Keeping people in work

Amid the relatively gloomy news, there was a very significant ray of sunshine – unemployment was down again. Whether the total number out of work or those claiming benefits – both measures took another step in the right direction.

Which – as I was discussing with someone on the doorstep this morning who had lost her job in financial services – is obviously not too much comfort for the many that have been made redundant and are still valiantly seeking work. But it does show what a difference a Labour government has made – as predictions of unemployment in the deepest global recession since the 1920s were between 3-4million, and in fact it has not peaked above 2.5 million. Furthermore, in Greenwich & Woolwich constituency, unemployment has fallen a whopping 42% (3 in 7 people) since Labour were elected in 1997. Not everyone will remember the 3.5 millions out of work under Mrs Thatcher’s uncaring Government when ideology ruled supreme and people were just statistics.

And why has Labour made a difference? Well we have not gone for the jugular cutting public sector jobs. Despite some headlines the numbers in the pblic sector has inched up to provide the improved education, health and police services we enjoy. Second, more people than ever are in higher education giving us the graduates we need for our knowledge-based economy (and Blackheath Westcombe has the highest graduate population in the Borough) and this is despite some recent over-egged headlines about some funding cuts are 12 years of sustained growth. Thirdly, employers like mine have responded sensitively to the recession, preferring to keep their talented staff by asking them to tighten their belts with a variety of inventive means such as sabbaticals, part-time working and in some cases reduced pay (better that than no job though). Fourthly, the Government has really invested in jobs and training to help people off the dole and fifthly, parts of the economy are already turning around.

Our creative sector remains very strong, tourism and theatres are booming and London is very much a global hub in so many areas. Being part of an EU-wide single labour market has really helped – the influx of those from Eastern Europe was important in the boom years, but has eased off as many returned home thus acting as a stabiliser. So UK unemployment is now lower than the EU average and much lower than France, Spain, Italy or even the United States.

We have all shared the pain of the global downturn, but the public services and support we have now in this country – together with the economic stimulus – have helped us through more than most. With the Olympics, Crossrail (unless a Conservative Government cancels it), Labour’s Decent Homes programme and schools’ transformation – as well as the confidence returning the Canary Wharf and the City and the exciting developments now taking shape on Greenwich Peninsula – Blackheath and Westcombe Park residents have some significant job and enterprise opportunities. We all need to be able to share in this economic prosperity. All setting the scene or Budget Day on Wednesday.

David L Gardner

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