Labour Party Conference has been in Manchester this week, setting out the stall for next year’s General Election. As I write, only the first announcements of the conference have been made, but for Crawley I suspect they will be some of the most significant commitments of the Party Conference Season.
The National Minimum Wage is one of Labour’s greatest achievements, another idea the Tories opposed at the time, and this week Labour have announced that if elected in May the party will increase the National Minimum Wage to £8 per hour.
Crawley has historically been blessed with low unemployment, yet far too many jobs are based in low paid work. Increasing the basic rate of pay not only helps improve the living conditions of the working poor, which has swollen significantly under this Government, but reduces the dependence on the state and consequently helps to cut the deficit.
This, coupled with banning exploitative zero hours contracts and 25 hours of free childcare for working parents with 3 or 4 year olds, is one of a raft of measures designed to help ensure work pays.
The other major development was the announcement that a Labour Government would create New Homes Corporations. In Crawley, as in much of the country, there is a shortage of housing and the high cost of housing is one sign of that. In fact, by 2020 the country will have a housing deficit of 2 million properties and Labour has committed to building 200,000 homes a year by the end of the next Parliament to make up that gap.
Much of the money and resources needed to deliver housing are already within the system but constrained by rules and conditions which make delivery very hard. New Homes Corporations will have the power to cut through the tape and secure housing in ways the current silo-based approach of local authorities cannot.
Between employment and housing the next manifesto looks set to address many of the key problems we face in Crawley and after the pain of the Scottish Independence referendum show that the UK genuinely can be better together.