Here’s how the Tories will continue their war on the less well-off in the King’s speech

The government will seek to buttress its claims of being a ‘law and order’ party by cracking down on the homeless, hungry and unfortunate

Rishi Sunak

Prem Sikka is an Emeritus Professor of Accounting at the University of Essex and the University of Sheffield, a Labour member of the House of Lords, and Contributing Editor at Left Foot Forward.

On 7th November, King Charles III will open the next session of the UK parliament. It is likely to be the last before the general election expected to take place towards the end of 2024.

The King’s speech, written by the government, is the key part of state opening of parliament. It sets out the government’s policy priorities and legislative programme. So what can we expect, or not expect, the Conservative government to do to save its skin?

After 13 years in office and five Prime Ministers the government is spent and is unlikely to reverse any of its economic policies that have resulted in the highest ever public debt of £2.6 trillion (97.8% of GDP) and highest rate of inflation for 41 years.

The government won’t end austerity and real wage cuts. The average real wage is lower than in 2005. 14.4m were living in poverty in 2021/2022. 3.8m people experienced destitution in 2022, including around one million children. In the period 2012-2019, government imposed austerity caused nearly 335,000 excess deaths (nearly 48,000 a year) in England and Scotland.

A government obsessed with privatisation, outsourcing and cuts to public spending may pay lip-service to public investment, but won’t do much to deal with crumbling schools and public buildings. Parts of the National Health Service have been privatised by stealth and the government won’t do much to relieve the healthcare crisis. Some 7.8m people in England are waiting for hospital appointment (1 in 7 of the population). Some .2.6m are chronically ill and unable to work. In the five years to 2022, around 1.5m died whilst awaiting a hospital appointment.

The government is trapped by its subservience to defunct ideologies. It won’t modify Brexit and reach out to Europe to boost investment, trade and jobs. It won’t increase investment in infrastructure. In an OECD league table of investment in productive assets, the UK is ranked at number 35 out of 38 countries.

It can only promise more divisive and authoritarian policies. It may offer some tax cuts for the rich, and will try to sabotage policies of the next government.

Its divisive policies would include blaming the sick and disabled for the country’s economic woes and claims that the welfare budget needs to be reduced. It is likely to force the disabled and chronically ill people to work by threatening to withdraw their social security benefits. It won’t be concerned about the practicalities of such a policy as the aim is to appease its right-wing electoral base.

The government will seek to buttress its claims of being a ‘law and order’ party by cracking down on the homeless, hungry and unfortunate. Due to low wages and benefits, high rents and cost of living, rough sleeping has increased. Around 1 in 3 people who have slept rough had begged at some point. Many people consider begging to be a nuisance rather than evidence of government policy failures. Instead of offering support to people on the streets, the government is likely to unveil new powers to allow police to move on beggars causing “public distress”. The Policy Exchange, a secretive think-tank that exercises considerable influence on the government, has urged it to tackle the “surge in shop-lifting with tough new minimum sentences for repeat offenders and creating a new offence of aggravated begging”.  However, the UK’s prisons are already full and the government is considering renting prison cells in other countries.

The UK needs a skilled and educated labour force, but educated people challenge government policies too. So, the government is likely to cap the number of students entering universities for selected social science, arts and humanities degrees.

Blaming foreigners for the UK’s ills has been a favourite government tactic even though withdrawal from the EU has added to economic woes. Instead of its failure to process asylum seekers’ applications, the government is likely to use their presence to garner right-wing support and push for legislation to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). In doing so, the UK will join Russia and Belarus as the only European countries outside the ECHR. Such a move will be fiercely resisted inside and outside parliament, but will enable the government to blame the left for its woes.

HS2 was a major part of the government’s policies to renew the railway infrastructure. It has been severely curtailed. So, expect the government to save face by announcing bills to support some regional transport initiatives. Of course, it won’t be in office long enough to deliver any of its lavish promises, but they may become a millstone for the next administration.

With a general election approaching, the government is likely to bribe the electorate with promises of small tax cuts in the hope that people will forget that taxes are at their highest for 70 years. Personal allowances and income tax thresholds have been frozen since 2021, forcing millions of people to pay more in income tax and national insurance. According to Taxpayers’ Alliance, even before the personal allowance and threshold freeze, the bottom decile paid 56.81% of their income in direct and indirect taxes. The government is unlikely to offer much relief to the poorest, but is more likely to cut inheritance tax (IHT).

Currently, a couple can pass on up to £1 million of estate tax-free. Estate above that is taxed at the rate of 40%. About 41,000 estates and less than 4% of the population are liable to pay IHT. Any increase of the IHT threshold or a cut in rate of tax would benefit the richest households only.

The Election Act 2022 introduced the need for an approved photo identification to enable citizens to vote. The purpose, according to senior Conservatives, was to “gerrymander” the electoral system and boost the government vote by discouraging the young and poor to vote. The Act also enables the government to add up to 3 million British citizens living overseas to the electoral register, even though they pay no taxes in the UK. It also enables wealthy people not resident in the UK to donate money to political parties. All of this has been done without any referendum.

Now that the Labour party is considering plans to let EU nationals living in the UK to vote (they pay taxes in the UK), lower the voting age to 16 and reform the House of Lords, Conservatives want to sabotage the policies by insisting that such changes must be the subject of a referendum.

The King’s Speech will not be a policy reset. Instead, the government will continue with its war on the less well-off and authoritarian policies which will neither extend human freedoms nor provide the basis for economic rejuvenation.

Comments are closed.