by Daphne Liddle
THE QUEEN’S speech this year became a preliminary skirmish in the battle for next year’s general election, with Gordon Brown’s proposed list of legislation more for show than expectation that he would have time to enact much of it; the Tories proclaiming their intention to tear up anything that is passed if they are elected and the Liberal Democrats declaring the whole process should have been abolished this year.
Brown was using it as a last chance to try to improve his rating in the polls while the Tories and Lib Dems were doing their best to neutralise in advance any advantage it might give to Labour. Brown chose as his flagship policy a new Bill to improve the delivery of care to the elderly and sort out the current mess that prevails, where healthcare is delivered by the NHS completely free but “personal care” — cleaning, feeding, dressing and so on — is charged for on a means-tested basis.
Residential care homes are supposed to separate the two elements of the care they provide and charge accordingly but this is virtually impossible. So thousands of elderly and infirm residents have been overcharged for care and people have been expected to sell their former homes to fund their care.
The Scottish government has solved the problem simply by making personal care completely free. Brown could do this but he has never been one for doing the obvious simple thing, which in the long run be cheaper because of the saving on admin costs.
That would not provide enough opportunity for vested interests to make vast profits so he has to complicate things.
The Queen’s speech did not contain details of the proposed legislation but the Green Paper, Shaping the Future of Care proposes a new National Care Service, paid for by people handing over a lump sum — £20,000 has been suggested — at age 65 to cover all future care needs.
Attendance Allowance will be scrapped along with Disability Living Allowance for those over 65, and replaced by individual care packages awarded by local authority social service departments according to individual assessments and therefore means tested.
The policy will favour treating people in their own homes and awarding them care grants to spend on home helps and carers from private agencies.
And with local authority funding now facing huge cuts to keep council tax down in the run up to the election, the most care that the awards recipients will probably be able to afford will come from daughters and daughters-in-law.
The mess will be worse than ever and pave the way for Tories to turn all state welfare benefits into local council or parish charity hand-outs.
If Brown thinks this will win him support from pensioner voters either he is showing signs of dementia or he hopes they are.
The Queen’s speech began by saying the priority would be to ensure eco nomic growth through employment training programmes, responsible investment and restructuring the financial sector.
Later it embellished, optimistically: “My government will continue to reform regulation of the financial services industry to ensure greater protection for savers and taxpayers . Legislation will be brought forward to enhance the governance of the financial sector and to control the system of rewards.”
Brown knows he will not be able to stop the banking fat cats awarding themselves ridiculous bonuses from taxpayers’ money, but he wants to keep up the illusion, or as the speech put it “work to build trust in democratic institutions”.
The speech promised Brown’s government would “seek effective global and European collaboration through the G20 and the European Union to sustain economic recovery and to combat climate change, including at the Copenhagen summit next month” — though that summit seems already to have been blighted by imperialist delays and prevarications.
Legislation will be introduced to halve the current Government deficit but no details are given, not before the election.
The Government plans to give more powers to parents to control their local schools — a sop to the middle classes that will hit schools in working class communities when it gets schools fighting each other for bigger slices of the inadequate funding available.
The Government will hold parents more responsible for the behaviour of their wayward children but not by cutting working hours or raising the lowest wages so parents can actually spend more time with their children.
Brown promises more transparency in the workplace to reduce the gender pay gap — a promise that has been made many times before to little effect.
There is little to inspire in this Queen’s speech and much that is missing that could have really improved Labour’s chances in the election, like scrapping Trident, withdrawing from Afghanistan or building thousands of council homes.
But when compared to what would be in store under a Tory government it is still worth fighting for a Labour election victory.