Queen’s Speech 2022: Another missed opportunity to improve working conditions for millions of low-paid and insecure workers

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Big Ben

Last week, the Work Foundation set out three key tests for the Queen’s Speech to help judge whether both the short and long-term policies and measures announced are likely to make working lives better.

With a General Election just a couple of years away and with families across the UK struggling to make ends meet amidst the cost of living crisis, the Speech was a key opportunity for the Government to set out its legislative agenda. The Speech, delivered by the Prince of Wales, set out 38 Bills to support its manifesto pledges and to ‘grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families’.

Our analysis suggests that the Government’s agenda is set to fail to support thousands of workers in insecure jobs and people struggling to make ends meet. Although the focus on Levelling Up agenda is welcomed, this year’s speech again ultimately lacked the clarity on how this will be funded.

1. Has the UK Government provided security to low-paid and insecure workers?

The long overdue Employment Bill to strengthen workers’ rights was again noticeably absent in today’s speech. First introduced in the Conservative Party Manifesto in 2019, the Bill promised to promote fairness in the workplace, offer greater protections for workers on flexibility and redundancy and create a new single enforcement body dealing with any employer abusing employment law.

Prioritising this Bill was particularly important in light of the shocking treatment of 800 members by P&O Ferries, who replaced them with cheaper agency workers. Although this particular event received great attention, we know that insecure work is a consistent part of the UK labour market. According to a Living Wage Foundation research, there were 3.7 million people in the UK working in low paid and insecure jobs in 2021.

An Employment Bill would have provided an opportunity for the Government to set out a clear agenda to deliver their aim of a ‘high wage, high skill’ economy. It is disappointing that no alternative legislation or proposals were put forward to increase minimum wage enforcement powers, reform sick pay or around flexible working.

With just two years of this Parliament to go until a General Election, it is highly unlikely low paid workers in insecure jobs will be provided with further security by this Government.

2. Are there proposals for how Levelling-Up will be measured, funded and delivered to meet 2030 ambition?

A Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill was included in today’s speech, following on from the Levelling-Up White Paper which was published in February 2022 and promised to boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards across the UK.

The new legislation aims to “spread opportunity and prosperity across the UK”, but there remains little detail as to how the majority of ‘Levelling Up Missions’ will be funded or delivered. It also seems like the Government is missing an important point by not seeing the strengthening of workers’ rights as part of the wider Levelling up agenda. We know that without empowering workers and spreading good work across the country, it will be impossible to boost productivity, pay, jobs and living standards.

3. Have proposals been put forward to ensure those who would benefit most from upskilling can access training and development?

Last year’s Queen’s Speech introduced the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill that aims to improve post-16 education as part of the Covid-19 recovery plans. This was also considered a key aspect of the Government’s Levelling-Up agenda for 200,000 more people a year to complete skills training in England.

The Bill introduced in 2021 lacked measures to support those who are more likely to face additional barriers in accessing upskilling and training, and there have been no further announcements. Work Foundation research has demonstrated that workers most in need of upskilling are the ones least likely to access it. We know that workers in low-paid jobs, people with caring responsibilities and those having time pressures struggle in accessing training. There is a need for developing more effective policies that support groups that are more likely to face barriers in accessing training and development policies.

Ultimately, today’s speech was both a missed opportunity to commit to providing additional support to millions of working families through the immediate cost of living crisis, as well as proposals to deliver higher quality, better paid and more secure jobs to level-up the UK over the longer term. In the absence of these measures, it will be increasingly challenging for the Government to deliver on its wider ambitions to grow the economy and increase prosperity.


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