28 May 2015
The first Queen’s speech of the Conservative government has been given. Cameron said his legislative programme would mean “wherever you live, you can have the chance of a good education, a decent job, a home of your own and the peace of mind that comes from being able to raise a family and enjoy a secure retirement”, yet his proposals show he’s intent on achieving anything but.
The proposed bills, read out by the Queen, included provision for:
- A higher threshold in strike ballots, and changing the political levy to an opt-in system
- A Snoopers’ Charter to increase surveillance powers
- A referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017
- Lowering the benefits cap from £26,000 to £23,000. Housing benefit axed for 18-21 year olds
- More free schools and academies
- Right to buy for 1.3m housing association tenants
Attack on trade unions
The emptiness of Cameron’s claim to be helping working people becomes particularly apparent when viewed side by side with his attack on trade unions. As well as imposing the restrictive strike thresholds, the political levy will be changed to an opt-in system, significantly reducing trade unions’ income.
The long promised “reformation” of strike laws is a clear attempt to further weaken trade unions and workers’ collective bargaining power. The inability of workers to negotiate real wage increases has already caused an extreme cost of living crisis, and had led to the UK being one of the most unequal countries in the OECD. Its bad news for workers rights, and its bad news for the economy.
Read more from IER director Carolyn Jones, here.
The Queen’s speech contained less than expected on the changes to human rights law, perhaps due to mounting opposition and objections within the Conservative party. No draft British bill of rights was put forward, just the vague statement that the government “will bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act”. While this may appear like good news, a hastily pushed through Bill would have been more likely to be rejected than one that involves a consultation, and is adjusted to attract wider appeal.
The Governments plans to increase the powers of the security services are far more extensive than expected. The planned legislation will enable the tracking of everyone’s internet and social media use, and will strengthen the security services’ warranted powers for the bulk interception of communications. As we know what is sold as “protection against terror” more often than not translates to the silencing of opposition and dissent, as recent scandals show.
Benefits and Housing
Cameron has followed through on his pledge to give 1.3 million housing association tenants in England the right to buy their homes at a discount. Over the last government, only one home was built for every six that was sold off, attracting the condemnation of just about every housing charity and thinktank. The abysmal lack of social housing means the housing budget is going straight into the pockets of private landlords, and rent as relative to income is sky rocketing.
By parring back welfare so violently, there is little antidote to insecure, exploitative work and poverty pay. The consequence will be that no matter how degrading and unfair and inadequate the work is, we will have no choice but to take it.
Commenting on the speech, Frances O’Grady said; “Raising pay, creating good quality jobs, tackling the UK’s productivity challenge, building genuinely affordable and social homes, preventing exploitation and securing decent rights at work – that’s what a Queen’s Speech for working people might look like. But that’s not what we got.”