Little respect for care

On the eve of the Queen’s Speech we were treated to the sight of
work and pensions secretary David Blunkett trying to appear
conciliatory as he prepared the ground for some of the harshest
welfare reform legislation since 1997. It may be that his new, more
consultative mood will soothe some of the critics, but the
underlying aim to shift up to one million incapacity benefit
claimants into work will do nothing to help disabled people enjoy
the “culture of respect” to which the government aspires.

Ministers may have to reinvent themselves to cope with the
realities of the new House of Commons, where a revolt by a mere 34
Labour MPs would be enough to overturn the government’s best laid
plans, but the 45 bills announced in the speech are a vehicle for
the same old policies. Tough on much more than benefits, the
government also set out yet again to be tough on immigration, tough
on crime and tough even on mental illness as the highly restrictive
Mental Health Bill made another comeback. And then there were steps
to give schools more power to acquire foundation status or become
city academies with private investment and influence.

There is little comfort here for social care. Disabled people will
be justifiably angry that the Department for Work and Pensions has
dressed up its determination to get substantially more of them into
jobs as a benign attempt to create employment opportunities. Asylum
seekers are likely to suffer even greater indignities as the
government fulfils its pledge to throw more of them out of the
People with mental health problems will find their civil liberties
still more curtailed, while schools will become harder to enlist in
support of vulnerable children and the extended schools programme
as they become still more independent of local education

But it was not all bad. The much-liked Charities Bill returned and
the Queen also mentioned, in her speech written by Downing Street,
that her government was committed to “promoting efficiency,
productivity and value for money”. That should mean less red tape
and, almost inevitably, targets for scrapping targets.

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