Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

Labour 'failed to tackle pay gap'

The former Labour government, under Gordon Brown and his predecessor Tony Blair, left a legacy of an improved public sector, academics said

Labour's 13 years in power delivered major improvements in public services and reduced social inequality but failed to tackle the pay gap between the rich and the poor, according to academics.

Researchers found that despite the "myth that Labour spent a lot and achieved nothing" Tony Blair and Gordon Brown left the coalition Government with a legacy of lower poverty and a widely improved public sector.

The London School of Economics and Political Science's study found that although spending went up by 60% under Labour, the pre-crash levels were "unexceptional" domestically and internationally and national debt levels were lower than when the party took office. Access and quality in public services improved, according to the LSE's Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (Case) report, Labour's Social Policy Record: Policy, Spending and Outcomes 1997-2010.

Most of the extra spending went on improving services, including new hospitals, schools, 48,000 extra full-time equivalent teachers, 3500 new children's centres, and more doctors and nurses.

Overall, Labour saw results in areas it targeted cash, including reducing rates of child and pensioner poverty, cutting hospital waiting times, improving teacher-pupil ratios and boosting neighbourhood facilities. But there was no real change in overall levels of income inequality, wage inequalities grew at the top and poverty for working age people without children increased.

Ruth Lupton, coordinating report author, said: "There is a myth that Labour spent a lot and achieved nothing. The evidence shows that outcomes improved and gaps narrowed on virtually all the socio-economic indicators that were targeted. Labour left the coalition with a legacy of more equal outcomes on many measures, less poverty and expanded public services. However, their reliance on the labour market to improve the situation for working age people with no children did not pay off - some outcomes for this group got worse."

The research found the coalition inherited a larger staff of better paid and supported teachers and stock of newer and better equipped schools as a result of Labour's "ambitious" programme to reinvest in the education system "after two decades of low spending". Standards rose overall, particularly at GCSE level, although it said there was no conclusive evidence either way about claims that was down to a drop in standards.

Labour had "by no means reached its goals" by 2010, however, with wide gaps in achievements between disadvantaged children and those from wealthier families, particularly at higher attainment levels. The party also achieved "substantial returns" on its large-scale investment in the NHS in healthcare quantity, quality and satisfaction but variations in performance continued, including "well-publicised concerns about incidents involving sub-standard care, coupled with regulatory failure".

There was little progress tackling obesity and there were increases in the life expectancy gap between the areas with the worst health and deprivation and the England average, the research added.

Case director John Hills said: "In a very different economic climate, Labour set out an agenda to raise outcomes overall, narrow socio-economic gaps and modernise public services. Many services were improved, and it achieved a striking narrowing of inequalities between different age groups and across the life cycle. Nevertheless, when Labour left power there had been no real change in wider income inequalities and parts of its vision remained unrealised."

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