The Government has set out its priorities for the next Parliament in the Queen’s Speech this week. In this blog, our Head of Policy, Communications & Influence Jennifer Harrison looks at what it means for the people we support.
Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech aimed to advance the Government’s agenda around two of its key pillars – Levelling Up and Brexit. Yet while the Speech may have been heavy on content, with 38 new Bills proposed, many have argued that it was far too light on how Government intends to address the rising cost of living and its impact on people’s lives.
Cost of living
At Changing Lives, we are disappointed that the Government has failed to adequately support people who are most affected by the rising cost of living. Already, this is deeply affecting the people we support, many of whom were already living at the sharp end of poverty and social exclusion.
For a single person under 25, single parents or anyone with deductions of up to 25% on their benefits, it is virtually impossible to make ends meet. We are extremely concerned not only about the health implications of inadequate heating or food, but also because we know that people are more vulnerable to exploitation when they are going through tough times.
This week, we are bringing together leaders from across a range of sectors to address the challenge of modern slavery which, although often hidden from view, is pervasive across our communities and only likely to increase as financial hardship bites. We need to see urgent action now to address the rising cost of living, rather than delaying until the challenges people face become more deeply entrenched.
Support for victims
More positively, we welcome proposals to bring forward new legislation that aims to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system, and improve support for victims of sexual violence, domestic abuse and serious violence.
Changing Lives, along with charities Ashiana, A Way Out, Basis Yorkshire, GROW, The Angelou Centre, Together Women, and WomenCentre Calderdale and Kirklees, are working together to support women who are facing sexual exploitation in areas where there are recent or live sexual exploitation investigations.
The consequences of sexual exploitation are devastating, and too often for the women we support this is compounded when they are denied access to justice – either because their experiences are not recognised or understood, because the experience of going through the criminal justice system is itself highly traumatising, or because they fear they will not be believed.
The Victims Bill therefore presents a significant opportunity to ensure that adult exploitation is properly recognised in law and that the experiences of people facing sexual exploitation change for the better.
After a faltering start for the levelling up agenda, we are pleased to see the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which aims to set the foundations for levelling up through the extension of devolution powers to local areas and place a duty on Government to set and deliver on the ‘missions’ outlined in the Levelling Up White Paper.
Several of the missions have the potential to make a lasting difference to the people we support, including a commitment to high-quality skills training, priority given to increasing healthy life expectancy, wellbeing improvements in every area of the UK, and progress towards achieving safe, secure housing for all.
However, levelling up must be for everyone. To be truly effective, the Bill must be backed up by funding and look to address entrenched disadvantage in communities that have been hardest hit by the loss of public services in recent years and are most affected by social, health and economic inequalities that have only been exacerbated by the Covid-19. We look forward to engaging with the Bill to ensure that levelling up genuinely delivers for the people we support.