Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Our historic goal

Building a fairer society should be a central goal of a renewed Labour government

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Whoever wins the leadership election will need to hit the ground running and put their own stamp on the forward agenda. But the next election will not be won or lost in the first seven, 50 or even 200 days of a new prime minister.

Our challenge between now and the next election is to show we have the ideas and values to meet the challenges of the next decade, based squarely on the achievements and experience of the last 10 years.

The pressures of globalisation will become greater in the years ahead – but that should not, and must not, deter us from the goal of building a fairer society. When it comes to tackling inequality and promoting social justice, we must build on our track record and set out a clear direction for the decade to come.

Our task is to renew in power – something no political party has successfully done in the last few decades. A renewed government must continue to combine policies for work, opportunity, and incomes to promote social justice.

That is what we have been doing by combining the national minimum wage with the integration of taxes and benefits through tax credits within a progressive tax system. This new welfare state – based on progressive universalism – is providing support for all citizens through universal benefits like child benefit and the basic state pension. At the same time, it is giving more help for those in greatest need through tax credits and pension credit, which are claimed by those on middle incomes but tapered so that the poorest get the most.

Just as in economic policy all the main parties now accept the independence of the Bank of England, so too we need to entrench institutional change when it comes to social policy. Tax credits and Sure Start have been at the heart of our work to tackle poverty and improve the life chances of children – we must now ensure that no future Tory government could ever do away with them.

But renewal in power also means recognising where we have not got things right and demonstrating publicly that we can learn lessons for the future. That is what we did on the 75p up-rating of the pension. It is what we are doing in now giving greater priority to tackling adult skills in the workplace.

And there are other areas where a renewed Labour government will need to do more to create the fairer society progressives believe in. We have to do more on childcare and address the growing issue of work-life balance for millions of families. We need a national campaign backed by new policy to get more young people to stay on at school or college, or get an apprenticeship when they are 16. We need to improve the life chances and services available to disabled children and their parents, an issue which the Treasury and the Department for Education and Skills are looking at as part of the comprehensive spending review.

This is the way to prove again that Labour is the party of opportunity and fairness for all – that stands up for hard-working families and is committed to a more equal society. We must also expose the Tories who, for all their talk of change, still want to roll back the state, leaving charities and the voluntary sector to fill the gap.

The real challenge for the next 10 years is not just to ensure that there is a Labour government in office; nor is it just to maintain a strong and stable economy. Our challenge is to take forward the work we have done in the last 10 years, so that we can lift another 800,000 children and another million pensioners out of relative poverty, as we also meet our Millennium Development Goals for international poverty reduction.

The values of equality and social justice should be at the heart of all the work a Labour government does. They are part of our historic mission as a movement. Because it’s not enough just to be competent. We must inspire people too.

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Ed Balls

Ed Balls is MP for Normanton and Economic Secretary to the Treasury

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