The Coalition Government has declared this a “family friendly” Queen’s Speech. But is it? The Department for Making Hope Possible is staffed entirely by people who have families and are friendly, so who better to give the Queen’s Speech the once over to assess its family-friendliness?
With thanks to The Guardian whose original piece (http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/may/09/queens-speech-bills-what-mean) has been shamelessly snaffled to form the basis of this evaluation.
A bill to reform the House of Lords has been included in the Queen’s speech as one of three constitutional bills, but severe doubts remain that the reforms will reach the statute book, as David Cameron’s aides continue to pour cold water over the plans.
DfMHP says: Bad news for the families of remaining hereditary peers, but – with their Lordships showing more humanity and common sense in the recent past than MPs in the commons – good news for increased democratic legitimacy of the upper chamber and thereby for the rest of us. Not directly family-friendly though, unless you’re a Kinnock in which case, it’s your “home from home”.
The Cabinet Office is also stewarding a bill to switch from household to individual voter registration, a measure promised by the outgoing Labour government. The new register is due to be in place by 2014.
There is deep concern that even more poor people will fall off the register. The number of registered voters in turn determines the shape of parliamentary constituencies.
In addition, the Cabinet Office says work on winning Commonwealth agreement to reform the rules governing succession to the crown will continue. These reforms would remove the right of men to have preference over women in succession to the crown, and also remove any discrimination against Catholics.
DfMHP says: Good news for Princesses but bad news for paupers who risk being disenfranchised. De-recognising households as the basis for registering voters seems like an anti-family move.
Elderly people and disabled adults will be given more power to make decisions about the care and support they receive under a social care bill. Existing laws scattered around at least a dozen acts will be consolidated in a single statute, supported by new regulations and guidance.
But more fundamental reform that campaigners say is needed to end a “crisis” in England’s care system will not appear until the much delayed publication of a white paper, expected in the summer. Significantly, the Queen’s speech includes only a draft care and support bill, which makes no mention of financial arrangements for care.
DfMHP says: Creates a couple of quangos along the way, but in terms of real impact on social care? These are not the reforms you are looking for.
Building services around users’ wishes sounds great, but shifts responsibility neatly to users articulating their wishes. Will it make it easier for relatives and carers to commission the support they need? Yeah – for the smart, articulate, capable ones.
Children and families – so the most “family focused” bit of the speech…
More flexible leave for parents, father-friendly access arrangements following relationship breakups, faster adoption processes and better help for special needs pupils will be included in a new children and families bill, designed to be a central plank of government policy.
Focusing on the shakeup of family justice to deliver a “fairer” system for parents, ministers signalled that the government did not accept last year’s family justice review, which warned against introducing a legal presumption of shared parenting. The review said such a move could create an “unacceptable risk of damage to children”.
However, the Queen’s speech included a consultation on legal options to strengthen the law in England and Wales to ensure that, “where it is safe and in the child’s best interests”, both parents are able to have a relationship with their sons and daughters after they split up.
The bill also sets out plans to speed up adoption and care proceedings and give more support to disabled children. The bill will create a six-month time limit for family courts in England and Wales to reach decisions on whether children should be taken into care and will require the court to take into account the impact of delays on the child. Many social workers argue that they are unable to tackle delays in other parts of the system – such as family courts. In another long-trailed announcement, the new bill will stop local authorities in England from delaying adoptions in the hope of finding a perfect racial match for the child if there are couples waiting to adopt.
DfMHP says: Govt ignores professional advice about risk to children, prioritises “father-friendly access” over children’s wishes, values speed over the quality of decision-making in adoption and care proceedings and indulges myths about systems and processes rather than listening to families and professionals who have children’s interests at heart.
As a side-effect, this’ll work out Ok for some (for whom things would probably have worked out anyway). If this is “family-friendly”, I’m Perry the Platypus.
Justice and security
The government has accelerated plans to expand secret hearings into civil courts. Rather than moving to the preparatory white paper stage, a justice and security bill will be put through parliament this session. Human rights groups and many lawyers, including those vetted to represent alleged victims of wrongful behaviour by MI5 and MI6, are alarmed at the proposals, warning that evidence that cannot be tested in court may be unreliable and could lead to miscarriages of justice.
DfMHP says: Ah yes, because disregarding human rights is just sooooo family friendly. Good if you’re a spook, maybe? Though not perhaps if you’re the family of a spook. They do like to keep their secrets secret, don’t they?
