The Queen's Speech was supposed to position the Conservatives as the party of working people. If so, they've got a strange way of going about it. A list of priorities that includes curbing trade union rights, chipping away at workplace protections through EU negotiations, freezing in-work benefits, cutting jobs and freezing pay in the public sector doesn't read like a workers' wishlist.
I blogged earlier this month about the government's plans to restrict union rights with draconian new laws that would make legal industrial action all but impossible - and that would strike a blow at our democracy.
It's no coincidence that moves to curb union rights were confirmed at the same time as fiscal plans look set to unleash a further wave of cuts and job losses in public services. Teachers, nurses and other public sector workers face yet more years of pay freezes, even as pay in the private sector begins to show signs of recovery. With restrictions on strike laws in place, the intention is to slap down any move to resist.
While the government presses ahead with these restrictions and cuts on home turf, efforts are underway to renegotiate Britain's place in Europe. Some business voices, and the right flank of the Conservative party, want to seize the opportunity to reduce employment rights. But TUC polling published this week finds that business leaders should be careful what they wish for. British people are far more likely to want to remain part of the EU if it leads to better pay and rights at work. Chipping away at rest breaks, paid holiday and maternity rights is not the way to build support for Europe. Nor will it help counter those who blame free movement for low pay and insecurity at work. We want the UK to be at the heart of a fair and successful Europe.
Another key plank of today's programme was on employment and welfare. You can bet the Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill will defy the common sense view that people on zero-hours contracts aren't fully employed. A genuine full employment strategy would increase protections for workers on short hours or short-term contracts. And it would restore job guarantees for young people, instead of relegating them to a second-class social security system without housing support.
The working poor stand to suffer most from £12 billion of new cuts to welfare. Working tax credits, and other benefits for people in work, are to be frozen for two years. But that alone won't be enough for the £12biliion, so the bill is likely to attack the social safety net that provides security for workers and their families if they lose their job or fall ill.
Reducing the benefit cap is a PR ploy with grim results. So far, three-quarters of those hit by the cap have been children. Forced evictions resulting from the cap have already led to family breakup and shattered communities. It's unlikely the cap even saves money because it costs councils so much when families are made homeless and relocated.
Pledges on housing interact with the cuts to the safety net, too. The headline commitment to give housing association tenants the right to buy could make our housing crisis worse. Since right to buy discounts were increased in 2012, only one council house has been built for every six sold off, despite government promises to the contrary. Housing associations fund new homes by borrowing against their existing stock, but if the government forces them to sell homes at a discount then it will cost them more to borrow and they will be able to build less. Instead of selling off social homes, the priority should be building more - and especially more council housing. We estimate that the UK needs to build 1.25million new homes by 2020 just to stop the housing crisis getting worse.
The government will be keen to promote moves to ensure that many workers on minimum wage do not pay income tax. The TUC has long argued that raising the personal tax allowance is an inefficient way to help low paid workers. It's poorly targeted and expensive, benefitting income tax payers higher rates too. Our research suggests that almost half of those receiving the minimum wage work part-time, and so the new increases will not make any difference to them. It would be far better to concentrate on raising the minimum wage itself, and creating more well-paid jobs.
Raising pay, creating good quality jobs, tackling the UK's productivity challenge, building genuinely affordable and social homes, preventing exploitation and securing decent rights at work - that's what a Queen's Speech for working people might look like. But that's not what we got.Suggest a correction