WBG’s response to the Queen’s Speech 2022
Date Posted: Tuesday 10th May 2022
No Employment Bill and no assurances on the Cost-of-Living Crisis
10th May 2022, Speaking in response to the Queen’s Speech today, director of the Women’s Budget Group, Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson said:
“Today’s Queen Speech did nothing for the millions of people whose living standards have been in slow decline for over a decade, and who are now struggling to feed themselves and their families while their bills rise and inflation soars. As our recent briefing, The Gendered Impact of the Cost-of-Living Crisis, sets out, it is women who are hardest hit by this crisis.
The Speech also omits any mention of the long-awaited Employment Bill – promised over three years ago in order to strengthen the rights of workers. Women, in particular, would have benefited from the measures it should have brought forward including enhanced flexible working and the right to more secure work. The Government had an opportunity in this speech to set aside rhetoric and choose meaningful measures that would have provided reassurances at a time of increasing financial insecurity. Instead, we have a set of policies that fail to consider the reality of women’s lives and fail to deliver the change women need.
Cost of Living Crisis
The Queen’s speech declared that: “Her Majesty’s Government will drive economic growth to improve living standards”. However, no substantive plans were outlined to address the cost-of-living crisis – a crisis in which more than two million adults have gone without food for a whole day over the past month because they cannot afford to eat.
This crisis was set in motion over a decade ago by austerity policies, low wage rises and cuts to social security. It was exacerbated by Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic and global energy price increases and it has left women, particularly poor, disabled, and Black and minority ethnic women, even more vulnerable to poverty.
The Prime Minister has multiple options available to him to support those hit hardest by the crisis. Our analysis showed that increasing benefits by 7% rather than by the planned rate of 3.1% would cost around £8.3bn this year. The rise in National Insurance announced in the Spring Statement will reduce tax revenues by £9.1bn. Our research has also shown that women, pensioners, single parents, and lower-income families would benefit more from an in-line-with-inflation increase in benefits, compared to the rise in the NI threshold.
The Prime Minister had other options available to him in today’s statement, he could have turned the £200 loan to help with energy bills planned for later this year into a grant. There was also no mention of a widely supported oil and gas windfall tax. An increase of 10 percentage points on corporation tax for North Sea oil and gas producers, in the year beginning in April, would raise £1.2bn.
The framing to today’s speech was positive “to grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families”, however the bills announced won’t do enough to meet this aspiration. As with the Spring Statement, the cost-of-living scandal appears to sit firmly in a policy blind spot.
The speech also announced: “Her Majesty’s Ministers will bring forward an Energy Bill to deliver the transition to cheaper, cleaner, and more secure energy” but set out no substantive detail on what this would mean in practice. No mention was made of plans to move away from drilling for fossil fuels and to invest in renewable energy.
Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Today’s speech announced that “a Bill will be brought forward to drive local growth, empowering local leaders to regenerate their areas, and ensuring everyone can share in the United Kingdom’s success”.
The Covid-19 pandemic revealed the scale of inequalities in Britain. If the Government is committed to driving local growth and creating opportunities for the ‘left-behind’, then it needs to invest in developing green and caring local economies. Investment in social infrastructure such as social care and childcare needs to be recognised as a means of achieving this. These naturally low carbon sectors provide a more even geographical distribution of jobs. Investing in them has the potential to deliver meaningful job and wealth creation.
British Bill of Rights
For over twenty years the 1998 Human Rights Act has played a critical role in enabling people in the UK to claim their rights. Many of the rights contained in the act have become vital tenets of British society. They have been used to hold the police to account for failures to tackle violence against women and girls, protect victims of human slavery and modern trafficking, protect children from violence and abuse, enable people to be treated with dignity by public authorities and secure justice for their loved ones.
We do not believe that there is any need for a new Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. The ‘case for change’ set out in the consultation creates a misleading impression of human rights in the UK, fails to recognise the positive impact of the HRA, and creates an artificial distinction between those who are ‘deserving’ of human rights and those who are not. If the UK is serious about defending human rights and international law, it cannot be taking steps at home that undermine the most important international human rights mechanism in its region
Today’s Queen Speech made no mention of the long-awaited Employment Bill which was first promised in 2019. That bill would have helped to tackle sexual harassment and workplace pregnancy discrimination as well as introduced greater rights to flexible working, neonatal leave, additional carers leave. It also would have introduced a right to request more secure work after a period of time – something critical to women who make up the majority of those on zero-hours contracts.
The failure to deliver this Bill is a missed opportunity to level the playing field for working mothers. Care is at the root of much of the discrimination women face, whether that’s through pregnancy and childbirth, childcare or caring for elderly relatives, or simply trying to balance care around inflexible work.
This Bill would have provided vital protections for women at a time when many are faced with growing economic uncertainty. The Government cannot simply talk about a Plan for Jobs, it must protect those jobs too, and that starts with strengthening employment rights for everyone, especially workers who are particularly vulnerable, such as women.
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