An economic policy for 2022 and beyond.

There are many reasons why our vote collapsed after five years of government but perhaps the most important was our ditching the economic policy of our 2010 manifesto, which included an economic stimulus in the first year of government, a promise to create jobs for those who needed them and implied that we would only reduce the deficit when the economic recovery was secured. What we actually did was reduce government spending straight away and took money out of the economy with a 2.5% increase in VAT. During the Coalition government the news reported that there was a double-dip recession (later upgraded). On our watch unemployment increased from 2.5 million in May 2010 to 2.71 million in November 2011. The highest percentage since November 1995 and the greatest number since August 1994. Even in May 2015 with 1.85 million unemployed we failed to provide a job for everyone who needed one.

The current economic consensus has given up on trying to achieve full employment and sees the NAIRU (non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment) as the lowest level possible. This is often seen as in the region of 5%. The last Labour government and the Conservative party accept the NAIRU but also want to make it difficult for those unemployed to claim their benefit as a means of saving money. As Liberals we value each and every person equally and don’t think less of a person because they have difficulties in finding work or meeting the bureaucratic conditions required for those wishing to receive out of work benefits. As Liberals we must have an economic policy to achieve full employment. We know from history that economic inequalities reduced the most between 1945 and 1979 when UK governments tried to achieve full employment. No Liberal Democrat should find it acceptable for there to be more than 1 million people unemployed in the UK.

We need to set the target for unemployment at less than 3% for the best performing region. Between July and September 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, no region in the UK achieved less than 3% unemployment. The best was South East England 3.2% and the worst were North East England and the West Midlands at 5.5%

The Bank of England needs to not only have a new target for inflation of 4% but a target to keep unemployment at below 3% in the best performing region.

We need to give responsibility for helping people find work to district and unitary councils. Then we can target resources to those councils with the worse rates of unemployment for them to use in their economic development plans.

Also we need to embrace the idea of the government providing training or a job placement to those who have been unemployed the longest and those who have been in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance for a long time. The scheme must be voluntary and not compulsory for anyone no matter how long they have been in receipt of benefits. The job placement scheme should be tailored to the needs of the person and not any other criteria. Those on the scheme should be paid at least £30 a week more than their benefit and their travel expenses and extra accommodation costs if they have to live away from their home. The scheme should not be seen as workfare but as a means of making those who have been out of the work market longest employable again.

We can make the same promise in our 2022 manifesto as we did in our 2010 one – we will provide a job for everyone who needs or wants one. We can have a national policy to reduce unemployment to less than 3% in the best performing region and provide resources to district and unitary authorities to stimulate their local economies to reduce unemployment in their area to below 3% without increasing inflationary pressures in the regions which already have achieved less than 3% unemployment. Then for those who are not employed we can provide real meaningful help and assistance to provide a job placement and / or training to make them employable.

* Michael Berwick-Gooding is a Liberal Democrat member in Basingstoke and has held various party positions at local, regional and English Party level. He posts comments as Michael BG.

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  • Very much agree with and welcome the shift of emphasis, Michael, but there is a credibility problem with :

    “We can make the same promise in our 2022 manifesto as we did in our 2010 one – we will provide a job for everyone who needs or wants one. ”

    Will anybody believe that, and does the Guru party Leader agree with it ?

  • David Evershed 8th Dec '17 - 1:03pm

    Rather than
    “we will provide a job for everyone who needs or wants one.”

    better to have an economic objective “to provide a liberal low tax , low regulatory environment where competitive businesses can prosper and thus offer challenging and well paid jobs for the working population.”

    It is businesses that provide private sector jobs which in turn pay the tax which employs public sector workers.

  • Peter Martin 8th Dec '17 - 1:21pm

    It’s good that the phrase full employment is being used again. We can discuss what that means but 3% sounds an achievable target.

    It’s also good to hear that where the government should direct it’s stimulus needs more consideration. Too much spending in London and the South East can simply create too much inflation.

