Brown promises a job for everyone

A surprise Labour pledge to generate jobs for all will be delivered to a delighted Labour conference in Brighton today. Our political editor, traces the road back to full employment.
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The Independent Online
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will today restore Labour's long- standing commitment to full employment; one of the foundations of a post- war settlement laid by Sir William Beveridge in his 1944 employment White Paper.

Having deliberately refused to maintain the emotive and difficult pledge in the last election manifesto, Mr Brown will tell the conference: "I affirm as our goal today, employment opportunity for all in every part of Britain. Full employment for the 21st century."

It was said last night that the pledge marked a new self-confidence in government. Tony Blair has always insisted that Labour should not promise anything it cannot deliver, which is one of the reasons the commitment was initially dropped by Neil Kinnock, when he was leader in 1990.

Yesterday, Mr Kinnock welcomed the news of its return, saying in Brighton: "The objectives of the 1944 White Paper are worth pursuing and are relevant in our generation."

Today, Mr Brown will say: "No Labour government can stand idly by, despite all the talk of ending the hereditary principle in Parliament, when in our society the children of the poorest have failure thrust upon them simply because their parents were poor."

The tone and substance of Mr Brown's speech is bound to take the edge off any left-wing criticism. While the Tories might argue that full employment is a double-edged sword, jeopardising the benefits of those who refuse to work, there is no doubting the deeply-felt bond of the party to the two words.

While definitions vary, it has been put at three per cent of the workforce unemployed - halfthe present unemployment rate of 1.5 million people claiming benefit.

The definition of the 1944 White Paper was restricted to the goal of a "high and stable level of employment". Although Mr Blair spoke of full employment as an aim when he was Labour's employment spokesman in 1992, it was not repeated as an official aspiration until Mr Brown returned it to the Labour lexicon in February 1993.

The following month, even John Major felt it necessary to tell the Commons that every Prime Minister wished to achieve full employment; forgetting that Margaret Thatcher had annihilated the post-war settlement.

Nevertheless, Labour's May manifesto said: "Our long-term objective is high and stable levels of unemployment" - the spirit of Beveridge without commitment to the specifics.

In today's speech, Mr Brown will say that Labour is moving to the second stage of its modernisation programme, with a government that is both radical and credible - the basis of a meaningful promise of full employment.

Delivery of the promise would hinge of the creation of a competitive economy, a transformed education system that would provide a gateway to lifelong learning, and a welfare system that moved on from a compensation for poverty to a platform for opportunity to work.

The Chancellor will say that no government could guarantee that everyone would stay in the same job. "But every government should and must guarantee opportunities for people to get their next job."

He will offer a number of concrete ideas to help create that environment for work. The Government is currently working on ideas for a consultative Green Paper on a reform of the welfare state, to be published early in the New Year, but Mr Brown said that he wanted to introduce a system of tax credits for the low paid, ensuring that they did not suffer punitive withdrawal of benefits as they moved into work.

Mr Brown will also suggest a reform of National Insurance to encourage people to move from welfare to work and, along with the New Deal package to help young unemployed and the long-term unemployed, Labour will deliver on its manifesto commitment to introduce a new, lower rate of 10p income tax to help the low-paid.

The minimum wage will be pursued as "the final pillar" in the Government's anti-poverty strategy.

The spirit of the conference week will be described by Mr Blair, when he addresses delegates tomorrow. He will say: "Now is the time to draw to a close the years of Britain's decline, the years when the leaders of this country presided over the graceful fading of outdated institutions. We have the chance to reshape our identity, to offer the world so much more than our past, to seize the future, make it happen for us, rather than to us."

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