How to read the Queen’s Speech – A guide for charities

It is admittedly a strange affair. Confusing and archaic to some and a jewel in our constitutional crown to others, the Queen’s Speech marks an opportunity for the Government to set out their legislative priorities for the forthcoming session. In the words of Lynton Crosby it’s an opportunity ‘to get the barnacles off the boat’ – carefully dropping some bills in favour of others to create a renewed sense of purpose. This blog explores some of the context of the speech and some of the important measures coming down the track that our members will want to engage with.

Dealing with a limited hand – It’s often the case that the speech tells us more about communicating government priorities than constructing a new legislative framework. Behind the men in tights, the strange rituals and the bad jokes, there is a careful political balancing act occurring. Never is this more evident than mid-term, where most of the big-ticket items will already be in train and the Government is limited in the changes it can force through that will have any bearing on the forthcoming election.

It’s only the beginning – The speech is also only the beginning of the story – last year the Government announced 15 full bills in the Queen’s Speech. Only 10 of them became law, and during the course of the session, the coalition introduced a further 28 bills that made it into the statute book.

Reading between the lines.. Cameron’s third speech to Parliament has one eye-catching centre piece – the immigration bill restricting the access of EU migrants to jobseekers’ allowance to six months. Number 10 wants the electorate to understand that this government has heard the concerns about immigration and is doing something about it. This tells us a lot about how seriously he is taking a resurgent UKIP.

.. And behind them – As ever the speech will be devoured by political commentators looking at not only what the speech contains, but also what it does not. Development charities will be dismayed that the promised move to enshrine in law the pledge to spend 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid has once more failed to reach the legislative agenda.

The devil is always in the detail – At this early stage it’s quite difficult to assess the measures in full.  The charity sector will, as ever, have its fingers in a number of pies – and it’s worth pulling out a few key bills that will have huge implications for the sector as a whole:

National Insurance Contributions Bill – “Measures will be brought forward to introduce a new Employment Allowance to support jobs and help small businesses.”This bill relates to reducing employer National Insurance contribution bills each year by enabling every business and charity to claim a £2,000 Employment Allowance per employer (not employee), from April 2014 – as mentioned in the March Budget.  That the bill includes charities is encouraging for the sector, with the potential help this may provide to small organisations looking to take on their first member of staff.  As highlighted in Karl’s budget blog, the Treasury think 35,000 charities might collectively save £45m through this move.
Deregulation Bill – “A bill will be introduced to reduce the burden of excessive regulation on businesses and civil society.”This is a draft bill that has been introduced as part of the government’s agenda to reduce the burden of excessive or unnecessary regulation on businesses where primary legislation was required, and will need to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny. We are pleased this Bill has included Civil Society, recognising the voluntary sector and the regulatory challenges it faces.
Care Bill – “Legislation will be introduced to reform the way long term care is paid for, to ensure the elderly do not have to sell their homes to meet their care bills.”Social care reform has long been alluded to by ministers, and the Care Bill does include some practical changes for the care sector, for those in receipt of care themselves and people caring for family members. The changes in this bill include: a cap on care costs, extending the test threshold for financial assistance, personalised budgets, support for those with caring duties and assistance for those who may be changing care providers or local authorities.
Offender Rehabilitation Bill – “Legislation will be introduced to reform the way in which offenders are rehabilitated in England and Wales.”This forms part of the ‘Rehabilitation Revolution’, and although no formal legislation has been released, the bill is likely to include measures on extending statutory supervision for offenders serving short custodial sentences after they have been released, and allowing probation providers to look at the causes of re-offending. For the sector, the most noteworthy element of the bill is the opening up of probation services to private and voluntary sector providers on a payment-by-results basis, and we’ll be keeping an eye on the government’s response to the Transforming Rehabilitation consultation – due out shortly – for this one.
We will also be taking a closer look at the Pensions Bill, when further details emerge, to see how it will affect the charity sector.

 Chloe Stables’s blog

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Chloe Stables, External Relations Manager, reflects on the latest political developments affecting the voluntary and community sector.

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