Address by the RT Hon Gordon Brown MP
Prime Minister's speech to TUC Congress, Tuesday 15 September 2009
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Friends let me first of all thank your General Secretary Brendan Barber, your President Sheila Bearcroft, and all the members of the General Council for inviting me here to Liverpool today.
And it is hard to believe that we meet today in Liverpool, his home city, without the presence of our friend the giant of the labour movement: Jack Jones.
Jack Jones had ideals that were forged in the harsh and bitter experiences of the 1930s, Jack was always there for the people who needed him.
The 30s were, as Jack saw, a time when recession became depression because of the inaction of governments and the failure of the world to come together.
And if I'd been addressing you a few years ago that would have been of historical interest, a reflection of the crises of a distant age.
But today these lessons, that when people need help you cannot walk away, are profoundly relevant, because the fears of depression have been precisely the worries workers, homeowners, savers and businesses have faced in the last twelve months.
Like the 1920s and 1930s, banks that should have been stewards of people's money had become speculators with people's money.
But unlike the 1930's, and having learned the lessons Jack learned from them, we have not stood aside and left people on their own.
The lesson of the 1930s is that whenever banks collapse and markets fail, governments cannot stand aside; they must ensure that the savings of people, their mortgages, their credit, are all protected, and that they must intervene to save jobs.
For many of you will remember that it was around this time last year that a financial crisis was rolling over the Atlantic towards us, a crisis so great that if we did not act there was every possibility of a great new depression.
A year ago today, the 160 year history of Lehman Brothers Bank came to an end. A bank that had survived the great depression and survived two world wars collapsed and could not survive the global storm and 25,000 people lost their jobs overnight.
But that was only the beginning, Lehmans was so entangled with the rest of the banking system and we saw what was the equivalent of a power cut right across the banking system of the world and trust collapsing.
It was clear we were facing a crisis of such speed and scope that left unchecked there was every chance that the whole system could totally freeze up - with people on high streets across our country unable to get any money from the hole in the wall, families' life savings being swallowed up and companies unable to process their payrolls.
The reports I was looking at were as stark as they were serious: we were facing a situation that could have been worse than 1929.
And I knew then that it was going to have to be us, the government, that was going to have to step in directly and ensure whatever happened to the banks did not put at risk the savings of the British people, the mortgages households depended on, the credit that businesses need to maintain jobs, and thousands of jobs themselves.
And it was here in Britain that we took the first steps to recovery.
We had to make a big choice - whether to trust the banks when many said they simply had a cash flow problem - or whether there were structural failures that had to be addressed.
We had another big choice: to leave the markets to sort it out for themselves or to intervene with radical and unprecedented action to sort them out.
And we made our choice - taking majority shares of two of the biggest banks in the world, restructuring the banking system, and to prevent saves losing out, putting in place the biggest insurance policy that Britain has ever had. Fortunately - that is what other countries started to do also.
But then we had another big choice to make - to let the recession run its course, as happened in the recession of the 1980s and 90s - or to intervene to support the economy with fiscal action.
Our Conservative opponents said not to intervene, to let the recession to run its course.
But we made the decision to offer financial support to businesses and to help homeowners and the unemployed.
And I'll tell you why we did so: because for me every redundancy is a personal tragedy. Every mortgage repossession is a hope destroyed. Every business collapse is someone's dream in ruins. And where we can act we will not walk by on the other side.
And as a result of taking action I can tell you over 200,000 businesses employing hundreds of thousands of people have been able to keep people in work. Not the choice of our opponents, but our choice, the choice of the British people.
22 million people have benefited from tax and other changes that have boosted their real income at a critical time.
Not the choice of our opponents, but our choice, the choice of the British people.
And up to 500,000 jobs will have been saved that might otherwise have been lost without the action that Britain has taken.
Not the choices of our opponents, but our choice, the choice of the British people.
And by changing the way the courts deal with repossessions and by guaranteeing help to homeowners in difficulty, we have helped 300,000 families with advice with their mortgages and have helped thousands to stay in the homes they've worked so hard for and were in fear of losing.