    @ David

    The government has to create and spend money into existence first. Only then is it available to us all so that we can pay our taxes.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Dec '17 - 1:42pm

    There is scope for more people to do useful paid work. PCSOs, trainee nurses, Classroom assistants, etcetera.
    Unemployment is still much higher than the round number of one million which shocked a previous Tory government. At the computer centre at Reading (and Livingstone) we needed increased capacity and the then Tory government eventually gave us a forecast of 1.6 million peaking at 2.1 million. The actual outturn was above 3 million. The current government is proud of higher employment and lower unemployment since 2010, but want to claim all the credit. Obviously the Brexit negotiations create a lot of uncertainty, but the Office of Budget Responsibility said that they could only take into account current government policy, which has changed today, 8/12/2017 as Theresa May returns from Brussels.
    Steve Baker MP was on the Daily Politics and the World at One today. He featured in Tim Shipman’s book ‘All out War’ as being selected by the Leave campaign as being the person to abuse the rules of Parliamentary Language, which he did. (I do not have the Hansard reference). Making him a junior minister was a subtle action by Theresa May. Count your fingers.

  • @ David Evershed “where competitive businesses can prosper and thus offer challenging and well paid jobs for the working population.” Mmmmmmm.

    Tell that to the workers at Amazon, Sports Direct, the thousand Asda Store managers told today to expect wage cuts and redundancies, and the Royal Bank of Scotland employees about to lose their jobs..

    A virtuous circle needs virtuous people to run it……. something difficult to find in today’s globalised economy or to apply to such as Mike Ashley or the Trump enterprises.

  • david thorpe 8th Dec '17 - 2:17pm

    hjobs were created and the recovery secured…it wasnt the things we did that have ruined the was not talking about the triumph of the economic recovery so the toriesd got all the credit, and it was not implementing our manifesto promise on education fees.

    so we didnt talk about our achievement, and broke a promise, frankly Im surprised we got 8 per cent.

  • paul barker 8th Dec '17 - 3:38pm

    Im sorry but I dont believe that Economics had anything to do with the collapse of our vote. Our problem was our lack of a loyal, core vote of people willing to give us the benefit of the doubt & our failure to promote ourselves as a Party of Westminster Government. Most of our 23% were voters who saw voting for us as a way to push Labour & Tories the way they wanted, a sort of pressure group like UKIP or The Greens.
    Our going into Government was a unwelcome surprise to most of “Our” voters, who assumed the worst about our motives & essentially thought that we has grown too big for our boots.

  • I could get that unemployment down by 200,000 in six weeks – it all needs a shake up of Job Centre Plus, more money upfront as an investment and the liberal left to intervene in such prejudices.

  • It’s a good argument, Michael.
    I might argue that nominal GDP targeting of 4 to 5% is a better approach than a potentially conflicting dual inflation/unemployment rate target.
    I think Adult education and training, apprenticeships in construction and engineering; and funded job placements are an impotant part of the policy mix.
    Nonetheless, the concept of employer of last resort is economically sound and can play an important role in underpinning demand in the economy and acting as a superior automatic stabiliser to that the current unemployment and benefit system.

  • William Fowler 8th Dec '17 - 5:14pm

    Probably half the unemployed are gaming the system, doing side work whilst maxing out their benefit take and would be absolutely appalled if they had to work and pay tax or NI… the lesson of post-Labour governments seems to have been that there are plenty of work opportunities and there will be even more the less the government gets involved.

    Also missing the point that by the time of the next election, the actual debt pile will have doubled since the coalition started out so it just will not be possible to inject even more funny money into the system for such vanity project, such as ghost jobs unless you want to end up like Zimbabwe – Labour’s version would have everyone completely dependent on the State and petrified on voting for an alternative gov.

  • There’s much to like in the article but one of the key errors of four decades of neoliberalism is the focus on targets – so be careful.

    Targets are outcomes that result from the complex interplay of many factors. Whether you’re an A&E doctor or a politician, you will get a good result if you tackle root causes but if targets are what drives your actions you will get the wrong result. If they are vigorously enforced (by NHS or by tabloid) you will have to cheat or you will be scored as ‘failing’. It’s well worth reading Prof John Seddon (various books) on the subject.

    So we need to discover what makes a prosperous economy and put that in place.

    I certainly agree training is key. I’m convinced the Tories think cheap labour is good for the economy but the fallacy of composition applies; what may be true for a single firm isn’t true for the economy as a whole because firms need customers – and not just a few plutocrats. And even for a single firm, sweated labour is no longer where it’s at. So training. But it MUST be responsive to needs and not just throwing money at the problem and hoping some sticks.