0/10 (plus some gentle throwing of stuff)
The bill to track everyone’s email, Facebook, text and internet use has proved to be one of the most controversial within the coalition and has been slow-streamed in the government’s legislative timetable after last-minute coalition talks. The measure, criticised by civil liberty campaigners as a “snooper’s charter”, has been taken out of a more general Home Office and Ministry of Justice-sponsored crime and courts bill, which ministers need to get on to the statute book as fast as possible.
DfMHP says: Wouldn’t it be great if an opposition coalition of liberals and libertarian right-wingers sank this miserable attack on our civil liberties from the get-go? What do you mean, it’s a coalition of liberals and libertarian right-wingers implementing it!? Oh.
Everyone knows Facebook snooping only leads to family arguments. Least family-friendly measure yet.
The government signalled its determination to press ahead with banking reform in the Queen’s speech but intends to provide more details on 14 June when George Osborne delivers his Mansion House speech. The white paper outlining how the government intends to force banks to detach their high street and investment divisions will be published alongside the chancellor’s set-piece speech next month.
DfMHP says: Wasn’t it high street mortgages and other household lending every bit as much as investment banking that caused this latest slump (certainly Wozzizface Hammond thinks so)? Anyhow, good news if families are being protected from the cost of future bailouts; not so good that we’re all still paying for this one.
A draft defamation bill was subject to close scrutiny in the last parliamentary session but now appears as fully developed proposals in this year’s legislative agenda. Lord Mawhinney, chairman of the joint Commons and Lords committee on the draft defamation bill, said current libel laws were “far too expensive, which is a barrier to all but the richest”.
DfMHP says: Of no interest at all to the vast majority of ordinary families.
Crime and courts
The separate crime and courts bill will set up the National Crime Agency from next April, speed up immigration appeals and strengthen the powers of UK Border Force officers. It will also include proposals to introduce television cameras into courts, reform judicial appointments and allow magistrates sitting on their own to operate from community centres and police stations to deal with low-level uncontested cases within days or even hours of arrest.
DfMHP says: Good news for broadcasters seems unlikely to be good news for Justice. And magistrates dispensing “speedy” dispute resolution from community centres sounds like a recipe for young people in particular to be pressured into not contesting allegations that will leave them with a criminal record.
Plans for a flat-rate state pension initially worth about £140 a week were included in the Queen’s speech as part of a shakeup that will also bring forward an increase in the state pension age to 67 between 2026 and 2028.
The government paper said it was “committing to ensuring that the state pension age is increased in future to take into account increases in longevity”.
DfMhP says: Look at what the Marmot Review says about the relationship between socio-economic status and longevity, and realise that this won’t make a big difference to all those whose disability-free life expectancy ends 20years before pension age.
Public sector pensions
Ministers are pressing ahead with their controversial reforms of public sector pensions. The changes mean millions of workers will have to “work longer, pay more and get less” at retirement.
DfMHP says: Public sector workers have families too. The race to the bottom helps no one.
Small donations bill
Designed to allow charities, notably small charities, to claim additional payments to help boost their income. Charities will no longer have to collect gift aid declarations on small donations, but will instead receive a top-up payment for donations of £20 or less.
DfMHP says: Good news for small charities. Many of which help poor families.
Reform of the electricity market to deliver secure, clean and affordable electricity and ensure prices are fair.
DfMHP says: If only!
Enterprise and regulatory reform bill
Legislation will be introduced to reduce regulations on businesses, repealing legislation considered unnecessary and limiting state inspections. Competition law will be reformed with the aim of promoting enterprise and fair markets, and a Green Investment Bank will be established.
DfMHP says: Hahahahaha! When does less regulation ever benefit the consumer? Caveat emptor reigns. Family buyers, beware! (Couple of points cos families run businesses too).
Groceries adjudicator bill
An independent adjudicator will be established to ensure supermarkets deal fairly and lawfully with suppliers.
DfMHP says: But not customers? (Couple of points cos families are suppliers too).
Draft local audit bill
A draft bill will be published setting out measures to close the Audit Commission and establish new arrangements for the audit of local public bodies.
DfMHP says: Hmmmm.
European Union (approval of treaty amendment decision) bill Parliament’s approval will be sought for the agreed financial stability mechanism within the euro area.
DfMHP says: yeah, like that’ll make a difference to who austerity hits hardest.
Croatia accession bill
This will seek the approval of parliament for the anticipated accession of Croatia to the European Union.
DfMHP says: Good news for Croation families. Maybe.