Prince Charles presented the UK government's legislative agenda for the next year in Westminster on Tuesday
Charities and campaigners have warned the government’s agenda as unveiled in Tuesday’s Queen’s speech fails to live up to the values of compassion and justice needed amid the cost of living crisis.
This week saw the UK government’s agenda presented by Prince Charles in Westminster in lieu of the Queen, who cancelled for health reasons.
Among the priorities outlined in the House of Lords were some of 38 laws that ministers intend to pass in the coming year, including 27 which are reported to affect Scotland.
The speech, written for the monarch by government officials, included commitments to tackle the ongoing cost of living crisis through economic measures such as support for the city growth deal and free ports in Scotland, as well as the Shared Prosperity fund which replaces EU finances.
Under-fire Tory Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was expected to claim that Britain cannot spend its way out of trouble, despite widespread calls for greater financial support for struggling households.
Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said: “People want a UK Government that believes in compassion and justice, and in making sure everyone can live a dignified life. This Queen’s Speech has failed to live up to those values.
“People in poverty are struggling to keep their heads above water, and more and more of us are being drawn into a current of poverty by the cost of living crisis. The UK Government needs to deliver urgent help with rising bills to keep households afloat. There was nothing but a brief mention of that.
“The speech talked a lot about promoting growth, but now more than ever we need a just economy, focused on wellbeing, that secures adequate incomes for people, so we can all live a dignified life. Growth must help those who need it the most.
“This Queen’s Speech shows that the UK Government still hasn’t got the courage to make the changes we need. They have failed to put forward a vision for our future, failed to have compassion for people, and failed to promise the economic justice we all need.”
John Dickie, director of the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) in Scotland, added: “This speech had 38 bills but no direct help with spiralling costs - a far cry from what struggling families needed to hear today.
"The Westminster government offered no short term comfort for parents struggling to feed their children in the face of rocketing prices, and no long term vision for ending child poverty across the UK.
"UK Ministers must respond now to the scale of the current living costs crisis by committing to an increase in benefits in line with inflation from October. Promises on levelling up will go unmet while families don’t have enough money to live on. “
Particular issues were also flagged regarding a lack of support for older people and other at-risk groups - which charities said could not wait until the unveiling of the autumn budget.
Morgan Vine, head of policy and influencing at older people's charity Independent Age, said: “Today’s Queens Speech was a missed opportunity to address the cost-of-living crisis that is impacting millions of older people across the UK. Despite the Government acknowledging the seriousness of the moment, they failed to announce immediate plans to alleviate the massive financial strain being placed on those in later life.
“The government must turn words into action and produce a proper plan to address the huge increase in the cost of living and record inflation. This can’t wait until the Autumn Budget, the people in later life who call our advice line are being forced to make tough decisions right now. They are skipping meals. They are turning the heating off. They are missing out on seeing friends and family. Urgent action must be taken to support older people during these extremely challenging times. We want to see proposals that quickly get Pension Credit into the pockets of those that need it, bring down energy bills and that prevent older people from going without food because of spiralling costs. If these issues aren’t addressed, life will continue to be extremely difficult for people of all ages, including those in later life.
“There were some promising announcements in the speech, including legislation to protect older consumers from being ripped off for essential goods and services, and the strengthening of social housing rules that will enable renters to get vital repairs quickly. However, nothing announced today will immediately help older people that are currently struggling to afford energy bills or food.”
Among the pieces of legislation missing from the speech was a long-awaited Employment Rights Bill, which trade unions say has been promised for two decades.
On workers’ rights, the Harbours (Seafarers’ Remuneration) Bill will oblige ferry companies like P&O to pay the UK minimum wage to seafarers in UK waters, following the scandal which engulfed the company last month following their mistreatment of staff.
Trades Union Congress general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Today is a great day for rogue employers.
“The government’s failure to bring forward an employment bill will leave millions without vital rights and protections. Working people have been conned.”
Citizen's Advice Scotland social justice spokesperson, David Scott, added: "With the cost of living crisis pushing household budgets to breaking point we wanted to see bolder choices on social security and fair work.
“It is disappointing the long awaited Employment Bill has been delayed. We’ve seen in the headlines in recent months some bad practices from employers, and across the CAB network advisers see people who are not getting a fair deal at work and seeking advice as a result.
“We see instances of people paid less than the legal minimum wage and dealing with insecure hours - these are problems that are made even worse by rising bills and prices in the shops.
“An employment rights watchdog to crackdown on employers who mistreat their workers would make a real difference, and it is disappointing that has been delayed.
“Meanwhile people who need advice can always contact the Citizens Advice network. Our advice is free, and confidential. We don’t judge, we just help.”