No Image Available

Queen’s Speech: Equality, skills and flexible working


The Queen’s Speech on Wednesday included the much-anticipated Equality Bill and Welfare Reform Bill, as well as an announcement that there will be no delay to flexible working proposals, yet the focus was certainly on the global economic downturn.

In her speech in the House of Lords, to outline the government’s proposed legislation for the year ahead, the Queen said: “My government’s overriding priority is to ensure the stability of the British economy during the global economic downturn. My government is committed to helping families and businesses through difficult times.

“The strength of the financial sector is vital to the future vibrancy of the economy,” she added.

Flexible working proposals

The decision to press ahead with plans to extend the right to request flexible working to parents of older children has been particularly welcomed.

Jackie Orme, CIPD chief executive, said: “This legislation is where the politicians’ favourites of hard-working families and hard-pressed small businesses come together. Part-time and flexible workers are happier, more engaged with their work, and therefore more likely to perform better and be more productive, which is just as important in a downturn as in the good times – if not more so.”

Liberal Democrat small business spokesperson, Lorely Burt, added: “A fair approach to flexible working should not be seen as just a boom time policy but an essential part of our economic recovery, led by hard-working families, entrepreneurs and small businesses.”

Welfare Reform Bill

The Welfare Reform Bill includes plans to ensure the long-term unemployed in England, Scotland and Wales sign up to training courses or face benefit cuts.

John Philpott, CIPD director of public policy and chief economist, said that any introduction of sanctions has to be accompanied by a programme of support that encourages those out of work to develop their employability skills and qualifications while looking for work.

“Against the backdrop of rapidly rising unemployment, now is the time to invest in a programme that helps fill the half a million vacancies that still exist in the UK economy,” he added.

Equality Bill

The Equality Bill for England, Wales and Scotland aims to harmonise laws on sex, race and religious discrimination. The Queen said in her speech: “My government will bring forward a Bill to promote equality, fight discrimination and introduce transparency in the workplace to help address the difference in pay between men and women.”

Orme welcomed the simplification and clarification of existing discrimination legislation, yet added that the government must be under no illusions that this will solve the problem on its own.

“Thirty-eight years after the Equal Pay Act, the gender pay gap still stands at 17.1%. Government should ensure new regulations are supported by clear, practical and user-friendly guidance for employers which promotes the business case for diversity.”

Petra Wilton, director of policy and research at the Chartered Management Institute, added that it is clear that lack of parity in pay remains an issue. “Despite the weight of evidence and calls for equality, we have not made sufficient progress. If employers allow gender gaps to continue, the knowledge gap in UK organisations will be exacerbated at the very time we are trying to challenge the skills crisis.”

Catharine Pusey, director of The Employers Forum on Age, welcomed the announcement of the Equality Bill but urged the government to end the default retirement age as a crucial part of their commitment to rid the workplace of ageism.

To view the Queen’s Speech in full, click here.

One Response

  1. Flexible and reduced hours are NOT the same
    Following the Queen’s speech the IOD issued a press release saying the implementation of the extended right to request flexibility would increase the burden on small business. It’s difficult to understand how, unless like everyone else they are equating flexible with reduced hours. It seems that in common parlance the two have become synonymous.

    Any expression of a desire to work flexibly is automatically viewed as a wish to work less hours. How can we separate the two? Giving people more flexibility over when and how they work, supported by clear objectives focused on outputs not presenteeism, helps reduce stress and enable most of us to juggle more effectively.

    It’s a pity even Jackie Orme in the report above links part-time and flexible workers, reinforcing the link in the minds of many people.

No Image Available

Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.