Unite has said that the government has once again consigned ordinary families to the scrapheap after today’s (May 10) Queen’s Speech setting out the government’s legislative agenda failed to include any substantive measures to either address the cost of living crisis or protect workers.
Cost of living crisis
In the Queen’s Speech, this year delivered by Prince Charles, the government said it would “grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families”, but no measures were announced that would provide emergency relief for millions of households who are struggling with skyrocketing food and energy costs.
Instead, only vague pledges to grow the economy through investment in skills and infrastructure, alongside tax cuts and other longer-term measures were offered, with no indication that any immediate relief for families was on the table.
Indeed, in an introduction to the Queen’s Speech, prime minister Boris Johnson pointedly highlighted that emergency measures would not be forthcoming.
“We must remember that for every pound of taxpayer’s 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,” he said.
The government’s inaction comes at a time when a new analysis has found that more than one in seven adults has skipped meals in the last month because of rising food prices. The number of people who are struggling to afford food has shot by 57 per cent in the last four months alone, the Food Foundation found.
A new TUC poll published last week revealed just how strongly voters – including a majority of Conservative voters – feel that the government is failing to act on the cost of living crisis.
The poll found that nearly three-quarters – 73 per cent – of voters who voted in last week’s local elections said they believed the government ‘has not done enough’ to help with the rising cost of living. More than half – 53 per cent – of Conservative voters, also agreed that ministers had failed to do enough on the cost of living, with only a third believing they have.
Crucially, a strong majority of voters – 71 per cent – believed the cost of living crisis was the most important issue facing the country, followed by the NHS and public services.
In the 38 new bills introduced in the Queen’s Speech was a ‘public order bill’, which many fear will severely curtail the right to peaceful protest. The bill will make it a criminal offence punishable by up to in some cases 12 months in prison and unlimited fines for interfering with public infrastructure, or transport works including construction or maintenance projects, during protests. The bill will also expand police’s stop and search powers.
Many of the measures mooted in the bill were rejected in the House of Lords when they were initially included in the police and crime bill passed earlier this year. The new public order bill is thought to be a way to circumvent these initial rejections.
Responding to the new public order bill, Sam Grant, head of policy and campaigns at civil liberties group Liberty told the Big Issue, “These rehashed measures to crack down on protest in today’s Queen’s Speech are yet another power grab from a government determined to shut down accountability.
“Protest is a right, not a gift from the state – and measures like these are designed to stop ordinary people making their voices heard.”
‘Siding with bad bosses’
The long-delayed employment bill – legislation to improve workers’ rights which has been promised by ministers an astonishing 20 times since it was first pledged in 2019 — was again dropped from the Queen’s Speech.
In a token gesture to ferry workers, 800 of whom were illegally sacked without warning by their employer P&O Ferries earlier this year, a new bill was laid out in the Queen’s Speech which will allow UK ports to block ships that fail to pay their workers the minimum wage.
But as critics have highlighted, the bill will do nothing to prevent another P&O scandal from happening again – and does nothing to hold those who broke the law in sacking their workers without consultation accountable.
In response to the Queen’s Speech, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham hit out at the lack of action to address the cost of living crisis.
“Workers and communities are suffering,” she said. “We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis and a recession is looming. So where is the programme to address these issues head on? Where are the laws to stop profiteering and prevent attacks on workers? Where is the help for the millions who are already faced with the shocking decision of whether to heat or eat?
“This government has totally failed to deliver,” Graham added. “Instead it has served up slogans, sided with bad bosses and rolled out yet more assaults on our freedoms to protest.
“We are hearing lots of talk, but that is all it is – talk, not action. This is why voters look at Westminster and despair and it has to change. Unite will remain focused on protecting jobs, raising pay and improving lives, and I am determined that we will wake up Westminster in the process.”
By Hajera Blagg