In a world being transformed by changes in population and society, public services are more important than ever in giving people the support they need and the opportunities they deserve. Today people depend on public services for longer and in more complex ways than ever before.
In 1997, the priority for our public services was investment and the restoration of adequate levels of delivery after decades of neglect. Now these goals are being achieved.
In 1997 the NHS debate was about how to get waiting times below 18 months. We are now on course to hit the goal of no one waiting more than 18 weeks between initial referral and treatment.
A decade ago the priority was to repair school buildings, introduce minimum standards, and build a basic system of nursery and childcare. Since then, school standards have risen substantially, with investment per pupil funding more than doubling from under £2,500 in 1997-98 to £5,520 in 2007-08, with the next three years seeing spending rise to over £6,600 by 2010-11. Nearly 3,000 Sure Start Children’s Centres are now embedded in the fabric of local communities.
Today we face a fresh challenge on public services - we need to empower professionals and users more, including through working with the voluntary sector. New Labour must now deliver the new public services needed for this new world.
Education is our passion. We believe that every child has the right to an excellent education, personalised to their needs and aspirations. Our ambition is a world class education system, where all children can realise their potential and no child is left behind. Raising standards in education is the platform on which we will build a more upwardly mobile Britain for the future - through more personal tuition and all schools reaching high standards, so that parents everywhere can be confident their child is at good school and has access to all the opportunities of a new digital age.
We want all children to be happy, healthy, and inspired to fulfil their talent, and that means looking beyond the classroom and their results. That’s why we made our National Museums free, encouraging 23 million extra young people to visit them. Already, over 86 per cent of young people now do two hours a week of sport, many of them already excited by the prospect of the London Olympics and Paralympics in 2012. We have promised that all our young people will be taking part in five hours a week of sport by 2012 and we have launched ‘Find Your Talent’ to offer young people at least five hours of culture in and out of school.
We are proud of our record of achievement in education. But we will not be satisfied until we have achieved world-class levels of education in our country, and closed the gaps in educational attainment between children from different backgrounds. Nor can we stand still when the world around us is changing so fast - when every successful country is investing more in education, skills and science. Education is the best policy for a successful economy and a fair society, so it is both an economic and moral imperative to invest in the education and skills of the British people.
So we will build on our achievements to offer everyone the chance to rise as far as their talents can take them. We will continue to expand early years provision, the launch-pad for education, and raise the quality of pre-school learning and daycare. We will ensure that all children who are able to do so reach the expected levels of literacy and numeracy in primary schools, and that no child ever attends an under-performing secondary school. We will expand the number of academies, trust and specialist schools, and break down the damaging barriers between academic and vocational education by developing new diplomas. And we will give everyone a chance of going on to an apprenticeship, college, or university by raising the participation age to 18, with a fair system of higher education funding and free tuition at further education college or training at work up to the age of 25.
In the coming decades the global economy will create more and more skilled jobs - on some estimates, one billion more. Successful nations will be those that harness all the skills of all
their people, attracting more than their fair share of the top global jobs and companies that will create better jobs and increased prosperity. We need to seize the opportunities created by the growth of the global economy to create more upward social mobility in Britain - giving every young person the chance to do better than their parents, and every adult the opportunity to develop a career, not just hold down a job. Building on the platform of improved educational standards and skills training of the last decade, we will seek once again to accelerate social mobility in Britain.
We have every reason to be optimistic about the future for families in Britain. Since 1997, the opportunities for children have improved. With more parents in work and 600,000 children lifted out of relative poverty, British families have better choices and better chances than ever
The family remains the foundation for every individual and the bedrock of society but there are new pressures on families. Parents have to balance the demands of work and childcare. Childhood itself faces pressures as parents try to raise families, often competing with new influences that weren’t there when they were young: the internet; more easily accessible depictions of sex and violence on a new range of media; new advertising strategies targeted at children; and a new intensity of peer group pressure.
To support families and to give children the very best start in life, extending high quality childcare and early years provision must be a strategic priority. We have increased the provision of higher quality childcare places and have introduced free nursery education for all three- and four year olds. But we have some distance left to ensure that every parent can get what they need: high quality childcare that is affordable and close to home.
In the Nordic countries, the introduction of universal high-quality child care coincided with an increase in social mobility: the chances of completing upper secondary school for children of parents with low levels of education have almost doubled for those born in the 1970s compared to the previous generation. High quality early years care is also one of the most effective and cost-effective ways of tackling social problems like crime, anti-social behaviour, and indiscipline at school. There are vitally important decisions to be taken here: should we prioritise further investment in childcare and early years provision over other potential spending? Just as importantly, how do we ensure that the quality of that care and learning continues to rise, and that childcare entitlements are clear to parents and easy to access?
In addition, we must act to support families through extending the provision of parental leave, so that parents have even greater choices over how to balance work and family life. In particular, we must respond to the rising aspirations fathers have to spend more time with their children. We will work to set new boundaries so that children get the space and protection they need to grow up safe and secure. And we will take bullies off the street and out of the classroom.
We will continue to bring in the policies that will eradicate child poverty by 2020 and halve child poverty by 2010. We have lifted 600,000 children out of poverty. But we can never call ourselves a truly civilised country while a single child lives in poverty. So we reaffirm our pledge to abolish child poverty.
