LONDON British finance minister George Osborne on Monday sounded a brighter note on the economy as the country gears up for an election in just over a year, and set a target of "full employment".
With economic policy likely to form a major electoral battleground in 2015, Osborne said he wanted Britain to have the highest employment rate of the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialized economies.
The pledge, made in a speech to employers and recently hired workers, marked a change in tone from Osborne, who has previously sought to remind voters of the tough cost-cutting he plans for the years ahead, even as the economy recovers.
"We will not rest while we still have so much wasted potential in some parts of our country," he said. "That's why today I'm making a new commitment: a commitment to fight for full employment in Britain."
Osborne also highlighted a range of new tax changes due to come into effect this week, including cuts to rates paid by businesses and larger tax-free income limits for voters.
Britain ranks fourth in comparisons of employment rates compiled by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, behind Canada, France and Germany. Its employment rate of 15- to 64-year-olds is 70.8 percent, compared with 73.3 percent for Germany, which has the highest rate of any G7 state.
The opposition Labor Party accused Osborne of not taking new steps to help people find work.
Since coming to office in 2010 in a Conservative Party-led coalition, Osborne has focused on cutting public spending to reduce a wide budget deficit. Opinion polls show his party are more trusted to handle the economy than any of their rivals.
While still stressing the need for fiscal discipline, and warning that other political parties could not be trusted to keep a tight grip on spending, Osborne's said that public debt was now under control.
Full employment would be a "central goal" of his economic plans, he said, saying tax cuts for businesses and workers and a tightening of benefit rules to get more people working were the ways to achieve his target.
"Britain is starting to walk tall in the world again," Osborne said. "There is no reason why Britain shouldn't aim to have the highest employment rate of any of the world's leading economies."
(Editing by William Schomberg and Louise Ireland)