    In simple terms what’s good for an economy is low costs in everything except pay. High pay for all is the objective.

    Another biggy that’s never discussed is strategic control of investment (sorry if that sounds a bit technical, it’s actually rather simple). Basically, investments made now will determine costs and capabilities for years to come. So getting them roughly right is important yet governments break the rules with abandon in pursuit of tabloid headlines.

    Take Hinckley Point. Never mind the technical aspects (bad enough!), it’s financing smells like last week’s fish and was recently slammed by the Public Accounts Committee. At a time when power costs are falling globally thanks to solar (now super cheap in sunny climes and getting cheaper) it will generate some of the most expensive electricity in the world because the government wants to keep the cost off its balance sheet by dodgy accounting. In fact, government borrowing costs are negative in real terms – investors would pay government to look after their money.

    So, now UK industry is landed with power costs that may end up 3x the competition.

  • It’s clear that very few Liberal Democrats has any even indirect experience unemployment or being at the bottom of the labour heap. There are tonnes of barriers to employment at access level. Take away those barriers and you can take at least 200,000 people from the unemployment register within six weeks to three months.

    This will take investment from the outset and a new mindset including a target of 3% unemployment. The problem is that there is resistance from business to take on the most able, aspirational or easily trainable unemployed people.

    As I said earlier I have many ideas to get 200,000 at least off of the dole queues – is anyone interested in listening?

  • James, I can’t speak for anyone else but I’m interested.

  • David Evershed 8th Dec '17 - 6:47pm


    A way to get some people off the dole is to create an enterprise which efficiently adds value to a product or service wanted by customers at a competitive price.

    So become an entrepreneur – and create wealth.

  • nvelope2003 8th Dec '17 - 8:29pm

    Housing costs are not the same in all areas of the country so people living in places where housing is much cheaper do not need the same income as those where it is dearer.Unemployment cannot be reduced if high levels of immigration continue.
    In many parts of the country there is an acute labour shortage but housing costs make it impractical for some people to move.

  • James,

    Do tell, I’m genuinely interested.

    The thing that saddens me about some posters here is there belief the state (or is that society) can’t help and we are all on our own. I fear it is only a matter of time till one of them suggests the jobless in the North “Get on their bikes and peddle down to London”.

  • @ David Raws

    There is a small difference from the exact wording of our 2010 manifesto “a promise to create jobs for those who needed them” and my wording for the 2022 manifesto a promise “to provide a job for everyone who needs or wants one”. My promise is to provide rather than the government having to create the jobs. Governments can provide jobs by a stimulus to the economy where demand increases and businesses create new jobs so they can meet the increased demand. Also there is no sole qualification of “needing”, a person can only want a job and the government will get involved. Also I am suggesting that this stimulus should be locally focused by district and unitary councils.

    This commitment for 2022 would not be just a line or two in a manifesto like it was in 2010, it would be at least a sub-section setting out a new unemployment target for the government and the Bank of England that includes a commitment to local government to have responsibility to help people find a job and get involved in managing their local economy. As well as a commitment to provide work placements for people to gain experience and for the government to provide training suitable to individuals and their desires. A whole new commitment to individual freedom and choice in the world of work.

    I can’t talk for our “Guru party leader”, perhaps if he disagreed he would resign so we could elect a leader who agreed with our major change to and emphasis on economic policies.

    @ David Evershed

    It is the government’s role to provide the economic conditions. I believe this has to include an economic environment where there are less than 1 million people unemployed. I don’t understand how any liberal can accept more than 1 million people being unemployed in the UK. Perhaps you can explain how someone can be free if the government does not provide the economic environment where they will be employed? Perhaps you do not understand that the current economic orthodoxy wants there to be a pool of unemployed people who could be employed to ensure inflation is kept under control.

    @ David Thorpe

    Perhaps you could answer my question to David Evershed above.

  • Jobs created must pay a wage to make them worthwhile and provide enough hours in in the week to count as gainful employment. For many wages are too low and not rising. Our workers need help to develop their skills and potential. Training needs to get better in this country.

  • @ Joe Bourke

    Thank you for your support. I think it is more important for each individual person to have a job if they want one and this is much more important for providing freedom and liberty than targeting growth which might not achieve that.

