We can break the glass ceiling

Fairness and aspiration are not polar opposites, in fact they go hand in hand. That insight – that all people have the chance to rise as far as their ­talents take them – remains the driving force behind New Labour today.

But New Labour is also about constantly updating our policies – applying our enduring values to all the new challenges we face. So Labour's focus will always be on how we help the hardworking majority in Britain not just to get by, but to get on in life.

That is why the Conservative vision that the next decade is an "age of austerity" is so wrong. It is our duty to create an age of aspiration. And I want to see an expanded middle class, not a squeezed middle class.

Opportunity and reward cannot be hoarded at the top, and it is not enough to protect people at the bottom.

Our values demand a genuine meritocracy for all British people, and I want to set out how in the coming decade we can unleash the biggest wave of social mobility since the second world war – to spread opportunity across society and to realise the aspirations of all those on middle and modest incomes. Social mobility is not an alternative to social justice – it is modern social justice.

I am proud of Labour's record in reducing poverty, improving public services and limiting inequality – in the last 13 years we have done more than any government to tackle poverty, and raised 500,000 children and 900,000 pensioners out of poverty.

But we have also learnt that, in a globalised economy, the pressures toward increased inequality are immense. Pro­gressive governments have to swim hard against the tide to reduce poverty and social injustice. In Britain it took but a few years in the mid-1980s for inequality to rise sharply, but the effects have been long lasting and slow to unwind.

So in redoubling our ambition to increase social mobility and build a fairer society, we must create more skilled, well-paid jobs. If we get it right, we will not only raise the glass ceiling, but break it.

For this to work, the economy must provide greater opportunities. But we can be confident of this ambition because we stand at the threshold of a profound transformation in our economy. As we address climate change, we will see a wave of low-carbon industrialisation in the UK as well as the rise of new professional service-sector jobs.

We will rapidly make Britain a leading world power in digital industries, introducing the fastest possible broadband system in every part of the country to benefit every business and household.

And we will cut corporation tax for medical companies to incentivise new patents, alongside investing £15bn in medical research – helping pharmaceuticals, medical technology and biotechnology double their 120,000-strong workforce over the next decade. This impetus for new skilled or professional employment will provide the UK with more middle-class jobs than ever before.

Because we stand for an age of aspiration in which a strong economy – built on sound and credible fiscal plans – can provide greater opportunities for people to get on in life, our manifesto will be there for anyone who wants to get a home, start a business, build a career or save for their children's future.

So we need a policy for growth and for the future of jobs – and the difference between Labour and Conservative is that the Conservatives reject industrial strategy as a matter of ideology.

The Conservative plan is to squeeze the middle class hard, cutting child tax credits for families on total household incomes over £31,000, and scraping child trust funds for all but the poorest families. And just when children's centres are now on offer to every child, transforming the chances of the under-fives, they plan to cut back Sure Start.

Families want the assurance that healthcare will be there when they need it. But the Conservatives plan to end your right to see a cancer specialist within two weeks and cut your right to see a GP in the evenings or at weekends. The new guarantee of free health checks we want to offer would, under their proposals, be available only for those who can afford to pay.

It is increasingly clear that the Conservatives want to remove the security and protection of guaranteed, strong, universal services on which all can rely and in which each has a stake.

Whether you're a homeowner in tough times worried about paying your mortgage, or a 16-year-old working out your options for the future, the Tories offer "nudges" but no guarantees.

So at the next election there will be a big choice between very different visions of the future of our public services and our economy. After the global financial crisis, it will be the first election of a new age – unlike any I have fought before.

But it is an election we can win and a fight we must win – not for ourselves, but for the people of Britain.

Gordon Brown, British prime minister.