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Conversion therapy and rental reform: Key policies activists want to see at heart of King's Speech

On 7 November, the government will set out its new legislative agenda in the King’s Speech. What do campaigners want included?

King Charles delivers the Queen's speech on behalf of his mother Queen Elizabeth, House of Lords 2022 / Photography by Annabel Moeller

Rental reform, poverty and a total ban on conversion therapy – campaigners have key priorities for the upcoming King’s Speech, when the government will set out its new legislative agenda.

Delivered by King Charles but written by cabinet ministers, the 7 November speech is an opportunity for the government to outline which laws it wants to pass over the coming year.

It’s a chance for Tory PM Rishi Sunak to pitch his policy vision to the electorate – and with a general election highly likely in 2024, the stakes are high.

So what do campaigners hope to see? Here are five key priorities.

Increase benefits to tackle poverty

The cost of living crisis continues to grind on. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has found that 3.8 million people faced destitution – the most extreme form of hardship – in 2022. That is a 61% increase since 2019. Around a million of these people are children.

As energy bills and food prices continue to soar, campaigners have urged the government to increase benefits in line with inflation.

“More and more people are struggling to make ends meet while overstretched and overburdened food bank teams do their utmost to provide support,” said Sabine Goodwin, director of the Independent Food Aid Network.

“A charitable food aid response to rising food insecurity is neither sustainable nor effective. It’s critical that the upcoming King’s Speech prioritises long term actions to reduce poverty. At the very least, people need reassurance that social security payments will be increased in line with inflation.”

An end to conversion therapy

In 2018, then-prime minister Theresa May pledged to ban conversion therapy – the baseless and unfounded practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, often through religion and prayer.

Boris Johnson reiterated the pledge before the 2019 general election. But time is running out to pass the legislation before the next election.

conversion therapy
Around five per cent of people surveyed said they’d been pressured to seek conversion therapy. Image: dfactory/Flickr

Jayne Ozanne, founder of the anti-discrimination charity the Ozanne Foundation and survivor of conversion therapy, denounced the government’s “multiple U-turns”.

“The government’s own research shows ‘conversion therapy’ is abuse that irreparably damages and costs lives, particularly young LGBTQ+ lives,” she said.

“It is way past time the government delivered on its long-promised flagship legislation to protect the LGBTQ+ community, for to do otherwise is to continue to empower perpetrators and allow them to act with impunity.”

Reform to ‘feudal’ leasehold rules

Britain’s 10 million leaseholders own their property but not the land it sits on, which is owned by a landlord. This has proven to be an exceptionally tricky issue in recent years, particularly for people living in buildings affected by the post-Grenfell building safety crisis.

It has meant there has been confusion about who must pay to fix unsafe properties while leaseholders have also been caught up in the double whammy of rising mortgage rates and paying service charges to freeholders.

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Housing secretary Michael Gove, who met campaigners from End Our Cladding Scandal (EOCS) in Leeds last week, has previously said the government intends to change the law on leasehold in the King’s Speech. He said: “We need to end this feudal form of tenure and ensure individuals have the right to enjoy their own property fully.” 

The EOCS want the government to pass building safety costs on to landholders, freeing leaseholders of the responsibility. EOCS member Giles Grover told The Big Issue: “We have long recognised that the current government will not change course and legislate so that all leaseholders, all of whom are innocent, are fully protected from historical remediation costs.

“However, following lobbying both in front of and behind the scenes, we are hopeful that there will be amendments to the leaseholder protections that will protect more people.”

Ultimately, the government needs to be tougher on freeholders who have leaseholders on their land, he said.

“There is little point in leaseholders having more rights if there is no effective means of enforcing those rights – it is time for the government to be bold and legislate for regulation of freeholders and managing agents,” Grover urged.

Criminal justice reform

England and Wales have the highest incarceration rate in Western Europe, at 141 people per 100,000. The prison population has risen by 80% in the last 30 years – and it is currently projected to rise by a further 7,400 people by 2024.

The government must work on prevention, ensuring fewer people are sent to prison.

“Is custody always appropriate? What more can we do in terms of prevention?” asked Mark Blake, policy manager at the criminal justice alliance.  

Former prisoners who are released into secure housing are 50% less likely to break the law again. Image: Community Justice Scotland / Flickr

“There is a dangerous assumption that appears to be developing across the political spectrum that incarcerating more and more people will make us safer as a society. Our belief at the CJA is that this is likely to accentuate established, ingrained inequalities in our justice system and society.”

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Reducing the use of stop-and-search powers would help improve community relations, Blake added.

The policy towards people within prison needs to change too.

“Education of all kinds is key to giving people opportunities when they leave prison but also for those on long sentences it is a way of building the person they want to be,” said David Kendall from Penned Up.

“We do have one prison (Grendon) that creates a ‘therapeutic’ community to work with residents – why not create one that is entirely about education? The prison can then be held to account on the education it achieves for the people in its care. It also means that prisoners can ‘lean into’ that version of themselves without being condemned by others for being seen to ‘better’ themselves.”

Rental reform

The government has promised to pass the Renters Reform Bill before the next election, and it will feature in the King’s Speech as a carry-over bill.

However, Sunak recently backtracked on a key measure ­– the pledge to scrap no-fault evictions. Also known as Section 21 evictions, they allow landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason.

Campaigners have urged the government to protect renters by banning the practice. But a government response to the Levelling Up Committee confirmed ministers don’t plan to remove Section 21 evictions until a new process is in place to speed up progress through the courts.

Labour has warned a further 30,000 households could be threatened with homelessness and 10,000 could be evicted by bailiffs if the government do not pass the bill between today and the last possible date for a general election at the end of January 2025.

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