The chaos and confusion caused by this government in recent weeks beggars belief. Instead of clear, calm messages for the public, we’ve seen ministers change their position on self-isolation within a matter of hours. And rather than timely information for businesses, companies large and small have been forced to wait until just days before all legal restrictions were lifted to get the guidance they so badly needed.
Hundreds of thousands of people are being forced to self-isolate, thanks to the prime minister’s recklessness, and his refusal to keep sensible measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus.
These are difficult decisions. But no one looking objectively at this prime minister would get the sense he’s a man with a plan.
The real-world impact of this government’s lack of grip is all too clear, not least when it comes to the economy. The UK had the worst economic performance in the G7 last year and isn’t bouncing back the way others are. The US has already reached pre-crisis levels of GDP per capita. The latest OECD outlook suggests Japan will be there in the autumn, and Germany early in the new year. The UK will not catch up until this time next year.
This week I set out five tests to ensure the government is delivering the national economy the British people deserve
Yet our economy will eventually bounce back, thanks largely to the businesses, workers and communities across Britain who have adapted in the most difficult of circumstances. As we look towards that recovery, we need to build an economy that makes the most of the huge potential we have as a nation.
We have a chance to use this time to boost growth, and to learn the lessons this pandemic has taught us about our economy, our industries and our vital public services, environment and quality of life. A Labour government will do things differently.
That’s why this week I set out five tests to ensure the government is delivering the national economy the British people deserve. The economy Labour wants to build is one where everyone has a secure job with wages they can raise a family on, a financial buffer when things go wrong, and opportunities to prosper – no matter where they’re from or what their background. These tests will help hold the government’s feet to the fire when it comes to delivering those aims.
First, our British industries should thrive. This means an expansion of manufacturing output, jobs and exports, including in high-growth sectors of the future such as green technology and digital services. Labour would do this with our plan to buy, make and sell more in Britain, building the skills and jobs of the future that will help us succeed on the global stage.
Second, people should have secure jobs and real choices around work. That means a stable income, growth in occupations that pay well but that you don’t need a degree for, and improved pay and conditions.
Third, everyone should feel the benefits of higher pay and a lower cost of living. We need a reduction in the number of households, children and pensioners in poverty, falling levels of problem debt, and higher wages so that fewer people require in-work benefits.
Fourth, no one and nowhere should miss out as the recovery takes shape. No matter where they live or what their background, everyone should be able to benefit from greater opportunities. And yet, despite Boris Johnson’s promises, the economic performance of the highest and lowest regions is forecast to widen over the course of this parliament. That cannot be allowed to happen.
Fifth, the economic recovery must be sustainable. We need real, tangible progress towards our net zero goals, while building stronger, more resilient communities with greater wellbeing and falling rates of loneliness and social isolation.
The pandemic has hit us hard – and in more ways than one. But the problems we face as a country go back far further than the last 18 months. Under the Conservatives, in the nine years running up to the pandemic, low growth lost us a potential £16.7bn in tax revenue. That’s money that could have been spent on our NHS, supporting our teachers, or maintaining police numbers.
We face immense challenges individually, as a society, and as a country. Yet despite this government’s recklessness and disregard for the concerns of ordinary people, I know we will overcome them. Labour’s five tests set out a pathway to a stronger, fairer and more resilient economy where everyone can prosper – no matter where they live or what their background.
• Rachel Reeves is shadow chancellor of the exchequer