Photo by Roger Harris licensed under Creative Commons.
This week’s Queen’s Speech set out the Government’s legislative plans for the coming year, including several bills which have implications for older people. We look at these bills below:
Newly announced legislation
Full Employment and Welfare Rights Bill
The Bill will freeze working-age benefits, except for:
- pensioners’ benefits
- benefits relating to the extra costs of disability
- and statutory maternity, paternity and adoption pay.
It will lower the household benefit cap from £26,000 to £23,000. It will also introduce a duty to report annually on progress towards the Government’s targets on employment and (in England) apprenticeships.
National Insurance Contributions Bill/Finance Bill
This bill will peg the rates of income tax, VAT and National Insurance contributions. It confirms that there will be no extension of the scope of VAT. It will also align the upper thresholds for National Insurance and the income tax higher rate threshold.
The Government reaffirms its commitment to raise the income tax personal allowance to £12,500 in future Finance Bills.
Age UK's reaction: Rising income tax allowances will reduce the numbers of people under the age of 65 who pay income tax, and planned increases from 2016-17 will also benefit those aged 65 and over who previously received the higher age-related allowances which have been frozen since 2012-13.
This legislation will fulfil the Government’s commitment to give housing association tenants the Right to Buy and will also make changes to the local planning system.
Age UK's reaction: This measure is unlikely to directly affect housing for older and disabled people, but it may reduce the availability of resources for new affordable homes and investment in specialist housing. The National Housing Federation say that discounts offered under the scheme will cost housing associations £5.8 billion. We hope that planning reforms do not further dilute the requirement on developers to contribute to the supply of affordable homes.
This Bill aims to improve energy security by setting up an independent regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority, to maximise production. It devolves consent powers for onshore wind farms to local planning authorities in England.
Age UK reaction: It is disappointing that there is no reference to the need to tackle fuel poverty and cold homes.
Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill
The Government will use this Bill to provide a new legislative framework to deliver the Greater Manchester deal and 'other future deals in England, both in large cities which choose to have elected mayors and in other places’. The powers would be applied by order to specified areas.
Age UK reaction: We hope that the Bill will facilitate greater integration of health and social care, and also the development of age-friendly services and infrastructure. Age UK believes that the voluntary sector has an important role to play in local development, and looks forward to working to make this vision a reality.
Greater Manchester, and possibly other major English cities, will have additional powers over housing, transport and planning which could help age-friendly infrastructure designed to support independent living. However, many places will not benefit from these devolved powers and these opportunities need to be set in the context of further cuts to local services which curb investment in new infrastructure.
To complement greater devolution of local services, this bill would provide the option for combined authority areas with directly-elected Mayors to be responsible for the running of their local bus services. This power could facilitate integrated transport systems. However, we have seen reductions in bus services outside metropolitan areas that won’t benefit from this reform.
Draft Public Service Ombudsman Bill
The current Parliamentary Ombudsman, Health Ombudsman, Local Government Ombudsman and potentially the Housing Ombudsman would be merged into a single Public Service Ombudsman. We await more detailed proposals which we hope will improve, rather than reduce, access to the ombudsman and the effectiveness of the system.
Votes for Life Bill
This bill will scrap the current 15 year time limit on the voting rights of British citizens living overseas. It will enable older people who have retired abroad to continue voting in UK Parliamentary and European Parliamentary elections.
Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill
This Bill would make it easier to disqualify charity trustees and senior managers, strengthen the powers of the Charity Commission for England and Wales, and (as recommended by the Law Commission) make it easier for charities to make social investments.
Areas where no immediate legislation is planned
Proposals for a British Bill of Rights
The Government will bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act.
Age UK's reaction: Age UK believes that the Human Rights Act provides a strong foundation for preventing abuses of the rights of older people. We therefore welcome the Government’s decision to pause its plans to repeal the Act and will urge it to undertake comprehensive consultation on its proposals for any future human rights legislation.
It is vital that the voices of older people are heard in this process so that the rights that they rely on continue to be recognised and protected, and capable of being effectively enforced. These rights secure freedom from:
- abuse and degrading treatment, as detailed in the Francis Review of the Mid-Staffs NHS Foundation trust;
- unwarranted deprivation of liberty and autonomy, for example locking up people with cognitive decline without due process;
- lack of protection for family and private life such as sending couples to separate care homes;
- and routine discrimination
Age UK continues to be concerned that across the UK all older people receiving care services should be accorded equal human rights protections. Despite the welcome amendment to the Care Act 2014 that confirmed that users of services provided by private and third sector organisations under a contract to, or funded by, the local authority are covered by the Human Rights Act, those arranging and paying for their own care continue to lack its protections.
We will push the Government to prioritise action to close this protection gap.
Health and social care
The Government reconfirms some previous announcements, including increasing investment into the NHS by £8bn a year by 2020, seven-day working and increased integration of health and social care. It will also introduce access and waiting time standards for mental health services.
The Government reconfirms its manifesto commitment to maintain the triple lock for the basic state pension for the remainder of this Parliament, and to continue to protect Winter Fuel Payments, free bus passes, TV licences and free prescriptions for pensioners.