And at no time in our history have we, the British people, done so much to support our homeowners, businesses and the unemployed. This didn't happen by default, but by our decisions.
And we had a choice about international cooperation - with Europe and the rest of the world.
We had a choice to let global forces, as happened in the 1930s- to wash all over us - or, unlike the 1930s, to work out a strategy together to deal with global markets.
We had a choice to go our own way pursue national strategies in isolation and resist EU or G20 coordination; the great mistakes of the 1930s.
Or to work intensively together to ensure that policies are coordinated and the results of what we each do are magnified and multiplied by what we all do together.
To work with other countries - to have a coordinated attack on the recession, to have joint reductions in interest rates and fiscal action together - these were our choices, not the choices of our opponents, but the choices we made, the choice of the British people.
In each of these decisions the government would have made the wrong choices if we had followed the advice of our opponents and critics.
And we know that the better path which we have taken and the one our opponents urged could be worth up to 5 trillion dollars invested in the global economy, and it could make the difference in output of 4%, and millions in work who would otherwise have lost their jobs.
We faced the Tories down - and we have been shown to have done the right thing by hard working British families.
But I tell you that we still have a choice to make: the recovery is not automatic and the road to recovery is still fragile.
It is being hard won by government making the right choices and could be quickly wrecked by government making the wrong choices.
People's livelihoods and homes and savings are still hanging in the balance, and so today I say to the British people: don't allow anyone to put the recovery at risk.
There is a fundamental difference between the parties as to how to come through this recession and avoid it being deeper, longer and more damaging.
And we still have big choices to make. The choice of whether we continue to act to help families and businesses or whether we listen to the Tories and withdraw support from families and businesses, cut public services now, and refuse to invest in Britain's future.
So once again the country now has a decision to make, about whether we continue the support that is necessary to sustain the recovery, or we cut away the support now.
And it's a choice that says something about what we believe - not as political parties but as people.
If I were to take the advice of our conservative opponents, I would stop the school leavers guarantee that is giving 55,000 young people a chance of work experience or further education. And I say, to tell school leavers after their chances have been destroyed by the failures of the banks, I'm sorry there's nothing we can do, to abandon them to unemployment, is to repeat the conservative mistakes of the 1980s which led to a generation scarred forever. It would be callous and cold hearted - and it's the wrong choice for young people, the wrong choice for Britain.
If we were to take the advice of our conservative opponents we would withdraw the support now available to homeowners, and do nothing to prevent repossessions rising to the rates of the 1990s. But I say to you to tell a new generation of homeowners who have saved up to buy their first home, and now face difficulties because of unemployment, we're going to do nothing for you now times are the toughest, is unfair and irresponsible: the wrong choice for homeowners, the wrong choice for Britain.
And I say to tell the business owner we'll wait and see if the strongest will survive but there's nothing government can do to help is the wrong choice for business and the wrong choice for Britain.
This is not the moment to cut apprenticeships this is the time for government to support them. So I can tell you that we will provide 21,000 additional apprenticeships in the public sector this year.
And this is not the moment to withdraw public support for house-building but to step it up and I can tell you that we have set aside 1.5 billion pounds to build 20,000 additional affordable homes over the next two years, including for the first time in many years - new modern council homes.
And this is not the moment to abandon the help that has kept over 200,000 businesses afloat, this is the time to continue it, so I can say that businesses who need deferral of tax you will continue to receive it over the coming few months.
And we do this because it's right to help people but also because it's right for the economy.
Because the more jobs and homes we lose now, the higher unemployment rises, the lower growth is as a result, and the more difficult it will be to secure our recovery, bring our debt down, and keep people in their jobs and homes.
Growth is the best antidote to debt.
And so I say to you today: don't allow anyone to derail the recovery and threaten tens of thousands of jobs by calling on councils to stop building the houses our people need.
And I say to workers and businesses across our country, don't risk the recovery by abandoning what we know is now working - a modern industrial policy, a laser focus on tackling unemployment, and worldwide support for coordinated global action.
Just this morning I met with the head of the ILO to discuss the best way of protecting jobs. In two days time I will be working for British jobs at the EU summit, stressing the
Need to implement fiscal stimulus packages in full without stopping them prematurely.
