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The Queen’s Speech, and the implications for charities

Dr Clare Mills shares her reaction to the Queen's Speech and is left wondering if a ground-shifting moment in history will be matched by any ground-shifting policies.

 

It felt as though something ground-shifting was taking place. For the first time in her reign, the Queen did not attend Parliament today to take part in the State Opening, and her speech – the speech written by the Government – was delivered by HRH Prince Charles, who is next in line to the throne.

But alongside that feeling of watching history in the making, I felt disappointed. The speech, setting out the legislative programme for the next session of Parliament, felt really unambitious. Maybe that was due to the brevity of the text and I need to find out more about the details. Maybe it was the language used. Maybe it was because we’ve heard so much over the past few years about freedom to make our own laws, our taking back of control, our having ‘world-beating’ systems and solutions to various crises and situations.

But what in the speech is relevant to the charity sector, which covers such a broad range of activities and organisations from neighbourliness to formal volunteering, tiny volunteer-led groups to massive organisations providing a huge range of social benefits? This splits into two areas: charity management and operations, and social need.

Under ‘charity management and operations’ I’m thinking about the public sector procurement bill, for a start. The UK’s public sector spends around £290 billion each year and anything that helps charities have better opportunities to bid for contracts – diversifying their income and spreading their risk – is a help. Having said that, there’s a lot of work to do on making sure the legislation and regulations recognise and support charities to participate. (More on that from CFG in the next couple of months.)

I also want to understand what’s going to be involved in data protection reform. The introduction of the GDPR led to a huge amount of work for many charities – work that was, to be fair, overdue – but the transition to UK GDPR has been almost painless. So what does the Government have in mind? Whether we’re looking after data relating to beneficiaries, donors, staff or other stakeholders, we need to have time to understand and prepare for any changes. If we can contribute to thinking ahead of those changes being rolled out, even better.

On accounting and reporting, CFG has always supported the strengthening of the reporting framework for both the private and charity sectors. However, if the government abandons the proposals it set out last year, the charity sector will heave a sigh of relief. Those proposals , if fully implemented, would have swept many charities into a framework specifically designed for private enterprises, piling additional and unnecessary administrative and reporting burdens on them.

As ever, the detail will be crucial to understanding the implications behind policy and proposed legislation.

‘Social need’ is relevant to the purpose and impact of organisations of all shapes and sizes across the charity sector. The Queen’s Speech is where the Government sets out its direction as well as detailing pieces of legislation. Its opening paragraphs covered the core aims of this Government: to grow and strengthen the economy, driving up living standards and easing the cost of living crisis, level up, and support more people into work. All laudable, and hard to disagree with. So often, people from across the political spectrum agree on where we, as a country, want to be – but they disagree fiercely on how we get there.

The cost of living crisis is not going to be over quickly. Charities are working to support more and more people living in poverty or very close to its edges. When people are having to choose between heating and eating – and in some cases being able to afford neither – we will inevitably see the impact in so many areas.

Reform of the Mental Health Act won’t take away the long-term effects of stress which come from living in poverty. Educational reform on standards won’t help hungry children learn better. Older people and those with disabilities will rely more heavily on our NHS if they cannot keep themselves warm and fed.

Strengthening consumer rights might help with challenging those energy bills and mistakes by suppliers – but they don’t strengthen the consumers themselves, who are worn down by stress and anxiety over their precarious financial situation.

There was also a feeling of disconnect between the Government’s pledge to defend democracy and freedom across the world, while at the same time strengthening police powers here in the UK – we’ve already seen the start of that with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 which curtails our freedom to protest and demonstrate (among other things).

Charities and the wider charitable sector will continue to be there for the people in need, the families at breaking point, the veterans who cannot adjust into civilian life, the older people who feel forgotten and devalued, the communities that consider themselves so far beyond reach that levelling up is a meaningless phrase.

Charities will continue to campaign for system change, for policy change, which will tackle social problems and improve life chances.

Which I guess that brings me back to the lack of Government ambition I said I felt. Charities across the country are ambitious about the scale of social need, benefits to us all of tackling those needs and the impact of thriving, healthy and, yes, levelled up communities. But I didn’t get the same sense of ambition from the Government today. I hope I’m proved wrong when I can see the detail.

This post was last reviewed on 11 May 2022 at 09:54
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