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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.

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."

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.

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."


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