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2023 King’s Speech: What we did and didn’t hear

We are disappointed that more specific actions to tackle the day-to-day barriers people with sight loss face were not included in yesterday’s (7 November) King’s Speech.

Some of the announcements about the UK Government’s upcoming legislative plans are welcome and we list the areas of particular interest to blind and partially sighted people, and the omissions, below.

What’s included?

  • Creating a “smoke-free generation”: A welcome measure as smoking can double your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration - the leading cause of sight loss.
  • Improving TV accessibility guidelines: We are pleased to hear there will be improvements to the quality and accessibility of audio description and subtitling in on-demand services’ content. RNIB would still like to see an increase in the percentage of content that’s required to have audio description and subtitles.
  • Innovation in technologies: RNIB welcomes innovation in technologies, on the condition that all digital products, services and information are designed with accessibility in mind from inception.
  • Welfare reform and boosting employment: The King’s Speech outlined plans to reform welfare. It’s vital that any proposals result in benefits enabling people with sight loss to afford the essentials. We await the detail.
  • Improving education standards: If the Government is to ensure young people with vision impairment (VI) have the knowledge and skills to succeed, more funding is needed for local authorities to deliver specialist VI education services. It is also key the development of the new Advanced British Standard is informed by the Curriculum Framework for Children and Young People with Vision Impairment to ensure the qualification works for all young people.
  • Addressing challenges in the NHS: The UK Government’s commitment to reduce waiting list times is positive, but a more comprehensive plan is needed to reduce waiting lists in the short term. Delays to diagnosis and treatment lead to avoidable sight loss, poorer quality of life and high levels of stress and anxiety.
  • Investing in mental health support: We welcome investment in mental health services. Blind and partially sighted people are twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression. RNIB is keen to understand how improved mental health support will be delivered and how the UK Government will address mental health inequalities.
  • Investing in rail: We welcome further investment in rail across the Midlands and North of England, as the UK Government’s aim to increase numbers of rail passengers is best met by ensuring the entire rail network is funded sufficiently to ensure it’s designed, staffed and maintained to high accessibility standards.
  • A strategy for self-driving vehicles: Whilst the UK Government’s proposal focuses on safety for the user or owner of autonomous cars, RNIB emphasises the importance of safety for any - and all - pedestrians in their vicinity, especially pedestrians with sight loss.
  • Tackling the climate crisis: Steps by national government and local authorities to reduce carbon emissions and adapt to the climate crisis must be planned and implemented to make society more inclusive for disabled people, not less.

What’s missing?

  • Delivering adequate adult social care services: We were disappointed the UK Government did not mention tackling the ongoing challenges seen within Social Care, which provides vital support for many blind and partially sighted people through vision rehabilitation. Urgent action is needed to address the unnecessary challenges people face when accessing this support.

What’s next?

We will be looking to the Chancellor's Autumn Statement in a fortnight for urgent support from the UK Government with the persistently high cost of living experienced by blind and partially sighted people.