The speech made by Steve McCabe, the Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, in the House of Commons on 16 May 2022.
The Government are great on slogans—“get it done”, “oven-ready”, “levelling up”—but the reality is that they have consistently failed to get the right things done, their ideas are mostly half-baked, and the key statistics show that they are levelling down, not up.
After 12 years, this country is going backwards. There is no plan to fix social care, improve the health figures, address education shortfalls or tackle neighbourhood crime. The Queen’s Speech was a chance to put that right, address issues affecting the lives of ordinary people, move on from the pandemic and be in touch with the needs of business, families and the elderly. Instead, we have a programme of 38 Bills that will occupy parliamentary time over the next 12 months or so, but hardly any of them address the things that people really care about.
On education, the emphasis is on academisation—playing with structures when what is needed is catch-up, improvement, tending to crumbling buildings and giving children the best start in life. I support the work of the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Dame Andrea Leadsom), but I have to say that how a Government who have closed 2,500 Sure Start centres and plan to replace them with 75 family hubs think they can lay claim to an ambitious early years strategy is beyond me.
According to the Government, every family should receive a minimum of five health visiting reviews. Even including remote and phone consultations, their own figures show that that is not happening. Nearly 30% of toddlers have missed out on the crucial 24 to 30 months check. In speech and language, an area in which waiting lists have been exacerbated by the pandemic, nearly 70,000 children are waiting for support. Children under seven often wait for more than two years. Where is the catch-up or improvement plan to help them? The Government can find time for a Bill to sell Channel 4, which was not in their manifesto, but not to legislate for a measly one week’s unpaid leave for carers—a manifesto commitment on which every one of their Members stood.
There is no plan to reduce NHS waiting lists or ambulance delays. The reality of healthcare in Birmingham is that every day the west midlands ambulance service stacks hundreds of calls that require an ambulance response that it cannot provide. Midlands hospitals have the highest waiting lists in the country. University Hospitals Birmingham, a first-class institution for those it is able to treat, now has 185,000 people waiting for treatment. No wonder the country’s health outcomes are deteriorating.
For care homes, there is still no plan to fix social care, one of the earliest promises made and abandoned by the Prime Minister, and no assistance to deal with staff retention or rising energy and insurance costs. Care homes, while still beset by many difficulties, have lost their covid-19 support grants—rather earlier than the support for newspaper grandees negotiated personally by the Prime Minister, if Mr Cummings is to be believed.
I have no time for the behaviour of some of the Extinction Rebellion activists, but do we really need a new law to deal with the antics of that minority group when we already have the Public Order Act 1986? The latest Bloomberg analysis of the Government’s levelling-up strategy shows a 33% increase in crime in south Birmingham. Would not a law to establish viable neighbourhood policing units be of much greater value to my constituents?
On early years, speech and language, carers, care homes, waiting lists, ambulance services and the security of neighbourhoods, this Queen’s Speech is a missed opportunity from a Government who stopped paying attention to the interests of the people they purport to represent. The slogans are now morphing into, “Can’t you budget and cook on 30p a day?” and, “Why don’t you just get another job?” They are out of touch and out of ideas.