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22 December 2022

Key policy moments of 2022

Policymakers and experts on their policy highlight – or lowlight – of the year.

By Spotlight

It has been a tumultuous year. Clutched from the jaws of the pandemic, the world has been at the mercy of stark economic headwinds and geopolitical turmoil. War in Ukraine, the energy and cost-of-living crisis, and the ongoing climate and nature crises, have necessitated urgent policy responses.

In the UK, political turmoil has sharpened the uncertainty, with Britons, reeling from inflation that peaked at 11.1 per cent in October, at the mercy of an unstable government. When temperatures dropped, strikes continued as workers felt the pinch of real-term wage decreases. And this litany of urgent crises looks like it will continue into the new year.

Throughout 2022, policymakers have attempted to tackle these challenges. Spotlight asked MPs and experts to reflect on the turmoil and choose their policy moment of the past 12 months – whether highlight or lowlight.

A loss and damage fund is a real breakthrough for climate justice

Caroline Lucas, former leader of the Green Party and MP for Brighton Pavilion

Though the lack of progress on ambitious emission reductions at Cop27 was desperately disappointing, one bright light shone through the darkness. After more than three decades of campaigning, led by Global South countries, the agreement of a loss and damage finance fund represented a real breakthrough for climate justice. Despite our own right-wing press fiercely resisting the proposal of any financial support, wealthy countries finally responded to the overwhelming arguments from climate-vulnerable countries – including impassioned speeches from people like Pakistan’s prime minister after the nation’s devastating floods.

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There’s still a lot to be done. The fund is meaningless unless governments like our own ensure that it is sufficiently financed to support vulnerable countries. And that’s new and additional money, not cash raided from an ever-dwindling overseas aid budget. But the creation of this fund could mark a significant shift towards seeing the biggest polluters, who for centuries have continued to burn climate-wrecking fossil fuels at will, paying up to help poorer countries deal with the apocalyptic impacts of a climate emergency that is not of their own making.

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Despite its ambition, the levelling-up white paper’s prescription fell short

Carys Roberts, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy Research

The UK’s deepening regional disparities in health, wealth, education and wellbeing have held back the whole country. February’s levelling-up white paper, aiming to define the Boris Johnson government and cement Conservative electoral gains, recognised this and set out 12 cross-government missions to address the problem. Despite this important recognition and clear ambition, the paper’s policy prescription fell short. A “devolution revolution” was promised, but not on an equal basis to all areas. Fundamentally, the proposals did not challenge the features of the broken economic model that has caused our spatial inequalities. New funding was far below what has been ripped out of communities by years of austerity, or what other countries have demonstrated would be needed to truly level up.

Changing how the whole of government behaves and interacts takes time and consistency. Recent political and policy turbulence has achieved the opposite. Meanwhile, the already inadequate levelling-up funding hasn’t even been inflation-proofed. But, the political prize remains for the party that gets this right, so we can expect to hear more about levelling up in 2023.

The Online Safety Bill will help make the UK the safest place to be online

Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe, and chair of the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill

The return of the Online Safety Bill to parliament shows that we are back on track to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. Safety standards and protections for free speech will no longer rest on the whims of platform owners like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. Instead, platforms will have to act to prevent illegal activity on their sites, open their systems up to transparency audits from the regulator Ofcom, and give due regard to users’ freedom of expression rights when moderating content. News media organisations will also be protected from arbitrary take-down of their content.

The bill also includes new criminal offences, like the controlling of coercive behaviour towards women, and against the promotion of self-harm and suicide. Companies will also be required to publish risk assessments on the dangers their services pose to children. Provisions like these will, we hope, prevent further tragic cases like the death of Molly Russell, whose experiences on social media were said to have made a material contribution to the end of her life.

The government must fully adopt Labour windfall’s tax

Tulip Siddiq, Labour’s shadow economic secretary to the Treasury and MP for Hampstead and Kilburn

This year, the country has experienced the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation. Conservative economic mismanagement has left the UK uniquely exposed to the crisis. Politics in 2022 has been defined by one question – who should pay for 12 years of Tory failure?

Since the beginning of the year, Labour has been calling for a windfall tax on energy giants to support families with their energy bills. After months of Rishi Sunak dismissing our proposals as “disastrous” he was forced into a U-turn in May.

But in the recent Autumn Statement, the Conservatives chose yet again to protect the energy giants’ windfalls of war. By failing to backdate the tax to January and end the fossil fuel investment allowance they have left billions on the table, leaving ordinary families to foot the bill. The government must now fully adopt Labour’s windfall tax. If it doesn’t, 2023 will be another difficult year for working people.

[See also: Rishi Sunak, like Keir Starmer, sees the strength in being boring]