It was about changing the employment environment so the outward movement of overseas workers would increase the chances of people from Britain taking the jobs at higher wages.
It was a part of levelling up. According to the PM’s Conservative Party speech, this levelling up means HGV drivers won’t have to pee in bushes. There may have been more to it but it was lost in the Thomas Gray/beaver/North London drugs hoohah.
While the cry may be of levelling up, it’s hard to shake the perception that it is preaching not practice
Again, it’s hard to argue that increasing wages is bad. Better workers’ rights and wages have been a baseline demand for a host of advocates for centuries.
The problem is that the current revisionist rhetoric is already starting to unravel. Economists from left and right are warning that the best way to drive up wages is to drive up demand and productivity. Both of these may suffer as markets close abroad and supplies at home are limited.
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The other key element, tied to what Neville was getting at, is perception.
While the cry may be of levelling up, it’s hard to shake the perception that it is preaching not practice. When key party donors are named in the Pandora Papers as having enriched themselves in dodgy deals, and when party elders are partying like it’s the fall of Rome on the day before hundreds of thousands have £20 a week swiped from them, it doesn’t feel like an egalitarian raise-the-boats-of-all approach.
There are a couple of small things the government could do to genuinely help level up, immediately, for those on the line between swimming and sinking. Keep the £20 uplift. Even Iain Duncan Smith has called for that.
And establish a rent arrears fund. For several hundred million pounds (the figure varies from £288m to around £450m, depending on the metric used), which in the grand scheme of Covid cost is small, the Westminster government could wipe out the rent debt accrued by millions who lost so much income during lockdown.
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There are some schemes available to help with some debt, at a devolved level, but this would be a large-scale, UK-wide approach. It would put people on an even keel. It would sort things for landlords too, so everybody is on the level.
All those worries and the mental anguish, all the fears over debts that just can’t be paid, all that threat of homelessness could be gone.
It’s pretty straightforward.
That is levelling up.
Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue
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