The State Opening of Parliament, and the Queen’s Speech, is the pinnacle of British pomp and ceremony. A flamboyant, richly historical piece of pageantry, showcasing the unique complexity and tradition of our country’s constitution.
However, aside from simply being a majestic offering of parliamentary theatre, this annual spectacle plays a central role in the governance of the United Kingdom.
The State Opening of Parliament marks the formal start of the parliamentary year, and the Queen’s Speech sets out the government’s agenda for the coming session; outlining proposed policies and legislation. It is the only regular occasion when the three constituent parts of Parliament, the Sovereign, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons, actually meet.
In the lead up to this year’s Queen’s Speech, the Government made it clear that improving life chances would be the central theme, with key pieces of legislation to be brought through aimed at achieving this aim.
The Prime Minister is known to be personally passionate about social reform and improving life chances for people across country, and Sense has welcomed the Government’s decision to focus fully on this crucial area.
As promised, the Queen’s speech was very much framed as one that would improve life chances. The introduction written by the Prime Minister even says in the first paragraph:
“This is a One Nation Queen’s speech from a One Nation Government. It sets out a clear programme of reform, using the strength of our economy to deliver security for working people, increase life chances for the most disadvantaged and strengthen our national security.”
Whilst admirable in sentiment, we have been concerned to see that, so far, the legislation and announcements have not looked specifically at improving life chances for disabled people.
To overlook disabled people would be a fundamental error.
The life chances agenda is a vital opportunity for the Government to move away from a narrative which disproportionately describes disabled people in relation to welfare benefit reform, rather than seeking to paint a positive and aspirational image of the contribution disabled people can make to the wider society. Not only that, but it connects with the Government’s own ambitious policy of halving the disability employment gap.
Truly promoting life chances is about levelling the playing field for disabled people and supporting them to realise their aspirations.
This year, Sense has been striving to achieve just that.
Our Play report, launched in February, looked into the provision of play opportunities for disabled children. By highlighting the importance of play to children with complex needs for both emotional and social development, and revealing the reprehensible level of availability, we have been able to take our report to Parliament and begin work with key policy makers to improve the life chances of disabled children.
This summer we will also be looking the essential subject of employment. We will be publishing a new report, Realising Aspirations, to look into the issue of disability employment and outline some of the key barriers that can prevent disabled people from entering the jobs market and fulfilling their ambitions. As with Play, we will look to take our findings and recommendations to the heart of government and work for real change for disabled people.
We were delighted when the Government chose to pursue a life chances agenda, and have been greatly encourage by their desire to promote the talents of disabled people within society. But we are worried by the absence of clear steps within the Queen’s Speech to make these promising plans a reality.
Now is the time to improve the life chances for disabled people. It is an opportunity that should not be missed.