Labour focus on school absences in King's Speech response

8 November, 2023
Yorkshire Post, by Mason Boycott-Owen 

Today will kick off a series of debates over the next week on the Government’s legislative agenda, with the opposition set to press the country on the challenges facing schools across the country.

Across Autumn and Spring terms this year 31 per cent of children were absent from both primary and secondary school in Bradford, the second-worst rate in the country.

Labour said it projected that this will rise by another 4 per cent by 2025.

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “Children in Bradford deserve a quality education. Every day of education matters to the life chances of children: that’s why tackling persistent absence would be mission critical for Labour in government.”

It comes as several aspects of Rishi Sunak’s King’s Speech were criticised by organisations and charities, including key omissions from the list of bills his government intends to bring before MPs.

Aimed to be a dividing line between Labour and the Conservatives, a mandate for annual North Sea oil and gas licences was described as “little more than political posturing” by Sam Richards from the pro-growth campaign group Britain Remade.

“Rather than wasting time trying to create political dividing lines, the Prime Minister should be going hell for leather to speed up the building of new sources of clean energy,” he added.

This was reflected by concerns in the region’s industry leaders, with Mark Casci, head of policy and representation at the North and West Yorkshire Chamber of commerce saying: “There is still little information on how we will transition to renewable energy, an area that Yorkshire has the potential to be a world leader.”

"The lack of legislation to match the efforts of the EU and USA on green industrial strategy is a huge backwards step which undermines the international consensus on climate change and won’t attract investment in the industries of the future here in the UK,” added Dr George Dibb, head of the IPPR’s Centre for Economic Justice.

The lack of investment-focused proposals in the King’s Speech yesterday saw a repeat of criticisms levelled at the Prime Minister by his economic opponents, such as his predecessor Liz Truss, that the UK is not doing enough to encourage investment and growth.

Mark Littlewood, Director General of the free market think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: “But without a fundamental shift in economic thinking, we are on the path to another lost decade of economic growth.”

However, the Prime Minister’s efforts to tackle youth smoking and vaping have proved popular, with over twelve thousand responses received as part of the Government’s consultation on plans to create a smoke-free generation.

The Department of Health last night referred to the proposals as “the most significant public health intervention in a generation”.

Mr Sunak said: “I want to build a brighter future for our children, which means taking the necessary decisions for the long-term interests of our country.

“Smoking is a deadly habit, so we are making the biggest single public health intervention in a generation to stop our kids from ever being able to buy a cigarette. This will protect their health both now and in future - saving tens of thousands of lives and saving the NHS billions of pounds.”

However, other health interventions were omitted from the Government’s raft of proposals yesterday.

UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: "More than four years since the Conservatives promised to fix social care, it doesn’t even get a mention. There’s still no plan to end the crisis and give millions of desperate people comfort for the future.”

Health and Social Care Committee Chair Steve Brine MP said: “It is disappointing that the government has failed to bring forward legislation to overhaul the Mental Health Act.

“The draft Bill, among its planned reforms, would outlaw the inappropriate detention of people with learning disabilities and autism. Without change, too many people will continue to be held in secure units, often for years at a time. These reforms are long overdue.”