Sunday, 7 December 2008

Blast From the Past

While I was doing research for yesterday's post regarding Anne Begg MP I found an excellent speech from September 1999 (You know, back when the Moon was thrown out of orbit and we lost contact with Moonbase Alpha, you remember that don't you?) that articulates perfectly the great work Labour had done in just 2 years in office. Reading or hearing speeches like this makes me so proud to call myself a member of this great party. This is what sets us out, these are our values and this what we can achieve when we work together.

Today, I want to set out our vision for a new Welfare State.

How we are making a difference.

How we are already delivering. For families, for the disabled, for pensioners.

How we are tackling poverty and the causes of poverty for millions of people.

How we're already taking nearly a million children out of poverty.

But I also want to set out why we are making changes.

For me, it's quite simple. In the 1980s I saw poor people get poorer while the country got richer.

I saw children who were never going to get the start in life they needed.

And why? Not because they weren't the children of hard-working, caring parents.

But because they were born in the wrong place. At the wrong time. Under a Tory Government.

And in the 1990s, I saw the same people. Who by then believed that change could never come.

Well now we are making changes. For them, and millions like them.

And you know what makes me most proud?

Not that my Department will - from next April - be paying out a record increase in Child Benefit.

Though I am proud of that.

But that my Department is now part of a Government wide strategy to heal the scars of a nation divided for too long.

Child Benefit. Sure Start. New Deal. The Working Families Tax Credit - amounting to the most complete assault on poverty and exclusion in a generation.

That's a Labour Government delivering.

And last week, we launched our strategy to tackle poverty and promote opportunity for all.

The most radical and far-reaching campaign against poverty since Beveridge.

For the first time a government standing up to be counted.

Setting standards against which we'll be judged.

Confronting poverty. Promoting opportunity.

Because opportunity for all is at the very heart of our values.

Labour Values

Our enduring values. Labour values. Of decency, merit, rights matched by responsibilities. Community. Fairness.

The same values that underpinned the founding of the Welfare State fifty years ago.

Without doubt, one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century.

We are proud of it and we are proud of what it's done.

It lifted millions out of poverty.

The Tory legacy

We're fighting a war against poverty. For 18 years, the Tories fought a war against the poor.

Ten years ago, the Tories claimed that poverty didn't exist. Last week, their spokesman, a man with two brains we're told, said it was too complex.

There's a clear difference between us and the Tories.

The Tories tell you why you can't tackle poverty. We'll tell you how we can.

Look at what they left.

1 in 5 people living in a household where no one worked. Twice what it was in 1979.

Nearly a million children living on benefits for more than 5 years.

Low skills. Poor housing. Rising crime. Mass unemployment.

It is morally wrong. It's socially divisive. And it's economically foolish to write off generation after generation.

And the Tories have learnt nothing.

Given a chance, they'd do it all again.

Even now the Tories are opposing every single step we are taking to confront poverty.

These Tories are the same people who left us, in the final years of the 20th century, a shameful legacy of poverty. A scar upon our country.

By the time they left office, 1 in 3 children were living in poverty. Three times more than in 1979.

Those were Thatcher's children.

Never again. We owe it to our children and the generations to come.

That's why we are the first Government ever to promise to eradicate child poverty in 20 years. And we will.

Today, as every day, 2000 children will be born.

But in these, the last few months of the 20th century, a third of them will be born into poverty.

And if we do nothing, these children will not only be born poor.

They will live poor. And die poor.

In a poverty of opportunity and in a poverty of expectation.

2000 children born. 2000 reasons why welfare reform is essential.

Supporting families

That's why we're supporting families. The largest ever rise in Child Benefit. Helping 12 million children.

And one million more children getting extra help through reform of the CSA. With mothers keeping more of the money they get.

And from next week, nearly £5 more for lone parents with young children.

Already, families with children are on average £740 a year better off.

Increasing opportunity

But fighting poverty isn't just about cash. It's about housing. It's about skills. It's about increasing opportunity for our children.

That's why we're investing an extra £19 billion in education

That's why we're supporting children in their early years.

Take Sure Start. Bringing healthcare, early education and childcare services together. To help support young children and their families. Tackling the root causes of poverty.

That's a Labour Government delivering for children.

Helping people into work

We also know that for families work is the best way out of poverty.

But for two decades millions of people were denied the opportunity to work.

In many areas we saw a second or third generation of people who have never known work.

Where people came to believe that their children would do no better than themselves.

That's why we've introduced the New Deal.

And it is working. Over 120,000 young people have found jobs.

The New Deal for Lone Parents. Who wanted to work but didn't believe they could. And 21,000 now in work.

The New Deal for Disabled People. For the million disabled people who want to work.

The new Disability Rights Commission.

Up and down the country, people getting the help to help themselves.

Making work pay

We're making work pay. The first ever National Minimum Wage.

From next week, the Working Families Tax Credit.

And from next week. Lone parents who get a job can keep their benefits for the first two weeks in a job. Helping bridge the gap between benefits and work.

Making sure that people are better off in work than they are on benefit.

Making work possible

And not only making work pay. But making work possible.

The first ever National Child Care Strategy.

And, for the first time, parents rights to time off to care for their children.

And I can announce today that we will help low-income parents take up these rights. By giving them access to benefits.

We're getting people into work. Making work pay. Making work possible.

Security for those who can't

But we're also providing security for those who can't work.

That's why we're introducing the new Disability income guarantee.

