Immediately after the Queen’s Speech, Labour’s shadow minister for the disabled and a national newspaper both queried a supposedly missing White Paper from the government’s plans – but both ignored the fact that work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb had already stated that he had dumped it in favour of a later Green (discussion) Paper. That’s why it wasn’t in the speech.
Now, we all know as the Queen’s Speech is, of course, nothing of the sort in reality. Yes, Her Majesty makes it from the House of Lords, sitting on the throne and wearing the Imperial State Crown. But that’s as close it ever gets to being the ’Queen’s Speech’.
It is delivered by the Queen at the UK’s State Opening of Parliament when she announces what ‘Her Government’ is going to do in the next session of parliament. That speech, showcasing planned legislation, has been prepared by the government. The Queen’s role is ceremonial; she just has to read it.
Keen watchers of the Queen’s Speech often take as much interest in what is not included as well as what is announced.
For example, the government had previously promised a White Paper on improving employment prospects for the disabled, but on the day the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced the ‘disability employment gap’ had actually widened, the Queen’s Speech failed to mention the disabled at all.
Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Disabled Debbie Abrahams was quick to take to Twitter to tweet: “Driverless cars, drones and spaceport to feature in Queen’s Speech. Where’s promised disability/employment White Paper?”
The Independent newspaper said thanks were due to ‘Cost of Cameron’ on Twitter for providing the evidence to support Ms Abrahams’ comment – a speech by Tory disabilities minister Justin Tomlinson on March 14 this year. He stated that the government was committed to halving the disability employment gap.
He said: “In the spending review, we announced a real terms spending increase on supporting disabled people into work. In the last year, 152,000 more disabled people entered employment. Our forthcoming White Paper will set out our plans to support more disabled people into work.”
However new figures from the ONS show that while the number of disabled people in work is up 121,000 since last year, it is actually non-disabled people who are the main beneficiaries of employment growth and moving into work faster than the disabled counterparts.
The ONS figures shown that the employment rate for people who are not disabled increased by 0.9%bcompared to 2015, while disabled people’s employment only increased by 0.6%. Therefore, instead of closing, the gap is growing.
The absence of the White Paper, however, will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog, who will recall the comments by Stephen Crabb to the House of Commons’ Select Committee for Work and Pensions. He told the committee that instead of a White Paper, he hoped to bring forward a Green Paper later in the year.
A Green Paper is a tentative government report and consultation document of policy proposals for debate and discussion, without any commitment to action.