Date: Wed, 9 Apr 1997 15:10:24 -0700
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: D Shniad <shniad@SFU.CA>
Subject: Britain: Churches condemn both parties' priorities

Parties put on defensive by churches

By George Jones, Political Editor, The Daily Telegraph, 9 April 1997

LABOUR and the Conservatives were forced into defending their policies to tackle unemployment after the Churches accused them of putting tax cuts above helping the jobless.

Labour, despite going into the election promising not to raise tax rates, sought to make political capital out of the report, Unemployment and the Future of Work, which it claimed was an indictment of the state of Britain today.

John Major made it clear he disagreed with the report's conclusions, saying they might be well intentioned but were wrong.

He launched a strong defence of the Government's record, and suggested that the Churches should go and look at higher levels of youth unemployment in countries such as France, Germany and Spain before criticising what was happening here.

Although the report called for higher taxes, and contained implicit criticism of Labour for competing with the Tories on the issue of low taxation, Labour made it the central feature of its daily election conference.

Gordon Brown, the shadow chancellor, said Labour's plans to create incentives for the long-term unemployed to get back to work showed that, like the Churches, Labour believed special measures were needed. While the Churches wanted general tax rises, Labour believed such measures were best paid for by the windfall levy on the privatised utilities.

Mr Brown claimed that the Churches also backed key elements of Labour's strategy, including a minimum wage; the scrapping of nursery vouchers; and a new emphasis on education and skills for the young.

Tony Blair said the Churches were right to speak on behalf of the unemployed, and right to draw attention to the need to create more work opportunities.

Though we do not agree with all of the measures, they make a fair diagnosis and they are right to say that we all suffer with such high levels of social division.

Mr Major, however, made clear his displeasure that the Churches had intervened during the general election campaign with a report that could provide ammunition for the Government's opponents.

He said: I invite them to look at what has happened to levels of unemployment in this country, I invite them to look at an economy producing more jobs. The Churches had a responsibility to be concerned by those in need, Mr Major admitted. But he said that the conclusions reached by the report's authors were mistaken.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on Church affairs, welcomed the report and said his party was prepared to raise taxes to address inequality.