    @ Paul Barker

    I expect you are aware of the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid” as used in the 1992 Presidential election. The most important issue for the majority of voters is often the economy and in 2010 we ditched our economic policy as set out in our manifesto to enthusiastically promote the Conservative one. I think you often follow our poll ratings and I think you might be aware that once it was clear we were following the Conservatives economic policy our support sufficiently declined in 2010.

    @ Simon Shaw

    There is no evidence that at the current levels of the National Living Wage there has been pressures to reduce employment numbers. It seems every quarter it is announced there are more people in employment in the UK than ever before. I would not oppose true Regional Living Wages being set for each region.

    @ James

    I am interested in your ideas to get 200,000 people into employment. There are Liberal Democrat members who have experience or indirect experience of being unemployed. The number might be small but we do exist.

    @ William Fowler

    The National Debt was above 100% of GDP from about 1920 until 1960 and so should not be a huge restraint on providing a job for everyone who wants one, if the political will is there as it was after 1945.

    You have no evidence for your opinion that half those unemployed are gaming the system. Between 1945 and 1973 the government kept unemployment below 1 million and no one thought those unemployed were gaming the system. I don’t think human nature has changed. Please can you answer the question I asked David Evershed above – can you explain how someone can be free if the government does not provide the economic environment where they will be employed?

  • William Fowler 9th Dec '17 - 9:00am

    “can you explain how someone can be free if the government does not provide the economic environment where they will be employed”

    People dependent on gov are not free, people who are employed by others are not really free… what is needed is creative capitalism on an individual level, the gov’s role to reign in the greed of large companies and make sure the market is genuine (not a cartel like with the energy companies for instance) and also to provide respite against local councils and the like (currently the only effective body they take any notice of is the various EU institutions which of course will shortly be lost)… contrary to popular opinion of this site, the less interest the political class take into individuals the better off they are!

  • @ William Fowler “Probably half the unemployed are gaming the system, doing side work whilst maxing out their benefit take and would be absolutely appalled if they had to work and pay tax or NI”. Evidence ? Or did you hear it in the golf club ?

    You also say, “People dependent on gov are not free”. I hope you stay in good health and never need the NHS.

  • OnceALibDem 9th Dec '17 - 10:23am

    Is William Fowler the Bill Fowler who was a self-described fan of Margaret Thatcher?

  • It seems that cutting and pasting an autobiographical self description already published on LDV on 25 July 2017 requires m*d*ration ?

  • @ Gordon

    Thank you for your supportive comments. I don’t have such a negative view of targets as you especially for the economy and hopefully by not having a national target for unemployment resources can be invested in the areas where it will provide jobs and not cause wage inflation. Hopefully district and unitary councils will include in their economic development plans investment funded by central government which will assist businesses in their areas. There must be ways of discovering what skills businesses need and providing the training so people can have them. Perhaps with a greater role for local government they can identity their local skills need and enable training to be provided locally to met the need.

    @ nvelope2003

    As I have pointed out there are no area of the UK with less than 3.2% unemployment, so there are no regions with a shortage of people to be employed. The problem could be companies do not want to employ those unemployed and don’t want to have to train new people. We should have other policies to provide enough houses to meet demand.

    @ William Fowler
    “people who are employed by others are not really free”

    Thank you for answering my question.

    In the distant future there might be a world in which people will only work if they get enjoyment from it because all of their needs are met by the Citizens Income they receive from the government. When this happens I will agree with you that people will really be free. However, it is the provision of enough money to purchase what products they want that enables them to be free of the need to work to provide what they want. This means that people can only be truly free when the government can provide for their economic needs. I hope to write an article on this future after Christmas and hopefully LDV will publish it. Currently freedom for individuals can be increased if the economic conditions are managed to ensure that everyone has a job which pays enough so most of their wants can be supplied by what they earn. When governments fail to provide these economic conditions freedom for the poorest is lessened and for some almost doesn’t exist.

  • @ Simon Shaw

    It was not clear from your original post that your concern was with the employment of people who have, for example, Down’s syndrome. In the past when there was full employment and the UK employers did not recruit from outside the country in such large numbers as today those with disabilities were more likely to be in work than today. Another policy which was scrapped was the requirement of large employers to employ disabled people, I would bring in a new requirement, linked to some reduction in National Insurance payment and an increase cost for those large employers who failed to meet the requirement. I am not convinced that setting a lower National Living Wage for disabled people is the correct answer.

