Labour's opening policy shot in election race faces credibility test

Labour's pledge to guarantee jobs for the long-term unemployed is a risky opening shot in the drawing of election battlegrounds, it has been claimed.

Ed Balls: Looking to regain the initiative (Credit: Victor De Jesus / UNP)
Ed Balls: Looking to regain the initiative (Credit: Victor De Jesus / UNP)

The party kicked off 2013 with one of shadow chancellor Ed Balls' first major policy announcements, in which the offer of weekly work would be paid for by restricting tax relief on pensions for high earners.  

Chris Rumfitt, MD of public affairs for Edelman, called the move the start of a policy battle that will run this year and on towards the 2015 election.

Rumfitt claimed the pledge was an example of Labour trying to target younger people, whose voter numbers have declined in recent years, as part of a long-term three-pronged focus on growth, unemployment and deficit reduction.

‘They’ve looked at the success of the Obama campaign of getting young people out to vote, and when they do it is often for the centre-left parties, so the move is a smart one in that respect,’ he said.

However, he warned the policy was a risky one in terms of credibility.

‘Everyone knows the economy is in a difficult way and there’s a big challenge to get people to believe every single long-term unemployed person can be offered a job.’

Those earning more than £150,000 a year would have tax relief restricted to help fund a £1bn pledge to enable employers to meet the cost of hiring those out of work for more than two years.

The scheme would offer 25 hours of work a week for up to six months.

INHouse Communications director Jo Tanner saw Balls' move as an effort to get back on the front foot after what was widely seen as a poor performance with regard to the Autumn Budget.

She called the policy a ‘kite flying’ move designed to draw the coalition into reacting, and part of a longer-term process of refining policy ahead of the elections.

‘It’s a sign that Labour is going to have to look at the size and configuration of the welfare state,’ she added.

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