There were few surprises in this year’s Queen’s Speech which sets out the Government’s to do list for this parliament. As always, we await further details as the full Bills and proposals are published. A number of welcome plans were announced, mostly representing a continuation of promises made before the General Election –increasing investment into the NHS by £8bn a year by 2020, a seven-day NHS and increased integration of health and social care.
The Government also reconfirmed 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.
We were also very pleased that the Queen’s Speech referred to the importance of dignity and security in retirement since in our view these two principles should underpin all policy and legislation affecting older people. The Government announced that they planned to bring forward proposals for a Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act. Since the Human Rights Act came into force some fifteen years ago older people have been able to use it to protect and give effect to their rights, including their rights to be treated with dignity and respect, free of abuse and neglect, in health and care settings.
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. We hope the Government will consult widely in developing its proposals in this area and will consider carefully how older people’s human rights can best be safeguarded and ideally enhanced. Any weakening of them would be a source of great concern to Age UK.
A number of the Bills announced don’t on the face of it offer much to improve the lives of older people. But the Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill could be amended to improve support and opportunities to help older unemployed workers back into jobs; the Housing Bill could be amended to encourage more homes built to the lifetime standards.
The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill provides an important opportunity to develop age-friendly services and infrastructures and facilitate greater integration of health and social care. Age UK will be working hard over the course of the Parliament to ensure that the government’s agenda takes into account the needs and lives of older people to make the UK a great place to grow older.