With the UK recently slipping back into recession, families across the country turned their attentions to the Queen's Speech on Wednesday in a bid to find out how the Government intends to take the UK forward.
So what were the key points of the speech and, more importantly, what do they mean for us?
- Shared parental leave. The Government said that under its Children and Families Bill, mothers and fathers can share parental leave and caring responsibilities. The idea was raised last year and a consultation was held, with the Government due to make its response shortly, for implementation in 2015. Measures are also expected to expand the right to request flexible working to all employees, not just those with children under the age of 17, although no new details have been given.
- Adoption and care. The Children and Families Bill also sets out plans to speed up adoption and care proceedings and give more support to disabled children. The Bill will stop local authorities in England from delaying adoptions in the hope of finding a perfect racial match for the child, if there are couples waiting to adopt. It will also create a six-month time limit for family courts in England and Wales to reach decisions on whether children should be taken into care and will require the court to take into account the impact of delays on the child.
- Special education needs. The Bill also aims to give families more choice and control over support for children with special educational needs (SEN). The system of SEN statements for children with disabilities and learning difficulties will be replaced in England from 2014 by a simpler assessment process providing statutory protection up to the age of 25 for those who go into further education, rather than it being cut off at 16. Parents and young people will be given the right to a personal budget to fund their support, to strengthen their power to make choices about what they need. Local authorities and health services will be required to plan and commission services jointly for children, young people and families.
- Energy Bill. This Bill will encourage investments in lower carbon sources of energy, in order to tackle the prospect of an "energy gap" in the UK, which could leave households without power.
- Pensions Bill. While many of you will already be putting aside cash into a company or personal pension scheme, this Bill is designed to improve the state pension system. It will introduce a new single-tier pension, overhauling the complex rules which currently exist, and will introduce a higher state pension age - of 67 - more quickly.
- Public Service Pensions Bill. This Bill will try to balance the costs of public sector retirement provisions between workers, taxpayers and employers more effectively to make the system fairer.
In addition to these key bits of possible legislation, draft Bills included in the Queen's Speech aim to reform the water market by making the switching process easier, while the announcement featured plans to modernise the care system.