And next week when I attend the G20, I will be putting the case for a global compact for growth and stability for now and for the future.
Last April we got an agreement about what we had to do together to move the economy forward through this crisis. Now we need an agreement about what we can do together to maintain the road out of recession.
I will be asking people to contribute to worldwide growth, to the benefit of jobs in all our countries.
I will be demanding that banks beyond Britain do what we have done - to isolate their impaired assets and show how they are to be removed.
I will be demanding that internationally we look at setting limits on city bonuses.
And I will be standing up for what you believe - that there should be no escape from paying your fair share, and that's why I will be arguing that we should implement a black list on uncooperative tax havens.
And so be clear - my priorities in the coming weeks and months will be ensuring that jobs are retained, the recovery moves forward, and that we offer people our vision of a fairer, more responsible, greener and more democratic Britain.
And I want a new industrial policy to signal the creation of 1.5 million new jobs for the future - jobs in green industries, in making the low carbon cars that Britain is leading Europe in developing, in new digital services.
And let's be clear, yes, jobs in the advanced manufacturing which will be central to Britain's long term future.
And I believe that the fight for fairness must include agency workers, and so I pledge to you today that when parliament returns our new legislative programme will include equal treatment for agency workers and that in the coming few months the law will be on the statute book.
And when the recovery comes, I want workers on low and modest incomes to benefit from rising prosperity. I want to see their skills rewarded with decent pay. I want them to have more chances to get on at work and get on in life. When people gain new skills, employers should make sure they use them - so that the company goes up the value chain, and the workers can go up the pay ladder.
Because we know the pressures many people face as they balance the demands of work with the needs of family life. Since 1997 we have increased paid maternity leave from 18 weeks to 9 months. And we retain our ambition to extend it further. This is not only good for mothers but helps give children the best start in life.
But fathers have responsibilities too. No Tory government has ever given a single day of paternity leave. This labour government gave men the right to two weeks paternity leave. Now, from April 2011 we will give fathers the right to take up to three months additional paid paternity leave during the second six months of a child's life, if the mother has returned to work, because labour believes in giving couples more freedom, dads more rights and children more time with the two people who love them most.
And I want to talk to you about the future of our public services because in these difficult times people need to know the NHS, our schools, our vital frontline public services will not only will always be there for them but day by day week by week always improve the quality of the service they offer.
Take the National Health Service. Let us remember that here in Britain because of the NHS there are not millions of people uninsured. Here in Britain you don't have to check your wealth before they check your pulse. Here in Britain health is a universal right, and delivered on the basis of your ability to pay but your need.
And we are now transforming the health service again for this generation. We are now offering personal guarantees to patients about waiting times that from the time they go to the doctor to the time they have their operation they will not wait more than 18 weeks.
And while the Tories want to abandon these guarantees we are trying every day to ensure that the vast majority of patients get treatment even earlier. And that we will continue to do.
We have given guarantees to everyone worried about cancer that they will not wait and worry. And while the Tories want to deny that right of no more than a 12 weeks wait to cancer patients, every year we are making it easier and quicker for cancer patients to be treated with speed. And this we will continue to do.
We have given guarantees about GP services that there will be weekend opening and evening to suit you the patient to go at the time that is most convenient. And while the Tories want to leave GPs to do exactly as they want, we will ensure that this new right is extended to even more communities in the country.
And we will match those guarantees with the guarantee that every young person will have the right to education not to 16 as before but to 18.
Previously the only way to get personal tuition for children that could not read or write was to pay. Now we are extending the right of young people with learning needs and with special talents to get the personal attention they need. Not through private tuition but free individual tuition in our schools and in our communities.
And we will give a guarantee that every year each and every neighbourhood will have more extensive neighbourhood policing on the beat that communities need to be safe and feel safe.
We will do all these things and more, because we believe that decent education, health and services should be available to not just some, but all of our people.
But we can only make these improvements within a framework of sustainable finances. And to pay for these improvements and to achieve our budget reduction plan to cut the deficit in half over the next four years, we have to take action like other countries - America, Germany and France - we will have debt levels around 80 per cent of national income and as the recovery happens we will have to plan to bring that debt down.
