On 21 June 2017, the Queen's Speech announced the Government's proposed legislation for the new parliament. How will these proposals affect older people? We look at the key announcements, and explain what they might mean for us.
The speech unsurprisingly focused on Brexit with 8 of the 27 bills and draft bills included in the speech about the UK’s departure from the EU.
The most significant announcement for older people was that 'Ministers will work to improve social care and will bring forward proposals for consultation.'
Newly announced Bills
Financial Guidance and Claims Bill
The Bill will combine three financial advice bodies into one, ensuring that people across the UK are able to seek the help and advice they need to manage their finances. The Bill will:
- establish a new statutory body, accountable to Parliament, with responsibility for coordinating the provision of debt advice, money guidance, and pension guidance;
- transfer the regulation of claims management services to the Financial Conduct Authority, and transfer complaints-handling responsibility to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Age UK's comments:
'One of the ways to prevent older people becoming financially excluded is to ensure access to information, guidance and advice - and Age UK believe this needs to be improved.
'We took part in the government’s recent consultation process about the future of Money Advice Service, The Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise and support the proposal to create one agency. We hope to continue to contribute experience and expertise to this process.'
Draft Patient Safety Bill
The draft Bill will set out a framework to help improve patient safety in the NHS by establishing the Health Service Safety Investigation Body in statute and providing it with clear powers to conduct independent and impartial investigations into patient safety risks in the NHS in England.
Age UK's comments
'Older people can be highly susceptible to patient safety risks, whether it is:
- a fall in hospital;
- being on medication that is actively doing them harm;
- or developing pressure sores and immobility in residential and nursing homes.
'We are pleased that the government appear to be taking this seriously, though it is just as important that there is an equal focus on ensuring the resources and training for health and care staff is adequate to deliver high quality care.
'Care settings and traditional approaches to treatment – for example that can leave older people stranded in hospital beds for days on end – must be adapted to provide high quality, dignified care for older people.'
Data Protection Bill
The Bill will fulfil a manifesto commitment to ensure the UK updates its data protection regime. The Bill will replace the Data Protection Act by strengthening individuals’ rights to have more control over their personal data including a right to be forgotten when individuals no longer want their data to be processed, provided that there are no legitimate grounds for retaining it.
Age UK's comments:
'This bill will have a significant impact on all organisations that hold personal data, including charities.'
Other proposals and areas where no immediate legislation is planned
Consumer and energy markets
The Queen's Speech said, 'My Government will ensure fairer markets for consumers. This will include bringing forward measures to help tackle unfair practices in the energy market to help reduce energy bills.'
- The Government will publish a green paper that will closely examine markets which are not working fairly for consumers.
- The Government have committed to extending the price protection to more of those on the poorest value tariffs. This may be through regulation or legislation.
- The Government will introduce a Smart Meter Bill to continue to support the smart meter rollout. They will also support initiatives to improve switching and transparency in the market.
Age UK's comments:
'We welcome the Government’s commitment to examine markets which are not working for consumers. Many older people suffer when contracts are unfair or unclear or where switching provider is a complex process.
'Measures to help older people to manage their energy bills and ensure a fair energy pricing system are also welcome. While many older people are savvy consumers, we know from other industries that older people are, overall, less likely to engage with the market and switch supplier or tariff. As a result, they often pay steadily higher prices over time.
'There are over 2.4 million fuel poor households in England alone, with a fuel poverty gap of nearly £900 million (which equates to an average of £370 per household). The impacts of fuel poverty can be wide ranging and severe, with health impacts being uppermost among certain groups including older people.'
The Queen's Speech said, 'We will consult and look to take action to promote transparency and fairness for leaseholders. We will look at the sale of leasehold houses and onerous ground rents, working with property developers, the Competition and Markets Authority and others as outlined in the Housing White Paper.'
Age UK's comments:
'It seems likely that this will take forward the Law Commission recommendations to make exit fees transparent to prospective purchasers.
'Age UK took part in discussions on this and still has ongoing concerns about exit fees that are not connected to the delivery of a service, especially in more mainstream types of retirement scheme. We hope there is an opportunity to broaden out the reform to look at other aspects of leasehold exploitation and bad practice.
'Age UK has argued for better regulation of service charges, managing agents and stronger legal protection for all older residents. The abolition of ground rent would be positive, especially as there is a notable lack of clarity over what it is meant to pay for.
'This issue has arisen in relation to leasehold housing but we would also like to see the abolition of ground rent for all retirement schemes. Part of the debate is whether "leasehold" overall is fit for purpose for retirement schemes or whether we need a new approach such as the "commonhold" system – versions of which exist in many other countries and give residents stronger rights.'
The Queen's Speech said, 'The Government will begin to consider what further reform of mental health legislation is necessary, including changes in how the Act is implemented on the ground.
'The Government will invest in new services across the whole spectrum of mental health conditions. In particular, making further improvements in early intervention, investing in community services and expanding access to 24/7 crisis care support both in the community and in A&E.'
Age UK's comments:
'Age UK welcomes the Government’s continued pledge to improve mental health care, including through new legislation around the implementation of the Mental Health Act.
'However, the challenge will be to ensure that efforts truly benefit all age groups, including children and young people, adults and older people, so that everyone experiencing mental health issues can gain from improvements in the system and achieve better outcomes.
'Historically older people haven’t always been able to access the support they need for their mental health and wellbeing, with some being told that low mood and depression are “just a part of ageing”. We know that older people with common mental health conditions are more likely to be on drug therapies and less likely to be receiving psychological therapies compared to other age groups.
'On the other hand, we also know that older people aged 75 and over experience the highest rates of detention under the Mental Health Act and that the number of detentions is increasing year on year, including inappropriate detentions in police cells.
'It is time that older people's mental health is given the attention it urgently needs.'
The Queen's Speech said: 'My Ministers will work to ensure people have the skills they need for the high skilled, high-wage jobs of the future, including through a major reform of technical education.'
Age UK's comments:
'Once again there was no specific mention of older workers when the Government laid out its plans for skills reform. The State Pension Age is rising and if the Government wants us to work for longer then we should be assisted to do so with training and back to work support.'
Age UK's thoughts on tackling the care crisis
In response to the Queen’s Speech, Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:
'We are very pleased that the Government is pressing ahead with a Social Care Green Paper.
'A sustainable solution for social care is urgently required and for Age UK this needs to include:
- a cast-iron Government commitment to fill the yawning funding gap;
- help for the 1.2 million older people with an unmet need for care;
- measures to improve quality and keep providers and care staff from quitting;
- and some kind of compulsory ‘risk pooling’ to protect everyone of all ages from catastrophic care costs.
'We hope that ideas like these will form the starting point for the Green Paper. The proposals set out in the Conservative Party Manifesto were insufficiently thought through and involved a major shift of financial liability onto older people and their families, and there was a lack of clarity as to what they might receive in return which might make such policies fair and worthwhile from their point of view.
'There was also no recognition that many older people and their families are already paying a great deal for social care and not always receiving a good service in return. It is critical that this consultation process results in real reform to the social care system which is so desperately needed.'