V4CE response to the Queen’s speech

Whilst we applaud the long over due recognition of the position of Carers and new entitlements, we are concerned about key parts of the Queens Speech and the raft of new legislation that is being outlined. By Saqib Deshmukh, V4CE Development Officer

The introduction of a bill on deregulation is worrying and though in line with the Government’s commitment to tackling ‘red tape’ is a clear attack on regulation of public, private and VCS sectors. The government is already in the process of reviewing the public sector equality duty, an important piece of legislation that ensures public bodies deliver their services in a fair way. Whilst we all appreciate the need to make processes simpler and more transparent – the exemption from health and safety law in certain situations and removal of powers from employment tribunals to make wider recommendations in successful discrimination cases under the Equality Act 2010 is worrying. If the Conservative are able to form a majority government in 2015 we can anticipate further negative changes to the Act and further challenges to Public Duties legislation.

Despite the many bits of legislation on the statute books relating to immigration, the latest bill threatens to add more tinkering and tampering without any concerted ambition to inform the public of the true nature of primary immigration to this country and the economy’s need for cheap flexible labour. Promising action against businesses that use illegal labour, including more substantial fines is likely to drive the issue further underground and by regulating access to NHS for newly arrived immigrants and asking landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants you are given discriminatory forces in society a free rein.

The Offender Rehabilitation Bill plans to: ‘Open up probation services to a wide range of providers (including private and voluntary sector providers) through competition and saving the taxpayer money through a system of payment by results for providers.’
The real question for BME voluntary sector organisations working in the Criminal Justice System is whether this is something that we wish to enter into as prime or sub contractors. With a still growing figure of black people in custody and almost 20% of the prison population being Muslim, throwing free market philosophies and profit motives in the mix is a disaster in the making.

For a parent or a family member with a loved one behind bars trying to negotiate the world of probation is hard enough, but this is a charter for fragmentation and further confusion. From our work on the ground with our members we know BME VCS groups working in the sector are well placed to deliver this work but are relatively small and not necessarily contract ready. Additionally bringing in a VCS organisations is likely to dampen their ability to be a critical voice. As Neena Samota, a V4CE trustee who works in the Criminal Justice System comments:

‘The government’s Transforming Rehabilitation – A Strategy for Reform document falls short, yet again, in acknowledging the entrenched problem of ethnic disproportionality and the importance of prevention work. Real reductions in re-offending will be made possible through addressing disproportionate outcomes and better engagement of black and minority ethnic led organisations in prevention work.’

Further in the bill the government talks about new ‘Community Triggers’ and ‘Community Remedies’ and whilst elements of restorative justice are useful this appears to be populist playing to the crowds. Finally giving more powers to Police and Crime Commissioners so they can commission victims services is hugely problematic, and giving them more authority at a time when they are still (outside of London) very much in a embryonic stage. Payment by results is hardly an incentive when capacity within these BME VCS groups is already stretched to the limit. Police and crime commissioners must prioritise engagement with these groups to strengthen prevention work and address disproportionality locally.

Do more for less, brand human rights or equality as red tape and scrap legislation, create further justification for snooping and surveillance around people’s immigration status, and further grounds for discrimination by landlords, open up Criminal Justice System to market forces and let the masses decide who gets hung, drawn and quartered. Interesting times ahead – are you sitting comfortably?