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The Queen’s speech – “Consultation cannot be a substitute for action”

Today the Government has announced the laws they plan to pass and the issues they will consult on over the next two years in the Queen’s speech.

The Queen’s speech is taking place in an unusual political context with the Conservative party having failed to secure an overall majority and still in talks with the Democratic Unionist Party over a confidence and supply agreement.

Queen’s speeches normally take place once a year but with the backdrop of Brexit negotiations, there won’t be another one until 2019, so if legislation wasn’t announced today it is now unlikely to be considered over the next two years.

The Conservative manifesto made commitments to get more disabled people into work, reduce the extra costs that disabled people face and reform the broken social care system. The need to tackle disability discrimination was mentioned explicitly in the Queen’s Speech but there was little information on how manifesto commitments will be turned into action.

The future of employment

Last year the Government held a major consultation on the future of employment support for disabled people. Reform is needed to both in and out of work support to enable disabled people to find, stay and progress in work. The consultation proposed a number of important measures, including reform of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), and Government ministers have promised to continue this work.

Yet disability employment was missing completely from the Queen’s speech. If the Government are to meet their manifesto commitment to get a million more disabled people into work then they need to take action to speed up the pace of change in closing the disability employment gap.

At the disability hustings last month Penny Mordaunt, the Minister for Disabled People, spoke again about the need for reform of the WCA, something all political parties agreed on. The manifesto also had a commitment to legislate on specialist employment support for disabled people, so it was disappointing to see neither of these things mentioned today.

There was no mention of social care for disabled people

Social care became a major issue at the election but disabled people were left out of the public debate, despite representing a third of social care users. The system desperately needs reform with over half of disabled people unable to get the support they need to live independently.

The Government has announced a consultation on the future of social care which is a welcome recognition that the system cannot continue as it is. However, there was no mention of the future of social care for disabled people. Disabled people rely on social care to get up, get dressed and go to work and their needs must be considered as part of a commitment to reform.

Disabled people spend an average of £550 a month on extra costs which affects their financial security and resilience. Disabled people face higher bills for energy and insurance so markets need reforming. Again, the Queen’s speech made a commitment to examine markets which aren’t working –  but there is action that can and should be taken now – such as requiring regulators across all essential markets to have a common definition of consumers in vulnerable circumstances.

The Prime Minister has promised to create a country that works for everyone but disabled people still face numerous barriers to everyday equality. Consultation cannot be a substitute for action. Commitments and warm words must now lead to legislation to tackle the barriers which stop disabled people participating fully in society.

That should start with a cross-Government disability strategy and action on the promises the Government has already made.

What to expect from the Queen’s Speech

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.

Next steps

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.