Another year, another fancy dress party – however grandiose, the Queen’s Speech gives us an important insight into the political forecast for the year ahead. With the Conservative party now propped up by the politcal wing of the 17th century, May’s political career in jeopardy, and the magnitude of the Brexit divorce looming – the content of the speech was about as unpredictable as the election.
In the fallout from one of the most dramatic electoral outcomes in British political history, it emerged that Corbyn’s campaign had engaged a long disenfranchised youth, unofficial figures suggesting turnout among 18-24’s reached an unprecedented 72%.
The Conservative campaign was defined by suicidal arrogance and complacency. May rambled and blithered in “magic money tree” rhetoric that was devoid of both hope and substance. She failed to realise threats of economic uncertainty do not work on young people whose lives are defined by economic uncertainty. Burdened by student debt, a mental health epidemic and a housing crisis, revenge was sought at the polling stations.
The young have taken their voices back – but was Theresa listening?
1. Commitment to raising the National Living Wage and tackling falling pay
Falling wages in a growing economy – a Tory miracle. In fact the UK was the only large advanced economy between 2007 and 2015 where wages fell while the economy expanded. Analysis from the IFS indicates that the youngest bracket of workers studied bore the brunt of this. The Queen’s speech indicated that raising the national minimum wage and introducing a new statutory body with the responsibility for debt advice and money guidance would be on the legislative agenda. However these policies make only superficial progress in addressing the plight Conservative austerity has inflicted on the most vulnerable in society. It is an irony of gargantuan proportions that a party which receives donations from Adrian Beecroft, the former government adviser and investor in payday lender Wonga aim to appease the electorate by introducing a debt advice body. As for raising the minimum wage, it is worth noting that minimum wage is by no means synonymous with living wage.
Futhermore the government has made no indication that it plans to address a pay structure that is discriminatory on the basis of age and or raise the minimum wage for apprentices which currently sits at a meagre £3.50 per hour. According to the recently published Social Mobility Barometer, only a fifth of 18-24 year olds believe they have a better level of job security compared to their parents and only 17% say they have better job satisfaction. Essentially the Conservative promises outlined in the Queen’s speech offer little in the way of easing the financial strain on our youngest workers.
2. Reforming mental health legislation
The good news is that the Conservative government have made a clear priority of reforming mental health legislation. The prevalence of mental health issues has reached epidemic proportions, suicide is now killing more young women than anything else. The thirty year old piece of legislation surrounding mental health procedure currently in place that according to the last Care Quality Commission may “ultimately impede recovery or even amount to unlawful and unethical practice” is crucial.
While this move is likely to be welcomed among mental health charities and campaigners it has already begun to face criticism for not going far enough, many outline that funding is the underlying issue. The number of teenagers arriving in A&E with a psychiatric condition has doubled since 2009 while Conservative mental health cuts are this year planned to total 4.5 million pounds. These figures come after NHS England said in its Five Year Forward plan that a 1bn investment is needed to sustain services until 2021. The Queen’s Speech offers nothing in the way of addressing the funding crisis – after all that sort of money is better off spent bribing the DUP.
3. The Ministry of Acquired Information – Snoopers Charter the sequel
The manifesto stated that Britain would become “the global leader in the regulation of the use of personal data and the internet”. The Queen’s speech shows no indication that these plans will be watered down as other manifesto commitments have been, and over the coming months we should expect to see the government implementing the relevant legislation. May’s view of technology has been described by Forbes as “puritanical” and “authoritarian” but how much do these new laws really affect us?
So far, May’s government has forced internet companies to keep records on customer’s browsing histories as well as giving ministers the power to break apps with encrypted messaging functions such as WhatsApp so the content can be read. The main aim of the further measures is to pressure all websites of this nature to incorporate a backdoor entry into their coding. Essentially what this does is give the government a means to view any online communicative activity, anytime, anywhere. We are the first generation to grow up in the internet age, and content which was published prior to the bill is still liable to being subject to government review. Aside concerns over privacy and how comfortable we are with the government rifling through our large and extensive online footprints, technology companies insist the more sinister threat this creates is that of security. Experts warn that if the government forces technology companies to create a doorway into their encrypted data they cannot guarantee official sources will be the only ones to gain access. Whether internet surveillance will be able to counteract years of foreign policy that incubated extremist groups only time will tell. All we know for sure is, Theresa May is shutting down the Internet as we know it.
4. Tenant’s Fees Bill – The end of landlords exploiting Generation Rent?
Private sector renting has become characterised by the exploitative tactics employed by landlords and agents to force tenants into paying hidden fees. The Draft Tenant’s Fee Bill bans both landlords and agents from requiring tenants to pay letting fees as a condition of their tenancy and aims to enforce more transparency across the industry. I have personal experience with the bite these fees can make on a student budget, in a household of five we were charged a collective £1000 in agency fees. Deposits will also be limited to one month’s rent, a policy I again welcome having paid approximately twice that.
The government must protect young and vulnerable citizens by ensuring this legislation is properly enforced. Campaign group Generation Rent found that the existing law that forces letting agents to publish their fees was being ignored by one agent in eight. In order to properly amend the problem greater deterrent is necessary to punish those who do not comply with the law and scrutiny placed on the 41% of landlords who said they intended to pass on costs to tenants via rent.
EU hats and Dennis Skinner quips aside, what we heard at this years Queen’s Speech was essentially a skeletal manifesto from a Conservative government with brittle DUP joints. As citizens of the sixth richest country in the world, the millennial generation ought to expect more from this Queen’s speech and more from this government.