Patrick Ainley Guardian Letter
Contrary to the assertions of Alan Milburn (Observer 2 December*), the Tories have dramatically increased social mobility. However, it is general, absolute, DOWNWARD social mobility that has increased, whilst the limited, relative, upward social mobility of the post-war, welfare state period is nowadays so statistically insignificant as to be exceptional.
As the traditional post-war class pyramid has gone pear-shaped, a select few children of the (mainly skilled) manual working class can no longer move into non-manual administrative and professional careers. Instead, those in a new middle/working class are running up a down-escalator of devalued qualifications, desperate not to fall into the reconstituted reserve army of labour in low-paid, insecure, unskilled and increasingly precarious jobs – perhaps 40% of all employees by some estimates. Meanwhile, formerly secure professions are automated and deskilled. Contracted out and working to targets as demand dictates, they are reduced to the level of increasingly fungible wage labour.
The result is a dramatic increase in both the rate and volume of that catch-all term ‘social mobility’!
After last week’s budget, we now get the government’s equally uninspiring ‘industrial strategy’. Based on proposals published in January of this year, the 250 page Building a Britain fit for the future claims to provide ‘a new approach to how government and business can work together’.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s more about the continued endorsement of free market economics and the success of ‘flexible’ labour – the reason why industrial strategies were no longer considered necessary. This is combined with a few proposals to bump up investment in ‘cutting edge’ industries which already do relatively well, in areas already prosperous – for example, the Oxford/Cambridge/Milton Keynes triangle.
While paying lip service to the importance of a few Northern ‘core cities’, the White Paper ignores most of the areas that are in terminal decline, because of historical neglect and lack of investment. It offers little to the millions of people in insecure and poorly paid employment at the lower end of the service sector.
In promising a ‘world class’ technical education, the White Paper is reaffirming existing commitments to introducing Tech-level qualifications as alternatives to A-levels – but these are as unlikely to be anymore successful than previous similar initiatives because they are not linked to an employment plan for young people.
May’s proposals are far removed from the approach of the economies they hopes to emulate – Germany and some of the Pacific Rim countries which have pursued much higher levels of state intervention and spent far greater sums of money (and in the case of Germany, enjoy much greater degrees of collaboration between state, employers and trade unions).
Labour’s alternative proposals for a National Investment Bank, increased borrowing for investment in manufacturing and nationalising parts of the infrastructure are much better, yet rather than pretending that after years of decline, industry can be restored; and then trying to copy the uncopiable, surely time could be better spent developing a POST-INDUSTRIAL strategy with at least some of the following objectives?
1)A much larger role for the state in running the economy – combined with decentralised regional strategies, accountable to local people. A planned introduction of automation.
2)Ditching fiscal orthodoxy – introducing the ‘People’s Quantitative Easing’, originally promoted by Labour, where new money is directed to socially useful projects rather than into the banking system.
3)Massive public expenditure on housing, social care and energy conservation.
4)Education for self-development and social responsibility, rather than just ‘skills’.
5)Ending dependency on low-paid service sector employment. Bringing in a Universal Basic Income in addition to existing benefits, not instead of them.
With young voters flocking to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in the last General Election https://education-economy-society.com/2017/06/20/young-voters-flock-to-labour/ you’d think the Tories would have wanted to use this week’s budget as an opportunity to win back some lost ground.
But, as one disaster follows another, May and Hammond are just as desperate to shore up their existing support and so, unless you are London based, in a ‘career’ job and with parents able to stump up a large slice of a deposit (by itself, the change to stamp duty does nothing to improve a person’s ability to save) for a bargain £300 000 first-time buy, there’s nothing that can remotely help you refill the fridge, never mind pay off the overdraft.
The £350 increase in the level we now start paying income tax – worth about £70 a year, will certainly exempt a fair few from tax altogether, yet if full-time students in part-time jobs are excluded, only half of 18-24-year olds are in the labour market.
By comparison, there’s been a £1350 increase in the 40% income tax ceiling (it’s now £46,350). There’s no further moves on student tuition fees (May has previously announced an increase in the repayment threshold and Parliament voted down new fee increases) and no direct reference to the need to rescue apprenticeships. https://radicaledbks.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/a-great-training-robbery1.pdf
While recent developments have shown that increasing spending on education and training won’t necessarily lead to better employment outcomes; some schools will welcome the increased financial incentives for increasing the number of students taking Maths beyond GCSE. But even here, the amount is modest (£600 a student) and many employer representatives now argue that it would be better to have a broader post-16 curriculum rather than the current specialist one.
Young people have been affected the most from the fall in living standards since the economic downturn http://www.if.org.uk/2013/06/21/new-evidence-shows-young-adults-have-suffered-most-from-the-recession/ and approaching a third are estimated to be living in poverty. Labour will want to put their interests at the top of its agenda.
At last! Sanity emerges on the British Left !!
‘Now that socialism is re-emerging as a political force that can no longer be ignored or ridiculed, the struggle for more time for leisure, family and relaxation should be linked to broader fights. Increased public ownership of the economy should be structured to create more worker self-management and control. If technology means a further reduction in secure work, a universal basic income – a basic stipend paid to all citizens as a right – may become ever more salient’