The King’s Speech 2023 | What was (or wasn’t) announced?
Last week, the King officially opened the UK Parliament, delivering a speech outlining what legislation the UK Government plans to bring forward in the final parliamentary year before the country goes to the polls for a General Election.
It has been widely regarded as a thin legislative programme, with some expected legislative plans omitted. Indeed, only 21 Bills were announced, including seven carried over from last year, the lowest number since 2014.
What was announced?
The UK Government reaffirmed their commitment to delivering on the controversial Illegal Migration Act, which it claims will ‘stop dangerous and illegal channel crossings.’ BASW unequivocally opposed this legislation every step of the way during its passage this year, making clear our reservations that it will lead to an unfair and ineffective asylum system. We’re continuing to challenge it and, in advance of the General Election, have set out our intention to lobby all parties to repeal the legislation in the next parliament.
The Renters Reform Bill has been carried over into this parliamentary session. However, the abolition of no-fault evictions in England through a section 21 notice, a key aspect of the Bill, has been delayed indefinitely until after the court system is reformed.
A raft of proposed legislation was announced aimed at strengthening the criminal justice system in England and Wales, including a Sentencing Bill, Criminal Justice Bill and Victims & Prisoners Bill. On healthcare, the government committed to delivering on the NHS Workforce Plan and its intention to raise the legal age for buying cigarettes by one year, every year in England. BASW England has previously expressed disappointment that social work is missing from the NHS Workforce Plan, despite extensive engagement with Ministers.
What was missing?
Worryingly, there was no mention of a Mental Health Bill for England and Wales, despite the UK Government previously committing to much-needed reform of the Mental Health Act in this parliament. BASW England has written to the Prime Minister alongside partners within the Mental Health Alliance to express deep concern at the decision to omit these plans and call for resources now to improve mental health care and community support more widely so people can receive treatment and support when they need it.
Another commitment that has been dropped is legislating to fully ban conversion therapy. Proposals to protect against abhorrent conversion therapy practices in England and Wales have been pledged under every Prime Minister since Theresa May but have yet to make it into law. BASW strongly supports a comprehensive ban on all forms of conversion therapy on the basis of sexuality or gender identity, and we’re therefore very disappointed that the government has once again not acted upon introducing it.
The Home Secretary’s recent proposals to restrict the use of tents by homeless people had led to speculation it would be included in the King’s Speech. However, thankfully, it was left out. BASW called out the Home Secretary for her ‘unhelpful and misguided’ approach to this issue, which completely failed to grasp or address the root causes of homelessness and rough sleeping. Regrettably, there was no mention in the King’s Speech of policies that would actually tackle homelessness and the housing crisis, such as investing in social housing.
Despite publishing plans earlier this year to reform children’s social care in England in response to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, it was conspicuously absent in the King’s Speech. As was any mention of policies to alleviate increasing poverty levels across the UK as a result of the soaring cost-of-living. It’s deeply frustrating that the UK Government has chosen not to include both these areas as political priorities.
Next up: Autumn Statement
On 22 November the Chancellor will announce his Autumn Statement, outlining the UK Government’s spending priorities for the year ahead.
BASW has made a written submission to the Treasury putting forward our case for where we want the Chancellor to focus public spending. The top three issues we have focused on are:
- Tackling Poverty
- Improving Working Conditions
- Funding Services Properly
Deepening cost-of-living pressures is placing serious strain on households across the UK. We therefore want to see the UK Government implement the asks in our campaign- Social Work Stands Against Poverty.
We’ve also called for a series of policy measures to better support the social work and social care workforce; including increasing the mileage allowance rate, restore the remote working allowance, improve student bursary support and scale up investment in adult social care and mental health.
Ultimately, we need the UK Government to spend now on early intervention, prevention and on addressing workforce recruitment and retention issues.
A full copy of the King’s Speech 2023 can be found here.