Amidst all the good news of last week’s Queens Speech two measures in particular stuck out for me, both of which will make a positive difference to local people.
Much for the credit for the first, the new 5p charge on plastic bags, must go to a local charity, St Agnes’ very own Surfers Against Sewage. For years they have joined other groups in calling for a tax on plastic bags to reduce wastage, wastage that all too often ends up in the sea where the everyday convenience of a plastic bag turns into a life-terminating threat for our marine wildlife. There is a growing body of scientific evidence about the effect of plastic in the marine environment and damage to human health. It is great to see action taken on this important environmental issue, part of a package of increased protection for our seas.
Changes to pensions mark another Queens Speech highlight. The reforms, which will enable employees to group together to create collective pension funds at work,
marks a further step forward in a campaign I have been involved in for many years; ensuring that people have sufficient income in retirement.
Collective pension funds, successfully pioneered in the Netherlands, drive down scheme running costs meaning that there is more money for scheme members when they retire. This new freedom for savers builds on a raft of Coalition policies designed to consign to history the pensioner poverty we saw during the Labour years. Earlier this year George Osborne set pensioners free to access their pension savings how and when they want, abolishing all the tax restrictions that had been in place. As the Chancellor rightly said at the time, it is not the job of Government to restrict how people can access their savings in retirement after a lifetime of hard work.
All pensioners have benefitted from the restoration of the link between the state pension and earnings, meaning that the average pensioner has received a £650 boost to their pension since 2010. Pension Credit has been boosted in advance on the introduction a new simplified single tier pension that will ensure better income in old age for all. Crucially this will include
groups disadvantaged under the old system, including carers and full time mothers.
Overall these measures are having an impact. The Joseph Rowntreee Foundation, an independent charity that researches poverty, report that the proportion of UK pensioners in poverty has now fallen to its lowest level for almost thirty years. I am keen to build on this in the years to come, and to see this progress in tacking poverty also benefiting people of working age.
The Queen’s Speech commitment to increase fines on employers who don’t pay the minimum wage will help with this, building on the above-inflation minimum wage increase and 1 million plus new jobs that are starting to drive up incomes. As the UK’s recovery builds momentum, it is my priority to see that no-one of any age is left behind.