Queen's Speech: Cost-of-living earmarked as government priority but opposition parties criticise lack of direct intervention

Published by Scott Challinor on May 11th 2022, 12:01am

The government has set out its plans for the next session of Parliament in the Queen’s Speech and has earmarked dealing with the cost-of-living crisis by stimulating the economy as a priority.

Delivered by the Prince of Wales in lieu of the Queen, who dropped out of the ceremony for the first time since 1963 due to health issues, the speech also outlined further support for Ukraine in the war against Russia, levelling-up initiatives to reduce regional inequality, and tougher penal measures against disruptive protest groups.

Also, among the 38 bills and draft bills included in this year’s speech was legislation on issues such as energy security, climate change and handing ministers new post-Brexit powers.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said that the economic reforms outlined in the government’s agenda would benefit households in their struggle against rising prices, but no single bill in the Queen’s Speech outlined a direct method of intervention.

Johnson said: “We must…remember that for every pound of taxpayers' money we spend on reducing bills now, it is a pound we are not investing in bringing down bills and prices over the longer term.

“If anything, this moment makes clear our best remedy lies in urgently delivering on our mission to turbo-charge the economy, create jobs and spread opportunity across the country.

"However great our compassion and commitment, we cannot simply spend our way out of problems."

The PM also warned that the government would not be able to “shield everyone” from the impact of rising prices, with inflation set to hit heights of 10 per cent later this year according to the Bank of England.

The prime minister’s spokesman separately said: “The public understand that we've already acted to address some of the immediate challenges facing the public. The prime minister and the chancellor are very upfront that no government could address all of these global pressures that we're seeing.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said that although “times are tough for working people” in the UK, they are “much tougher than they should be” after 12 years of Conservative governance and accused the Tories of not being fit for growing the economy of the country.

Sir Keir said: “Some 12 years of the Conservatives have meant low economic growth, high inflation, and high taxes.

“Because the Tories are not up to the challenge of growing the economy, all those tax hikes aren't going into improving public services. Never before have people been asked to pay so much for so little.”

Sir Keir also called the government's agenda "bereft of ideas" and lacking of a "road map for delivery" of measures to curb inflation and tackle the cost-of-living crisis. 

Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Ed Davey, criticised the lack of direct action to help families in any of the bills, saying that millions of households across the country would be left “bitterly disappointed” by the amount of emphasis placed on resolving the cost-of-living crisis now.

The SNP’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, said that the Queen's Speech only constituted “deafening silence” as more and more people were plunged into poverty.

Elsewhere in the government’s agenda, seven bills focused on delivering some of the benefits of leaving the European Union. These included a Brexit Freedoms Bill intended to hand ministers new powers to override EU laws that were drafted over into those of the UK after Brexit, and a Bill of Rights which will replace some of the provisions in the Human Rights Act.

There were no direct references to any legislation which could enable the government to override the Northern Ireland Protocol which has effectively created a trade border in the Irish Sea, but the Queen’s Speech did make references toward protecting and upholding the Good Friday Agreement.

The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will change planning rules by giving councils new powers, which includes a provision to force landlords in England to let out empty shop units to help stimulate UK high streets.

Within the agenda was also a Public Order Bill, which makes it a criminal offence to “interfere with key national infrastructure.” The legislation is intended to crackdown on the activities of disruptive protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion, who have obstructed airports, roads and railways in the past.

Elsewhere, the Energy Security Bill outlined plans to ramp up the UK’s renewable energy production and create a market for electric heat pumps, which the government said will “accelerate” the country’s move toward “more secure, more affordable and cleaner homegrown energy supplies”.

Trade unions have, however, expressed disappointment over the lack of an Employment Bill targeted toward improving the rights of workers.

In the Queen’s Speech of 2019, the government first announced plans for such a bill but no legislation has thus far been forthcoming.

Unions said that the government was guilty of “turning its back” on workers following the Queen’s Speech, having hoped for legislation to uphold flexible working rights, protections against pregnancy discrimination, and rights for hospitality staff to keep all their tips.

The contents of the Queen’s Speech will be debated in Parliament over the coming days. 

Photo by Marcin Nowak on Unsplash

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Scott Challinor
Business Editor
May 11th 2022, 12:01am

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