And security for today's pensioners too. Too many of them poor. Too many of them in cold houses. Too many of them worrying about their health. That's the Tory legacy.

That's why we've increased the Winter Fuel Payment five-fold this year. £100. Paid in time for Christmas.

We've restored free eye-tests. Cut VAT on fuel. Invested £21 billion more in the NHS.

The challenge ahead

We're meeting the challenges of today. And we've shown we can take difficult decisions.

Break new ground. Take on sometimes entrenched attitudes.

But there is still much more to do.

Take work. We are determined to break the spiral of despair, of a world where people were trapped on benefit. Trapped in poverty.

When we set up the New Deal, we said there could be no fifth option to stay at home when you could work.

People said that was harsh. It isn't. We've cut youth unemployment by 60%.

Now we're going further. For the first time we are bringing together the Employment Service and the Benefits Agency in the new ONE service.

Help to get a job. To get skills. Advice. But in return we are saying you need to come in for interview to see what's available.

A new culture. New rights. New responsibilities.

Some people say it's a tough approach. I don't. It's the right thing to do.

It's easy to send out a Giro. But a Giro won't get you a job. Or improve your skills. So we need to do more. We are doing more.

We are helping people to help themselves. Help that was never there before.

That's what people want. Their government working for them.

Take disability.

I know reform of Incapacity Benefit is difficult. But it's got to be done.

And let's nail this lie that we're cutting spending on disabled people. We're not.

The truth is we're spending two billion pounds more this Parliament.

And two billion pounds on top of that - because for the first time ever we're providing pensions for disabled workers and carers.

We're bringing the benefits system up to date. We're helping the very people who need that help most.

That's why we've raised the benefits paid to people disabled from birth by up to £26 a week. For life.

And we're tackling pensioner poverty.

Some pensioners' incomes have risen dramatically thanks to occupational pensions.

Pensions you fought for.

But the tragedy is that too many pensioners still face poverty in old age.

How dare the Tories criticise our pension reforms when they allowed hard-working people to work throughout their lives only to retire dependent on benefits from Day One.

That's why we introduced a minimum income guarantee. To help those who lost most.

After 18 years of Tory Government, one in three people working today will retire dependent on Income Support.

So we're making the changes we need.

Improving SERPS. A new State Second Pension.

Under SERPS if you don't earn much. You don't get much.

Under SERPS someone on £6,000 a year gets £13 a week.

Under the new State Second Pension, they get £46.

No-one is going to tell me that isn't an improvement.

And millions of hard-working people had no way to save for their pensions. So we filled that gap.

New Stakeholder Pensions. Helping up to 5 million people save for their retirement.

And we're making sure it's easier for pensioners to take up their entitlement.

Using modern technology to make sure people get easy access to the help they are entitled to.

We're making the system efficient, tackling Tory waste.

When we came into office two out of every five Income Support cases was wrong.

Now we're saving a billion pounds just by getting claims right. Helping to pay for more Child Benefit.

Under the Tories, the benefit system was part of the problem, when it should have been part of the solution.

Labour is delivering: the Tories still opposing

Labour is delivering. And we'll continue to deliver.

Just like the Tories will continue to oppose.

Like they opposed the New Deal. They're still calling it "expensive". "Unnecessary." "A colossal failure." Tell that to the 150,000 people who found jobs through the New Deal.

And they opposed the National Minimum Wage. They've always opposed it. And if they ever get into power, they'll abolish it. Two million people will lose out.

And they're pledged to abolish the new Working Families Tax Credit. An instant tax rise for the lowest paid families of £24 a week.

So don't imagine that what we have achieved is safe.

The Tories haven't changed. They're still stuck in the past.

But we are looking to the future. We're already modernising Britain. And it's already working.


We cannot predict the future any more than Beveridge could fifty years ago.

The principles and values that underpin the welfare state will endure.

But what it does and how it does it must change to meet the needs of the world of the 21st century.

We live in a changing world. And the welfare state must change with it. There are difficult decisions. And we've got to face up to them.

Not to do so would be to abandon the very people who trusted us to make a difference.

Our commitment is not in doubt.

In Durham, in July, the National Policy Forum showed that our Party is ready to face up to these problems.

And the policy forum called for a national debate.

Because if we're to make the welfare state as popular today as it was when it was set up, we've got to win the support of the people - not just here in this Conference Hall.

Not just in the Party. Or in Parliament. But in the whole country.

I intend to engage in that debate over the next few weeks and months. Which will be grounded in our fundamental values.

Let's discuss how we get a fair deal for people in retirement. How we tackle pensioner poverty. How we help carers. How we tackle exclusion. Just as we say in the Conference document.

But one thing is certain. We cannot stop and stand still.

For eighteen years, people waited for a Labour Government.

They trust us to deliver now. And we will.

We want to be remembered because we had the courage to change what needs to be changed.

Last week marked the beginning of a crusade against poverty.

Governments can make a difference. In 20 years the Tories tripled child poverty. We'll abolish it.

We always knew that welfare reform was going to be difficult. It will be controversial. But we have a clear sense of purpose and direction.

We've made a strong start. We're not complacent. We've only just begun. We're building a new Welfare State for the 21st century.

That's what we promised to do and that's what we'll deliver.

This speech was made at the 1999 Party Conference in Bournemouth. It was made by the then Social Security Secretary (Making him a predecessor to friend of the Labour Club and current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions James Purnell.). That MP, sadly now lost to obscurity,is an alumnus of this very University, one Mr Alistair Darling MP.

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