A police escort leads a peloton of luxury cars one mile across London. A woman with a stick has a door slammed in her face. A pensioner sits on a throne to announce the latest laws on everything from energy to cryptos, to an amassed group of yeomen and lords. Everyone is wearing robes for some reason.
The Queen’s speech is always a flowery affair, one that brings the new policies of our government into sharp contrast with the ancient pageantry around it. In a new twist this year we saw the Queen replaced, not only by Prince Charles, but by a cushion which dutifully took up the role of propping up the crown usually worn by Her Majesty. Like the format of the speech, the content also had a mix of new and old—some for charities to be pleased about and some which may raise concerns.
New and old
Firstly, the new. The main bulk of the legislation focused on structural reforms. There was the introduction of a Brexit Freedoms Bill, which will ostensibly reclaim control over policy from Britain’s time in the EU, though critics say this may side-line Parliament by allowing the government to scrap previous EU legislation without scrutiny. Somewhat similarly, a British Bill of Rights will replace European rules, but may risk hard-won human rights gains in the process. Campaigning charities may also be concerned by the re-emergence of provisions, previously rejected in the Lords, to make disruptive protests illegal in the Public Orders Bill.
On the positive side of things, housing charities will be pleased by the announcement of a Renters’ Bill which will get rid of no-fault evictions which have plagued people around the country, explored further by my colleague Abi in this blog here. A draft Victims’ Bill is also aiming to make important changes to empower victims of crime and enshrine important rights. The Victims’ Commissioner though has argued that with court backlogs denying many justice, the government must recognise that this is only part of the solution to this issue.
In other areas, there was less new policy to dig into. With The Food Foundation saying one in eight adults are unable to afford food every day, this speech could hardly ignore the cost of living crisis. Prince Charles was tasked with confronting the economic context at the start, opening with a promise to grow the economy and tackle the cost of living crisis, but there was very little new detail on exactly how the government intends to do either of these. Of course, the Queen’s speech only focuses on legislation, and the government could release more support from elsewhere, but the long-awaited Employment Bill which could have offered vital support for those struggling whilst working was dropped from the speech at the last minute. Government figures doing media rounds have been at pains to focus on how this is a global crisis, the implication being there is limited room for them to influence it. But for charities desperate for help with supporting people in need, questions will justifiably be raised about what more the government should be doing to support communities in crisis. We will be exploring these questions further at our event on the cost of living crisis in June.
Levelling up and the climate crisis
Though it did not feature much in the Spring Statement, ‘levelling up’ returned here. A promise to entrench the 12 missions of the policy in law should be a positive step forward in tracking progress, and the proposed Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will aim to repurpose empty shops on high streets. As we have written before, ‘levelling up’ has so far focused on hard infrastructure and high streets at the expense of what the public actually want it to tackle—social issues. With the cost of living crisis leading even Michael Gove to question if ‘levelling up’ can achieve its aims, you could reasonably have expected more announcements in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill to address this gap. The UK Shared Prosperity Fund remains the next largest funding opportunity for charities looking to improve their communities, and before the speech we discussed what this fund may mean for charities, you can watch a catch-up video here.
Finishing up the already-announced-but-still-important category, energy & net-zero actions were the final piece of the puzzle in the speech. Prince Charles announced there would be a bill to enshrine in law the series of commitments the government made in last month’s energy strategy. This may not support bill payers in the short-term but the Climate Change Committee called this a step forward, with some important promises to help us move towards net-zero in the medium-term, but with ground still to cover particularly on buildings and industry.
And then it was over, the yeomen and sceptres filed out of sight. Debates in Parliament will continue to explore the ins and outs of all the proposed legislation over the next few days and weeks. The lack of new detail in some areas could lead some to dismiss the speech as old news. However, with some big structural shifts, and a teaser of more announcements on the way, charities should be keeping their eyes off the robes and on the detail of what’s happening in Parliament this year.