  • Peter Martin 11th Dec '17 - 11:53am

    It also has to be borne in mind that when entrepreneurs create wealth, which is a stock, it needs to then be converted into a flow, so that the business can prosper. In other words there needs to be enough purchasing power around so it can be sold.

    In recent decades wages have not kept pace with increased productivity. Workers haven’t therefore been able to purchase everything they have made from their wages alone. To fill the gap they have been encouraged to borrow more. More spending results from more borrowing.

    We now are in situation where productivity isn’t rising. The assumption tends to be this is the cause of low wages and low wages rises. I’d like to express a different view. It is the other way around. If wages are low it makes more sense to employ workers in low productivity jobs. So we now see manual car washes. We see a rise in the number of seasonal agricultural workers after years of decline. We see a rise in the number of servants directly employed in households etc

  • Michael BG – “There must be ways of discovering what skills businesses need and providing the training so people can have them.”

    Absolutely! That goes to the heart of the problem. Provision should be for the right sort of training by type (plumbing vs cabinet making) and level (basic vs advanced) and also by quantity (one person or 100) that employers want, no more, no less. Anything else simply isn’t cost effective and amounts to blindly throwing money at the problem.

    The easy way to do this is to ASK employers, or rather (which amounts to the same thing) to automatically fund students that pass approved courses according to a preset tariff – £x for plumbing, £Y for cabinet making and so on depending on the actual cost of each course.

    If courses are approved then we can be confident the quality is satisfactory. If payment is only made for students who pass we, the taxpayers, only pay for what we get plus employers are incentivised to provide adequate support.

    The availability of a good supply of well-qualified staff is one of the top asks for footloose companies looking for new locations so positive side effects would include more and better jobs.

  • The funding scheme that came into force from May this year does provide funding for smaller employers to train apprentices

    I have several small business clients in the construction industry currently making use of this scheme.

  • @ Peter Martin

    I was aware of the increase in manual car washes, but I was not aware that the number of seasonal agricultural workers was increasing.

    If businesses can employ people cheaply then there is less of an incentive to invest to improve productivity. By ensuring there are always some people unemployed to control inflation, there is little wage inflation. Also by allowing businesses to recruit in foreign countries enables them to keep wage levels down as the supply of labour is always limitless. Hopefully we will recognise the problems caused by encouraging labour movement to be free. To assist the poorest in the UK and reduce economic inequalities we need to recognise that employers have to pay more to employ people from outside the UK. By having wage restraint in the public services also puts pressure to keep national wage inflation low.

  • Katharine Pindar 11th Dec '17 - 6:44pm

    Grand to have you set out your ideas in detail, Michael, and provoke an interesting discussion which I have only just caught up with. I am a little troubled by the idea of an absolute drive to make sure everyone who needs or wants a job gets one, unless the emphasis will be on the jobs being satisfactory, with the sort of workers’ rights by no means universally enforced at present and on a reasonable wage. I am so aware of the present situation of the Government boasting of low unemployment, when we know many people have been obliged to take low-skill jobs (as Peter Martin was writing) with poor conditions of employment, as well as low pay. Some scandals have been shown up already, but it appears that many people are being exploited, and we must surely demand better for them as national policy with local application.

    I am also not clear why 4% inflation is desirable. Would that not hit the poorest?

  • @ Katharine Pindar

    I don’t know if 4% inflation is the right level for inflation, but I know that having 2% inflation means you can’t have full employment. Inflation is bad if your income does not keep up. Having full employment means wages are more likely to keep up. Having an alternative job to go to, means employers will pay to keep you, not having a large pool of unemployed people means employers will value the workers they have. Inflation is bad for those you own wealth that does not increase in value at the same rate. Therefore having higher inflation could help reduce the differences in wealth in the country. Also benefits would increase at least in line with inflation as they did before the coalition government. So the poorest should not be hit.

    This government is and the Coalition government was interested in the total number of people who work, rather than the number who are unemployed. With an increasing population the number of people in work and unemployed can both increase together. This is why the number of people in work is a poor thing to target. This is especially true if the population is increasing by thousands of people coming here to work.