One of the most remarkable achievements in recent times has been how much longer people live. In the last twenty five years, the number of years a 65-year-old man can expect to live has risen by nearly a third and around one-quarter of this increase happened over the last four
This is a cause of celebration but we also recognise that this has profound implications for public policy. Older people living on a fixed income are more likely to be vulnerable to inflation, at greater risk of ill-health, and separated from their families, so they must receive reassurance that their needs will always be met, not for a year or two, at the whim of government, but always. And our public services must change to respond to a new generation of older people who want active, full lives with high quality, preventive health care to support their aspirations. That is why we are introducing free swimming for the over 60s, and will work to build our preventive services. It means new action across a wide range of policy. Retired people want a decent pension; many older people want to continue to work beyond a fixed age; and all want the opportunity to lead active, fulfilling lives, and the certainty that good care will be there for them if they need it. We have dedicated ourselves to helping older people who need greater security; now we will also work to help all older people lead full, active lives and enjoy their later years.
We have put pension policy on a stable footing for the first time in a generation. Now we must build on that foundation to provide all the reassurance that the elderly and their families in our rapidly ageing population need and deserve.
Social care is an issue that goes to the heart of New Labour’s ambition to create a fairer country. At one time or another it will affect all of Britain’s families. Grandparents worry that they will be a burden on their children; middle-aged families worry about how they will simultaneously cope with their children and their parents; and younger adults are increasingly aware that much of their parent’s hard earned housing wealth may disappear into payments for long term care. We understand the anxieties people have about how to provide the necessary care for their loved ones.
We are already introducing personal care budgets to give people control over their care needs. And we have moved to make it easier for families to help with the care of their elderly relatives through giving them a right to request a more flexible work pattern from their employer. But we will go further. Families want to know that their elderly relatives will receive the highest possible quality of care in their old age without risking all their assets. The current system is increasingly unable to offer that security. It is unfair and unsustainable. So, just as we have set pensions on a sustainable footing for the 21st century, we will bring forward new plans for reforming the funding and provision of social care.
We are living through a revolution in medical science. Our understanding of genetics has entered a golden era, treatments for once dread diseases are making astonishing advances, and new therapies emerge all the time. We are developing a new comprehensive understanding of how to stay healthy and for longer.
In 1997, the NHS was in crisis, underfunded, ideologically attacked, and held up only by the dedication of those who worked in it. Today staff are supported by unprecedented investment in the NHS and medical science and technology. In 1997, you could wait up to two years for a heart operation - today virtually no-one waits for more than three months. In 1997, over a quarter of a million people were on a six month inpatient waiting list - today there are fewer than 100.
The task now before us is to ensure that the NHS can take the fullest possible advantage of these revolutions in medical science and technology and understanding so that Britain can lead the world in the medical care and support it provides to everyone, not just those who can afford to pay for it.
We will build a new public and preventative health system that builds on new research and analysis. Obesity rates in the UK have soared and we now understand how damaging this can be.So we will provide clearer information on diet, improve school meals, and place more emphasis on exercise. We are introducing check-ups for everyone over 40, focused on a range of vascular conditions, and free on the NHS - checkups which evidence shows will prevent 10,000 heart attacks and strokes every year. And we will go further and extend the range of vaccines, diagnostic and screening tests available, and the range of lifestyle-change services such as smoking cessation and prescriptions for fitness.
This new NHS will only be built through a partnership between government, patients, and professionals. Services will be made more accessible to everyone who needs them. We are already ensuring that at least half of all GPs will be open for routine appointments in evenings or a Saturday morning. And to further increase choice in primary care, we are also opening GP-run health centres in 150 of our towns and cities. These will be additional to existing GP services, open from 8am to 8pm seven days a week, and will offer patients the opportunity for bookable or walk-in appointments without needing to change their registration at their existing GP practice.
And patients will gain much greater control over services. All expectant mothers will be able to choose not just their maternity unit but also the type of birth that best suits them. And the new maternity service we are building will offer one-to-one support for parents both during pregnancy and in the period after birth - formative not just for children but for whole families.
End of life care will be transformed, so that when the time comes, people can die with dignity, without pain and in the setting they choose, surrounded by their loved ones.
We will provide new rights for the 15 million patients with long-term or chronic conditions, who will all receive their own prospectus on the full range of treatments on offer to them in their local NHS. And for the first time we will introduce personal budgets for those with continuing health needs.
These ambitions for the NHS can only be achieved through front-line professionals.Targets continue to have a key role as a guarantor of standards across the country but the move from a good to a great service will not happen through more top-down control. A world-class NHS needs to be built bottom-up.
So within the context of tough minimum standards, and much greater diversity of provision, we will strive to ensure professionals have greater control and responsibility for the services they provide. We will introduce a new generation of nurse-led services in primary and community care; we will back foundation trusts in transferring control over services directly to clinical teams; and clinicians will be in charge of the process of modernising local health services.
Only Labour can transform our public services because only Labour believes in the fundamental place of public services in our society and in making them available to everyone and most available to those who need them most.