged by Tory governments. Now we have the opposite: huge numbers of vacancies we cannot fill. It’s a crisis nonetheless, and it has similarly been brought about by the toxic combination of economic shocks to the system—Brexit and Covid— and a Conservative party blind to the reality of it.

Labour will reverse the Tories’ insecurity at work with a new deal for working people

Both Boris Johnson’s failed Brexit deal and the pandemic have had a hand in people leaving the labour market. Economics suggests that we seem to have lost about a million people who were working in the UK. Some 400,000 are non-UK nationals who have now left our country, and the rest a group of 600,000 or so UK nationals, many of whom are older workers.

In normal times, when vacancies rise, you might expect wages to go up, reflecting the greater demand for employees. But that’s not happening either. Our low-growth economy hasn’t created these vacancies, it has been external forces. So, it is hard for employers to sustainably increase pay sustainably when they don’t know what might be around the corner.

And too many employees have little bargaining power given that trade union membership is too low, especially in high-skill, low-paid sectors, for example, social care. Employees and business suffer alike from the current crisis. 

Labour’s plan would be to work with businesses, employees and trade unions to get people back into work and help those already working to move up and get on.

Labour will reverse the Tories’ insecurity at work with a new deal for working people expediting the Green Paper announced at Labour conference by Angela Rayner as part of the partnership approach with business we want, and the shared interest that businesses and employees have in driving up productivity.

To help improve skills, we would use the underspend from the broken apprenticeships levy to cover apprentices’ wages for 100,000 young people to help shape future careers. We want to boost public transport, giving people more choice about where they work by giving local authorities new powers over buses.

Our plan for social care will help those with caring responsibilities stay in work or move up in work and we would look again at childcare support, which is complicated and expensive for parents, stopping them from taking better paying jobs.

This is the holistic approach we need to encourage prosperity and security in the UK economy.  Only Labour can work in partnership with business, employees and trade unions to make it work.  The Tories have proved themselves incapable of understanding the core problem.


Alison McGovern is the Labour MP for Wirral South and shadow minister for employment.

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