And that's why to continue to fund our public services and to cut the deficit we have announced we will raise national insurance from April 2011 by 0.5 percent to help pay for our public services.
That's why at the same time we will remove unfair tax reliefs on higher income earners.
And why we will raise the top rate of tax to 50p for those on the very highest incomes.
So I must tell you the tough truth about the hard choices: my motivation is always to do the right thing by the British people - investing more during this recession and others are following our lead.
And we have made the right choice to provide the support that markets and banks failed to offer.
And we are doing the right thing to make sure that for the future as we move into a full recovery we will invest and grow within sustainable public finances - cutting costs where we can, ensuring efficiency where it's needed, agreeing realistic public sector pay settlements throughout, selling off the unproductive assets we don't need to pay for the services we do need.
Labour will cut costs, cut inefficiencies, cut unnecessary programmes and cut lower priority budgets. But when our plans are published in the coming months people will see that labour will not support cuts in the vital front line services on which people depend.
The choice is between labour who will not put the recovery at risk, protect and improve your front line services first and make the right choices for low and middle income families in the country.
And a conservative party which would reduce public services at the very time they are needed most, make across the board public spending cuts to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest few, and make different choices about public services because they have different values. These would be the wrong choices at the wrong time for the wrong reasons because they have the wrong priorities for Britain.
We will at all times be guided by our values of fairness and responsibility. We will not cut public services to pay for huge cuts in inheritance tax for the richest few in the country. In contrast, labour believes that there must be a fair distribution of the risks and the rewards. And so today I tell you we will be saving up to five hundred million pounds over the next three years by reforming Whitehall early exit scheme pay outs for early retirement. It's a scheme that's often as much as six times annual pay. These high costs prevent us giving other people jobs and this is not the best way to spend public money. I am calling on all public authorities to make similar reviews of their terms.
Now I know that some people will say that with all the constraints in the world economy and the problems they have brought, can we still ensure that year by year keep advancing towards a fairer more responsible society?
I say when we came in in 1997 we faced huge constraints to get the debt down, and we chose the right priorities; we created the minimum wage , created sure start for children improved schools immediately ended the neglect of the NHS and created the new deal that has helped two million people . We did it because we chose the people's priorities - each of us working towards realising the talents of all.
And the first thing we must do is to ensure a generation of young people have the best change of employment.
In the 1980s we marched for jobs, we rallied for jobs, we petitioned for jobs, but because we were not in power we couldn't create jobs without a government committed to jobs.
And so i ask you - the people who remember - to campaign with us as government to say that we will not allow a new generation of young people to become a lost generation. We won't let that happen - never again.
Never again should their potential be lost even before their adult lives have begun. Never again should their talent to be wasted or their contribution to the country spurned.
And so let me tell you what we will now do.
For the first time, we will put the apprenticeship programme on a statutory basis and ensure that an apprenticeship place is available for every suitably qualified young person by 2013. And thanks to labour the minimum apprentice wage rose last month by more than 2o percent.
And I can also announce today up to 7ooo jobs from the future jobs funding the next stage as we move to create 100,000 jobs for young people. In total we will spend five billion pounds on creating jobs.And friends as I conclude, let me pay tribute today to our armed forces, who risk their lives to ensure global security. Their heroism is unsurpassed, and our gratitude to them is boundless.
I want to say just one final thing, because I know that so many of your members were the backbone of the make poverty history movement, and are anxious about what the recession means for global solidarity and global justice.
Let me reassure you today.
There are those who would use the excuse of the financial crisis to break their promises to the worlds poorest. Well we will not. We will keep our promises.
Let us remember that our beliefs, our conviction, our determination to fight for them has resulted in astonishing path breaking and life-changing advances - debt relief, 500 million children to be vaccinated, 40 million more children in education, millions more with free health care.
And friends, our achievements teach us never to believe something is impossible.
Never to believe a blind fate governs us all.
Never to believe that justice is beyond our reach.
And so this is a moment that calls for the progressive policies we fight for and believe in.
Issued: 15 September, 2009