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12 June 2014

Government outlines plans for the coming year

Government outlines plans for the coming year

In last week's final Queen's Speech before the general election, the coalition government made a commitment to build an economy that rewards those who work hard, ensure mortgage and interest rates remain low and make the UK an attractive place to start, finance and grow businesses.

The programme is not as full nor controversial as previous years however there is some substantive legislation that has been put forward such as the slavery bill. This likely reflects the realities of a coalition government and the politics of electioneering in the lead up to next year's general election. The coalition is struggling to find legislation they can both agree on and they are also reluctant to legislate on contentious issues for fear of creating too much controversy which might hinder campaigning.

It was disappointing the government did not place a greater focus on supporting and promoting families as well as addressing the serious poverty many are currently facing.

Encouragingly, the government included the Modern Slavery Bill on its legislative programme for the coming year.

Despite William Wilberforce's long fought and successful battle to see the transatlantic slave trade banned, slavery remains a serious and growing problem in the UK.

In the UK more than 2,255 potential victims of human trafficking have been identified and this number is increasing. Some who have been trafficked over borders are enduring forced labour in order to pay for the passage they thought would give them a better life. Women are being sexually exploited. And both men and women are being bought and sold. It can seem incomprehensible that such horrors are occurring here.

The slavery bill aims to address this. As well as bringing together existing criminal offences relating to slavery into one piece of legislation, the bill will impose tougher penalties on those convicted of trafficking and strengthen powers on asset confiscation. It will also provide compensation to victims and greater protections by ensuring they do not face prosecution for crimes committed while in slavery. An anti-slavery commissioner will be introduced to see the new law is followed.

The Evangelical Alliance along with many organisations including International Justice Mission and Stop the Traffik and member organisations CARE and The Salvation Army have been working hard to see trafficking and slavery laws improved. We welcome parliament's efforts.

David Landrum, director of advocacy at the Alliance, said: "While this is a step in the right direction it does not go far enough. Once this bill has passed into law it is unlikely there we will get another chance to improve the legislation for a long time. That is why it is crucial to get it right while we have the chance."

MP Frank Field said: "For the Modern Slavery Bill not to contain measures effectively to counter slavery in companies' supply chains is such a serous omission that parliament must do its best to rectify."

David Landrum added, "Currently the bill does not involve businesses and the Alliance along with others are keen to see the bill amended. We are in full support of Mr Field's comments and will strongly push for an obligation on businesses to be transparent about their supply chains so consumers can be confident slavery has not been used."

As the bill progresses through parliament the Alliance will also advocate for greater protections and support for victims as well as greater independence for the anti-slavery commissioner.

Another bill to be introduced will extend the definition of child cruelty. The government hopes this will provide better protection to children from emotional neglect and psychological harm. Any neglect or harm inflicted upon children is abhorrent. Every child deserves to grow up in a loving, safe and supportive environment. The Alliance will be looking closely at how this bill protects children while also ensuring parents are not subject to undue state interference.

The Alliance also welcomes confirmation that marriage will be recognised in the tax system with the introduction of a married couple's allowance. This follows an earlier announcement in the spring budget.

As voters across the UK get ready to head to the polls next year they will be watching closely to see if the government delivers on their promises. While there is some sound legislation included in the Queen's Speech it is disappointing that a more robust programme was not introduced.

For further commentary on the Queen's Speech and a more detailed list of the bills announced please read our briefing.

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