Today Her Majesty the Queen will deliver a speech outlining the government’s legislative priorities for the 2016/17 parliamentary year in what will be defining year for Prime Minister David Cameron.
We’ve been looking at the Bills which might be included in the speech, and the impact they may have on disabled people and their families.
Life chances agenda
On 11 January the Prime Minister outlined his vision for the government’s life chances strategy. The strategy outlines how the government plan to tackle social barriers and help children, born into disadvantage or poverty, through opportunities to advance themselves. Many of the ideas in the Prime Minister’s speech could be launched within the Queen’s Speech.
The Queen’s Speech is an opportunity for the Prime Minister to build upon work on the life chances agenda to ensure that disabled people are able to reach their full potential. It is vital the government prioritises key issues of independent living; extra costs disabled people face and halving the employment gap.
An energy bill?
The Extra Costs Commission was a year-long independent inquiry that identified ways to drive down extra costs for disabled people. The report found disabled people spent an extra £550 (on average) a month – higher than normal energy costs was one area the Commission specifically highlighted.
The government draft energy bill will deliver an energy smart meter into every British home by 2020 and accelerate the time it takes for individuals to switch suppliers.
However, in order for disabled people to access information about different tariffs, it is important that energy comparison and switching services have accessible websites and offline support options as well, e.g. telephone. By failing to meet the needs of disabled people, businesses could be missing out on a share of £420 million in business each week.
As such, it is critical that the government and energy regulators take steps to ensure a greater focus by energy companies is placed on the needs of disabled people – one in three fuel poor homes has a disabled person in it.
A digital economy bill?
Another piece of legislation widely reported to be announced concerns telephone masts, broadband connections and digital infrastructure. The Bill is likely to be part of a broader digital strategy, launched by culture minister Ed Vaizey in late 2015 and will also feature commitments on a universal service obligation for superfast broadband.
However, 27 per cent of disabled adults have never used the internet, compared to 11 per cent of the adult population overall. Therefore, any new digital strategy must tackle this digital divide and ensure disabled people can access the best deals.
We are not expecting any further bills that relate to employment but it is important to ensure more disabled people are supported to find and stay in work and that this approach forms a significant focus of the life chances agenda. Last week the government announced plans to publish a Green Paper later in the year, a document setting out new policies, regarding a strategy for supporting disabled people.
Many disabled people want to work and are pushing hard to find jobs, but they continue to face huge barriers. Too many disabled people are not able to access the support they need to enter and stay in work and the Green Paper is an important opportunity to address these issues and we hope the government does so.
Scope will be following the speech and subsequent closely, analysing how the measures announced will affect disabled people. Follow us on Twitter to keep up to date with how the speech unfolds.