    To run the economy to keep unemployment at 3% or less puts pressure on employers to offer good working conditions because a worker can easily find another job. When work is easy to find a person can pick one with good conditions and not be “forced” to take what is offered. If you know someone who was employed in the 1960’s ask them about how easy it was to find work. Many people would leave one job and find another within a week. I remember how easy it was to find a Saturday job even in 1974. I asked in a few shops on a Saturday and on the following Monday after school I was working.

    I recognise that in the 1970’s wage inflation got out of control and the government struggled to control it, until the Thatcher government decided that having over 3 million people unemployed was a price worth paying to control inflation. This is why I am not suggesting a national target of 3% for the national government to try to achieve, because this can cause regional imbalances to get worse. By targeting fiscal stimuli at the district and unitary council level it should be possible to reduce unemployment locally without generating too much wage inflation.

  • Katharine Pindar 12th Dec '17 - 1:55am

    The big picture of aiming for ‘full’ employment (I presume the residue must be unemployable) looks attractive, Michael, but I still worry about the quality of work and working conditions which may be on offer, and want them to be a priority too, as is obviously not a consideration for the present Government but more concerning to Labour.

    Personally I didn’t find it easy to find work in the late Sixties, and was briefly unemployed and back home with Mum and Dad. There are a lot of young people staying with Mum and Dad now, into their late twenties and even into their thirties, because they aren’t earning enough to be able to set up on their own, and there is a lack of social housing. It may always be more difficult for people with disabilities to find satisfactory jobs, or for the poorly educated or trained, or for people with caring responsibilities who may need part-time work only, and there will have to be much expenditure on expert employment staff to help them, and much diversity of employment made available.

    I am thinking that it is easy for graduates like us (who graduated before national policy expected at least 40% of young people to go to Uni) to accept that work is worthwhile to us personally and to the country, and if it isn’t we can move on; but it’s different for people in unpleasant jobs or heavy work, obliged to stay in one place by family circumstances or limited capabilities, who are now expected to keep at work into their late sixties, and yet see employment chances disappearing ever faster with technological advances. Choice isn’t likely ever to be readily available to them. I’d like to see us as a party committed to seeking for everyone to have fulfilling employment lives.

  • Laurence Cox 12th Dec '17 - 8:51am

    @Michael BG

    4% inflation means that the value of money will halve in 18 years (less than the median life expectancy of a 65 year-old now, who would be expected to live to about 84 if a man, or 89 if a woman). So it would have serious consequences for annuities and the cost of pensions in general.

    There is a useful rule in finance called the Rule of 72; divide 72 by the interest rate in % and it tells you how long (in years) it will take to double your original capital through compound interest. It works for inflation in the same way; it tells you how long it will take before you need twice as much money to buy the same amount of goods. This is why the central banks have tended to cluster around 2% inflation; 36 years is long enough that almost all people won’t live long enough after retirement for the value of their money to halve.

  • @ Laurence Cox

    I knew there must be a simple way to know how long it would take to double a sum with compound interest but I didn’t know what it was. Thank you for that. I think annuities are a rip off. Even if they paid a twentieth of the total each year for a man they would be a rip off. However if a person wanted an inflation linked pension then the pension pots would need to be bigger.

    @ Katharine Pindar

    I am aware that some people were unemployed in the 1960’s for longer than a week, my father I expect was one of them. I also accept there were regional differences. It is important we deal with regional variants. It is no good having 2% unemployed in South East England and 8% unemployed in the West Midlands.

    I agree with you that everyone should have a job which provides them some fulfilment. I want to eliminate all long term unemployment. The only unemployment I find acceptable is transitional unemployment. I would hope that market forces once there is full employment would ensure that working conditions for everyone are good. I am not sure we can do much about the quality of work until humans are no longer needed for this type of work.

    People need to choose their own education level. The choice of job is a factor in deciding when to give up education. Some people find education difficult. The lack of training should not hold people back, because those unemployed for more than 6 months should have access to free relevant training and more employers should train their workers. It can be difficult for people with disabilities to find employment, to make it easier we need to bring back the requirement for large employers to employ at least a percentage of disabled employees. However with full employment employers are more willing to take on people who have disabilities or have issues which when there is a large pool of unemployed people make them unemployable.

    The answer to high housing costs is not more income but more houses to drive down house prices and rents.

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